On Friday, I spent the afternoon at the Tim Burton retrospective exhibition at MoMA. While wandering through, I couldn’t help wondering whether his parents ever worried about him as a youngster. He seems to have jumped on the kooky and creepy bandwagon early on in life, with everything from his early childhood doodles to his later sketches on newspapers and cocktail napkins illustrating the fantastical, surreal, and slightly grotesque imagery he’s become known for. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan: I have The Nightmare Before Christmas sheet music as well as the DVD, think his version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is brilliant, love Sweeney Todd because I’m a sucker for musicals, and am looking forward to Alice in Wonderland, particularly as the girl playing Alice is from Canberra, and E.PhotoLegend once sat next to her during a talk given by the girl’s mother. So that makes me, what, 3 degrees of separation from Johnny Depp? 3 degrees, that’s practically leave-Vanessa-Paradis-for-me closeness.
Also, I’m a little bit in love with the coupling of Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter. It’s almost like they share the same unique way of looking at the world, except he expresses his through art and film and she through her clothing.
Back to the MoMA exhibition. Although spread over three floors, the main collection of work is in the Special Exhibitions gallery on the third floor, and comprises drawings, paintings, moving image works, storyboards, doodles, photographs, costumes, puppets, and ephemera from his films. The drawings consist of characters dreamt up in childhood, working versions of the figures we’ve come to know through his films, as well as caricatures of adages and relationship clichés, which I found quite entertaining. The sheer number of items to look at is overwhelming, and when this is added to how popular the exhibition is (you must pre-purchase timed tickets on the weekend, and often on weekdays too), it becomes a good idea to factor in a rather lengthy stay at MoMA. To be honest, I would have loved to stay for longer than I did, but I got a little tired of having to wait in line to see almost every piece of art in every room.
I was, however, able to spend a good amount of time looking at his literal depictions of such phrases as “undressing her with his eyes” (quite graphic and gruesome…) as well as the cinematic ephemera. I’d forgotten he did such films as James and the Giant Peach and Batman, and also learnt that one of his first jobs as an animator was for The Fox and the Hound, which I watched multiple times in my early years. I particularly loved seeing a handwritten note to Johnny Depp in which Burton suggests the cannibalism line in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and asks Depp whether he thinks it’s a good idea. I also enjoyed peering at all the models of characters from The Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas, including what could have been dozens of heads of Jack and Sally each wearing a different facial expression. Could someone procure me the model of The Oogie-Boogie Man for Christmas? It’s only protected by a glass cage and security staff on alert throughout the building, after all.
Looking through Burton’s work, I found myself drawing similarities with Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies (love!) as well as, at times, the Isz from The Maxx comic books that my brother, E.TeacherLord, once upon a time got me to read. On the whole, though, Burton’s work is refreshing, intriguing, at times disturbing, but a lot of fun. A definite must-see for Burton fans and a certainly should-see for everyone else.