Thursday, January 07, 2010

MoMA: "Tim Burton"

I'd been eagerly anticipating this exhibit the second I heard the announcement. Yet I'd been too busy with work and moving to get to the museum before today.

Anyone who figures that Wednesday is a less crowded day would be completely wrong. I guess it's a testament to Tim Burton that he can bring in the masses on a weekday afternoon. Unfortunately, it made it difficult to focus on the actual exhibit. Getting swept along by the crowd with security guards constantly yelling "NO CAMERAS!!! TURN OFF PHONES!!!!" sort of diminished the effect.

Despite all the annoyances, it's an astounding collection that doubtlessly proves that Tim Burton is a unique visionary. Each generation has its defining artist, like Warhol of the 60s, and I'd be proud to think that Burton would be of mine. Along with a few others such as Michele Gondry, he manages to stand out and have a distinctive aura to his work. Especially in our media saturated culture where seemingly everyone can make their voice heard, Burton's uniqueness is all the more impressive.

Having seen his efforts throughout my life, it's easy to take for granted that Burton keeps producing. The fact that some of his later, more recent work hasn't been as good further dilutes his impact. Hopefully the upcoming Alice in Wonderland will have Burton's mojo back in force, which is probably why the MoMA timed this exhibition when they did.

Still, if Burton never created anything after The Nightmare Before Christmas, I would have still listed him as one of my most favorite and influential filmmakers. That film, along with Edward Scissorhands had a big impact on me. I could also count Batman, Batman Returns and Beetlejuice as lifelong favorites, but those first two had a particular strong grip on me.

I think it's because those seemed to realize Burton's vision in its most pure form. Looking at his sketches throughout the exhibit made me realize how much of my own style was mirrored in what I saw in Burton's movies, which is probably why I took to him so intensely. Odd quirks and tendencies that I had in my doodles and drawings such as tall, skinny, elongated figures or scribbly texturing or warped perspectives were all common in Burton's work as well. He definitely had a more twisted mind and was able to more fully realize his art. Thus he's the celebrated genius and I'm... a blogger.

The exhibit is also a great looking glass for his body of work. Rather than experiencing it all in real time like we have, we're now able to compress the work and observe the flow and let his trademarks emerge.

Black and white are obviously crucial elements, as well as his melding of the protagonist and antagonist. Jack from Nightmare and Edward Scissorhands embody a monster who is the story's hero, while Beetlejuice centers around a hero who is actually a monster. You can see why he was attracted to doing Batman. It also dawned on me that Sally from Nightmare could've been a close relative of Burton's Catwoman. His Penguin could've also been born from the sketches that led to Nightmare.

While the original was panned, I think Batman Returns stands up much better to the passage of time. Much of that has to do with the Burton stylization that was infused into the movie. The city of Gotham looks nothing like in the first film, but is definitely of Burton's world. The latex Catwoman costume also helps the repeated viewings.

The chance to see some of his work up close is a true gift. Peering inches away from Jack Skellington heads or getting to see the pen marks in Burton's sketchbooks or stare up at the actual sandworm jaws is something that any fan of his should get to experience.

I just hope the crowds die down so I can go back and savor the exhibit more fully.

And a last word of advice: MoMA membership. You'll spend more money, but you'll save about an hour of your life from standing in line into the exhibit.