Tim Burton retrospective

The Museum of Modern Art gets inside the head of the supergoth auteur, harnessing his childlike energy and eerie charm.

Edited by Karina Granda

From Large Marge's eye-popping to Edward Scissorhands's impractical appendages, director Tim Burton is responsible for some of the more visually arresting celluloid moments of the past 25 years. For this exhibit, Museum of Modern Art assistant curator Ron Magliozzi carefully sifted through Burton's personal archives, which stretched back to his days as a presumably pale and moody youth in Burbank, California. From them, Magliozzi selected more than 700 items of cinematic ephemera, including paintings, Polaroids and storyboards. Magliozzi prepped us on some of the show's highlights. Let the melancholy festival of darkness begin!

On Burton's earlier work:
"He's kind of self-taught. You can see him sketching in the style of Mad magazine in one period, and Charles Addams later. Even Maurice Sendak. Childhood is a big part of his history, and he's nurtured it: Probably the overarching theme of all his work is the relationship between childhood and adulthood, and how much of our childhood attitudes we preserve in ourselves as adults. He still draws in crayons, and he still draws like a child sometimes, when he's doing concept work. We selected some pieces that are proof of this aspect of his work."

On Burton's unique artistic vision:
"He's in London doing preproduction on Alice [in Wonderland]. He's in one room and we're in another, going through box after box. There were about 10,000 pieces, ranging from childhood to adulthood. Scrapbooks, sketchbooks, paintings, drawings, desk blotters. Even cocktail napkins—he sketches on cocktail napkins, and it looked like he'd saved every one he'd ever done. One made it into the show."

On Burton's eccentric artistic charms:
"There are some simple drawings of a couple who have forks and spoons for hands," says Magliozzi. At first it looks like a lump, but then you realize it's a couple embracing. That's one of my favorite pieces."

On Burton's morbid, whimsical aesthetic:
"Seeing the Edward Scissorhands costume in person is pretty amazing. From Mars Attacks!, we have likenesses of Sarah Jessica Parker and Pierce Brosnan's severed heads. Someone said kids are going to be afraid of those, but I said that Tim's audience is adults and children. That's why people like him. Also, from the beginning of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—remember when the kids arrive, the puppets start singing the welcome song, and everything burns up? We have four of the half-melted puppets from that film. They're amazing. One is almost four feet tall."

On Burton's influence as a filmmaker:
Fourteen of Burton's movies will screen at MOMA this November, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (November 29 at 2:30pm). "Charlie was the genesis of this exhibition," says cocurator Jenny He. "It was one of his most poignant films, and it's such a complete divergence from the previous adaptation. It's such a personal connection for him to take something that's so widely known, and that kind of relationship between Charlie and Willy Wonka, and then Wonka and his father, which is of course a Burton invention. It's a very personal film for me, because I feel like it's a personal film for Tim."

GO THERE NOW! "Tim Burton": Museum of Modern Art, 11 W 53rd St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (212-708-9480, moma.org). Sun 22--Apr 26; museum admission $12--$20, film-only admission $6--$10.

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