Tim Burton: The Exhibition

Into the Weird and Wonderful Mind of Cinema’s Most Popular Outsider

Tim Burton at Tim Burton: The Exhibition

Tim Burton at Tim Burton: The Exhibition

There are three defining aspects about the entrance to Tim Burton: The Exhibition that express the core ideas about the world of filmmaker Tim Burton. Running from 24 June to 10 October 2010 at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), the Burton exhibition begins with you entering through a giant cartoonish monster mouth to go down into ACMI’s appropriately dark screen gallery. The big mouth is more comical than menacing, reflecting Burton’s love of both absurdity and horror. Violence in Burton’s films is often the punch line to a joke but always in a way that reflects the darkly humorous tone of classic fairy tales rather than any sort of post-modern ironic violence.

The next element you encounter as you walk into the Burton exhibition is a projection of a giant spiral with weird animated characters swimming through it. Not only is the animation something that could have come straight out of a cheesy-hypnosis scene from one of Burton’s beloved B-grade films of the 1950s and 60s, but it presents us with the idea that we are going into the vortex that is Burton’s subconscious and that is the subconscious of an adult man who still has a childlike view of the world.

Mars Attacks! artwork from Tim Burton: The Exhibition

Mars Attacks! artwork from Tim Burton: The Exhibition

Inside the actual exhibition you get a further indication of Burton’s dark and playful comedic style where several drawings indicate his lifelong obsession with the macabre and his morbid sense of humour. The clip playing from Mars Attacks! (1996) of the white dove of peace getting zapped by the aliens and the clip from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) where the animatronics attraction (which is clearly a parody of the famous Disney “It’s a Small World” ride) bursts into flames, are classic Burton. Both are wickedly funny scenes but both are also moments where something innocent goes horribly wrong. The Burton childlike view of the world is not all delights and adventure but something sinister too.

Another key element to the entry of the exhibition is the publicly displayed Batmobile from Burton’s Batman films. As one of the first things that visitors to the exhibition will see, the Batmobile reminds us that despite having pursued his very personal artistic vision throughout his career, Tim Burton is a bankable director and Hollywood success story. His films have broad appeal across mainstream audiences and the various subcultures that have adopted him. Burton’s playfulness, love of retro pop-culture, Gothic sensibilities and reoccurring themes of the outsider, problematic parental figures and concealed identity have resonated widely, making Burton one of the most popular and accessible of the auteur directors.

Screen EducationThis is an excerpt from an article printed in issue 59 (Spring 2010) of Screen Education. The full article contains a closer look at the entire exhibition and the reoccurring themes in Burton’s films.

Read Cinema Autopsy’s profile of director Tim Burton

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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