Posts Tagged ‘Tim “I’m Just a Goofy Artist” Burton’

Alice’s Adaptations In Wonderland

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

God bless Tim Burton. For being utterly predictable. While he has worked in a number of different genres, (heartfelt outsider biopic, gorgeous Hammer pastiche, and terrible terrible remake), most of his die hard fans would prefer to see him making creepy cute fairy tales for goth kids. Not surprisingly seeing as he excels at it. Batman Returns, for example, while being a pretty bad Batman movie, is actually a great Tim Burton movie.

With the appearance of images from his forthcoming Alice in Wonderland, specifically Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter, looking for all the world like Jervis Tetch from a long lost Batman & Robin subplot, it seems like he is back in his comfort zone. For all the talk of how Wonderland has been “Burtonized” it looks to be a fairly traditional adaptation, with a plummy voiced young vixen pouting her way through scenes that borrow liberally from Tenniel and the better known elements of the sequel (although not any of the trequels), whilst running into Very Famous People, semi recognisable under layers of make up/prosthetics/animation/over the top acting.

Burton's Alice

Of course an entire book can be written on the various interpretations of Alice (and at least one already has), and I’m sure Burton’s will be a visual feast, but I suspect that the quitessential Englishness at the heart of it will be lost. That’s not to say that artists of other nationalities haven’t been able to make good versions (for example, both Disney and Jan Švankmajer have made wildly different adaptations, both of which are terrific), but for me Alice is part of a long strand of English surrealism, along with Edward Lear, Rupert Bear, The Magical Mystery Tour, Nursery Cryme, Syd Barrett and Vivian Stanshall. It’s this feeling that was captured in Jonathan Miller’s 1966 TV version (described by Brian Sibley much more eloquently than I can here), in which the animal masks were ditched and the inhabitants of Wonderland were depicted as aging upper class eccentrics.

"I'm only a poor old man, 'arold" Wilfred Brambell as The White Rabbit in Jonathan Miller's Alice

Alice doesn’t need darkening or weirdifying. It’s pretty dark and weird to begin with, which is why it’s lasted so long and has lended itself to so many different takes. This new version apparently “has been freshened with a blast of girl power” (urgh. Is it still 1996?) but I don’t recall Alice being a shrinking violet. She  regularly stands up to a bunch of weird unfathomable creatures, doing weird unfathomable shit, and has always, I think, been a pretty strong character. Hopefully they won’t resort to having her doing backflips while firing twin AK47s…


My Name Is Bruce

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

Further to my rating the SciFi Superfranchises by paying special attention to their most insignificant musical moments, it’s time to have a look at another pop cultural juggernaught through the music that was “from and inspired by” it, namely Batman.

I must be the only person on the planet that didn’t think The Dark Knight was the best thing since sliced Bat Bread. Sure,  it took the character seriously to a degree far beyond any of the previous movies, but I think that movie, and Batman Begins were a little too realistic. People always say Batman is a realistic character because he doesn’t have any superpowers, but looked at in the cold light of day, he’s just as much of a fantasy character as Spider-Man, Hellboy, or The Red Bee. This is a hero whose rogues gallery includes Clayface, The Ventriloquist and, er, Crazy Quilt. Let’s face it, if a millionaire did have his parents murdered in front of him as a child, rather than growing up to dress up as a bat and go out at 2 in the morning to kick people in the head, he would probably be paying high class prostitutes to shit in his mouth or something.

I can't wait for Chris Nolan's dark gritty take on this

What those films lacked was a tie in pop song. Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman had a whole album full of them, courtesy of high heels enthusiast, sexual adventurer and bonafide musical genius Prince. His Batman album is generally considered to be one of his poorer efforts by fans (it has the indignity of being lobbed at a zombie in Shaun of The Dead, and was once used as target practise by Danny Baker on the BBC), but I think this is partly due to the ubiquity of the film, which took movie marketing, not to mention hype to a new level. There’s some terrific stuff on that record. Electric Chair is sparse, dark and funky, Arms of Orion is a gorgeous ballad (inexplicably bumped from the actual film), and Vicki Waiting, Lemon Crush and Partyman are all frothy and fun. Fans should definitely check out the unreleased track Dance With The Devil, which is a moody piano driven piece, probably more in keeping with the intent of the movie than the rest of the soundtrack songs.

More Romero than Nicholson, and all the better for it

The main single release Batdance, is pretty gimmicky. In fact it’s not really a song, just a few grooves with samples from the movie, bits of the other songs from the album, and an absolutely blistering guitar solo. There’s some pretty substantial referencing of Neil Hefti’s infamous theme for the 60s Batman TV series in there as well, and the video is appropriately campy. I guess Prince was going through a particularly purple patch (ahem), so even the musical sketches he just knocked off were great. But as I said, he’s a genius

For the 1992 sequel Batman Returns, Tim “I’m a goofy artist” Burton reaches his goth apotheosis (gotheosis), by not only filling the screen with his trademark creepy cute flourishes, but by recruiting Goth High Priestess Siouxsie Sioux to do the tie in single. Face To Face, incorporates some elements from Danny Elfman’s score, and is exactly what you’d expect from Siouxsie singing about Catwoman ie. a pretty classy bit of work. It sounds to me at least like German art synth futurists Propaganda, which is no bad thing.

I always thought the best thing U2 ever did was Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me (but then again I think their best album is Zooropa, so what do I know?). Perhaps they just bashed it out quickly on tour, because the lyrics include the kind of sarky witticsims Bono was regularly trotting out in interviews at the time (“we don’t know what we’re doing. So it must be art”), and it’s a fairly obvious mashup of Kashmir and Children of the Revolution. But it sounds exciting and dramatic, and it briefly made Joel Schumacher’s dayglo Batman Forever look like it was going to be awesome (it wasn’t). The film also featured Seal’s Kiss From a Rose, which had been knocking around for years but Schumacher liked it! I only mention it here as an excuse to link to Jack Black’s definitive version.

For many fans the franchise was truly derailed by this point. Schumacher had previously directed a superb tale of similarly brooding nocturnal types previously with The Lost Boys, but he is forever defined as The Man Who (temporarily) Killed The Batman. Poor sod. He actually wanted to adapt Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Year One (surely the best Bat story by a long chalk), but the producers had other ideas.

Billy Corgan, yesterday

Batman & Robin is (rightly) bashed as the worst moment of the franchise (and, in some quarters, as one of the worst films ever) – Schumacher actually apologises for it on the DVD commentary. However it still has a pretty kickass song in Smashing Pumpkins’  The End Is The Beginning Is The End. Again, it’s exactly what you’d expect from Billy Corgan’s lot – enigmatic, moody and dramatic. Everything the film isn’t, in fact.

So which is the best Bat song? Actually I don’t know. One thing’s for certain though, they’re all a damn sight better than that shitty Hero song from Spider-Man!