Narrative In Art

A Cluster of Interesting Thinking

Tim Burton

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Bradley Brown

Ms. Rufi Cole

Critical Reasoning


The Perception Of Worlds

Creating a masterpiece of artwork always involves a degree of technical skill and raw talent. However, the artists that truly transcend their art form are those whom can forge ideas that can touch base with a deeper level of the human condition and thus make much more of a profound experience for his, or her audience.   Among the various themes within the realm of storytelling and the creative arts, the focus of this essay will be on the concept of duality and how master filmmakers, specifically Tim Burton, employs this ancient idea of the two opposing minds, and ideas ever in conflict within the human psyche.  To fully understand the thematic element of duality, one must comprehend the psychological and sociological foundations that are inherent in such a introspective concept.

Once one understands the intrinsically human reality of duality, one can appreciate and even employ its’ characteristics in new works of art to advance a message that can resonate with a wider range of an audience in a much deeper sense. In that light, the ability to reach an audience through examining the human psyche is critical in creating alternative realities, as Tim Burton’s filmography has throughly demonstrated. Burton has weaved duality through much of his works to not only further a story, but to add social commentary concerning the dichotomy between the innocent and guilt, life and death, the comedic and the tragic, light and dark.

In addition to the overarching thematic elements, many different artists frame their storytelling, or medium in a more literal sense, one that is based on a greater reality, while other artists, such as Burton,  often narrates within a more allegorical, or whimsical paradigm.  Much of Burton’s films emit a somber tone and feeling. This somber sense forms an ironic twist because of the exchange between this darker world, and the inherent “good” nature of Burton’s characters whom are often the epitome of innocence and hope.  This dichotomy, or duality can be witnessed throughout Burton’s works. For example, both in “Nightmare Before Christmas” and “The Corpse Bride” you have two seemingly opposing forces interplaying. In “Nightmare”, we have the stark difference between the creatures, and ghouls of the visually malevolent Halloween Town pitted against the happy, holiday-spirited Christmas Town. However, Burton is quick to reveal that the inhabitants of Halloween Town, particularly the protagonist, Jack Skellington, is not as malevolent as his appearance, or origins might let on. On the contrary, we find that despite living in a an underworld of sorts,  Jack Skellington is something of a hopeless romantic, and a thoughtful leader. Thus establishing yet another example of duality.  In the first half of the film “The Corpse Bride” you witness the protagonist, Victor, a shy, awkward, yet romantic man living in an otherwise dull, lifeless and prudish world. Once again, Burton sets up a sense of irony and employs the theme of duality by introducing the “Limbo” characters as colorful, active, and lively creatures – though supposedly dead.  It’s clear that Burton’s liberal use of duality undoubtedly demonstrates his love to play on the audiences’ perceived prejudices. He allows society, through his audience, to question their own preconceived notions about people, specifically when assessing innocence, guilt, good, and bad .

In that light, Burton seems to make a concerted effort to explore the tensions created by expected social dogmas, and each film seems to stress the victimization of the protagonist figure by social norms. Much of his views seem to cast a suspicious, if not critical eye on conformity, societal norms, and being “typical”.  To understand Burton one must understand his own struggles growing up and how they helped craft his own disposition on life in general and the numerous societal hypocrisies he is critical of throughout his films.

When You see the filmmaker Tim Burton’s films you can easily be  swept up in the emotion and pity of a character. This could be due to the fact that Burton never forgets the depth of feeling that comes from using autobiographical material. Perhaps more than any other director, Burton makes of a very visual way of story telling to enhance his narrative. I believe that Burton is using every “weapon” available to execute his story and never forgets that he is making a film instead of something else. There are a few other directors such as Christopher Nolan and David Fincher that I believe have that  same ‘‘total immersion’’ in their projects. What I say ‘‘total immersion’’, I mean  these filmmakers don’t just take verbal dialogect or plot into account, but also music, visuals, composition and editing. This core principals of thinking is what made Burton so memorable in the hearts and minds of artists and filmgoers alike. The basic knowledge of color and composition for a visual artist such as Tim Burton extenuates his films presence and makes it that much more memorable and touching. There is an over arching duality in his work, which I  believe  gives use some insight into what Director Burton believes. Burton’s up-bringing, influences, and artistic knowledge really define the films he makes.

Tim Walter Burton was born August 25, 1958 and is an accomplished film director, film producer, writer and artist.   Tim was always interested in art, even at a young age. He was influenced by the writer Edgar Allen Poe and the actor Vincent Price.  At a college age, Tim Burton  studied at Cal Arts in Valencia, California which was founded by Walt Disney – a bit of dualistic irony there given the nature of Disney and Burton. Burton grew a fondness for animation over the years and eventually chose that career as animation was interesting to him. This was interesting considering Burtons outward personality didn’t fit animation’s humorous and light hearted vibe. We all know now through his movies and interviews that he has a great sense of humor. Back in the late seventies as an unknown animator, he would’ve seemed like a “black sheep’’ of the animation family, given his dark personality. This personal contrast of humor and the dark aesthetic, I believe, is where he draws his creativity years later. He drew for numerous animated  films, including, “The Fox and the Hound,” and, ’‘The Black Cauldron’’. Eventually Burton got tired of drawing the same style. He was told by his fellow Disney friends that his drawings ”looked like rode kill.” Here is an interview Tim gave to MTV news October 23, 2006:

MTV: You were something of an outcast as a teen, like so many of your subjects. Of all the characters in your movies, which is closest to the real Tim Burton?

Burton: Well, they all have their moments in a way,  but [“Nightmare”] has a lot. It comes from a certain emotional place and things like “Edward Scissorhands” perhaps, or “Ed Wood,” has certain themes. You try to put a lot of yourself into whatever you are doing, even if it’s a mindless Hollywood blockbuster. (C 1)

The film “Edward Scissorhands” is where one bears witness to  Tim Burton’s soul the most. The duality in this film is represented visually by the stark contrast in the color palette used in the film. This contrast visually directly reflects the interaction between the curious outsider (Edward) against the cynical and distrusting towns people. In Tim Burton’s “Edward Scissorhands”, you can clearly see Edward’s isolation and reservedness in the opening parts of the movie. Again, this is referred to in Burton’s MTV interview:

MTV: So the actual character of Edward Scissorhands is reminiscent of you when you were a teen?

Burton: That was based on feelings. It was a symbol of those feelings you have as a teenager. Not so much literally but emotionally and that dynamic of not touching and not being able to connect with people. There were very strong feelings at that time, yeah. (C 1)

Burton makes a statement in the opening sequence of Edward Scissorhands by panning through all the houses in what seems to be a “typical” American suburb, giving the audience a strong sense of monotony, that is until we get to the mansion. Scissorhands character itself acts as archetypical outsider, thoroughly unappreciated and misunderstood by the people he helps. Perhaps this is Burton’s way of telling us his own feelings growing up in Pasadena, as he was known to be an introvert, shy and non-cheerful. His struggles with fitting in what was otherwise a typical American lifestyle can be directly related to his work on Scissorhands.

MTV: For better or worse, you’re a patron saint of the so-called “goth” movement. How do you feel about that?

Burton: People get scared of people like that, but they really are quite sweet, great people. It’s that image versus what people have in their heart versus what people think people should look like — that always causes a problem.

MTV: On the flip side, though, goth kids are often linked with things like suicide and cutting. Have you ever had an encounter with a fan who ultimately took the goth thing too far?

Burton: Well, I can only speak for myself, and I know responding to that kind of imagery didn’t make me worse. It made me feel more at home and psychologically able to work out certain things. People argue the opposite, that it creates that kind of problem, but most of the people are using it to work out things in life.”(C 1)

A lot of his films tend to focus on outsiders and their inability to cope with the expectations and conformity that society imposes on them.  Again, this is an allegory for himself and his own encounters with the world throughout his youth. In most of his films, Burton wants us to feel what he has felt in his own life. He not only wants his audience to feel pity for his main character Edward, but for little Tim Burton circa 1970, or the various other outcasts that are currently trying to find their place in the world. Throughout the film, Edward finds himself in awkward situation and after awkward situation, which builds emotional responses that call upon isolation, loss of innocence, prejudice, and social awkwardness. Whether you feel embarrassment, fear or pity, Burton shows his knowledge of crafting a proper narrative, which comes from Burton’s own his own somber, and brooding philosophical outlook, born out of real life experience.

Burton’s personal storytelling techniques have a lot in common with Aristotle’s love of the  classic Greek tragedy, particularly his use of irony . Though Burton is working in a medium for an audience far outside what Aristotle could have even conceptualized, he obviously still values the basics of storytelling that Aristotle laid down in his poetics thousands of years ago. For instance, in the case of irony, in the movie “Sweeney Todd” , the main character Sweeney comes back to London after 10 years of incarceration to get revenge for the death of his wife. His original intention was too kill Judge Turpin, the man responsible for her supposed death. After a long course of events, Sweeney comes to not only kill the guilty and the innocent in his vengeance, but his presumed dead wife, whom was in fact still alive.

Tim Burton doesn’t hide the fact that his films are art and he probably feels the audience is getting an escape from the real world. As the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer believed, “Only through he pure contemplation described above, which becomes absorbed entirely in the object, are the Ideas comprehended; and the nature of genius consists precisely in the preeminent ability for such contemplation. Now as this demands a complete forgetting of our own person”.  If visual escape is the idealized bliss, then know that no other filmmaker is more successful than Tim Burton. He brings the moviegoer into alternate realities while managing to make philosophical statements about the world and about himself.

In essence, Director Burton isn’t worried about keeping his films grounded in reality as he feels his mission is more about audience reaction than the bases of factuality. Ultimately Tim Burton as an artist believes in the truthful tale rather than the grounded factual tale. In addition one gets the sense that Burton wants to challenge the typical concepts of good, evil, life, and death. Burton undoubtedly believes we all have two sides always fighting for dominance and that we should always be aware of our own duality, and that what is light and what is dark might not be what they first appear.

Work cited

Edgar allen poe . The Complete Stories of Edgar Allen Poe. Doubledaly.August 15 1984.832 pages

Schopenhauer,Arthur. Essays and Aphorisms.New York.Penguin Books.240pg.1970.Print

Benjamin,Walter.Illumination.New York. Schocken Books.1969.269pg.Print

The Fox and The Hound.Dirs.Ted Berman, Richard Rich, Art Stevens.Walt Disney Productons. 1981. Film

Beetle Juice.Dir.Tim Burton.The Geffen company1988.Film

Edward Sicssorhands . Dir. Tim Burton.Twentieth Century Fox film 1990.Film

The Nightmare Before Christmas. Dir. Tim Burton.Touchstone Pictures 1993.Film

The Corpse Bride . Dir. Tim Burton.Warner Bros. Pictures 2005.Film

Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street .Dir. Tim Burton.Warner Bros. Pictures


(C 2)


Written by narrativeinart

January 16, 2011 at 6:17 pm

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