Tim Burton’s truth-is-weirder-than-fiction film paints a dramatic picture of artist Margaret Keane’s life with tyrannical husband, Walter
Tim Burton's latest masterpiece
To many, Tim Burton’s new biographical drama Big Eyes would seem like an unlikely choice for the offbeat Los Angeles-raised, London-resident filmmaker.
There’s few visual effects that have been the staple of his three decades of hit movies, which include Beetlejuice, Batman, Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland.
Big Eyes follows the true story of American artist Margaret Keane, played by five-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams, from the 1950s through to 1986.
Burton understands how some could see Big Eyes as a departure from his big sets and visual tricks, but he also points to the truth-is-weirder-than-fiction story of Keane and her tyrannical husband, Walter, who conned the world into thinking her mass-selling paintings were his work.
There may not be a caped crusader, talking apes or the Mad Hatter, but Big Eyes continues Burton’s portrayal of eccentric outsiders.
“After dealing with a lot of effects and other things, yes it was nice to just kind of deal with actors and just tell the story,” Burton tells AAP in a recent interview in New York. “But this story was so strange. I thought it had a mixture of humour, darkness and dysfunctional relationships.”
Keane’s paintings became an integral part of pop culture in the 1960s, with her signature style the haunting portrayal of child waifs with huge, saucerlike eyes.
Critics dismissed the paintings, with one calling them “tasteless hack work”, but the public adorned their walls at home with Keane prints.
They just didn’t realise Margaret was secretly painting them, while her husband was taking all of the credit and limelight for the works.
Walter, played by Austria’s two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, made it easy for working-class families to buy prints. He did deals with supermarkets to sell them for just a few dollars.
Burton, who grew up in Los Angeles suburbia, remembers his parents putting Keanes on the walls of the family home.
“I’m very interested in perception because I remember when I was a child, I found the Keane paintings quite disturbing, but some people loved them and had them hanging in their living rooms,” he says. “That’s the thing. Growing up the way I did, we didn’t know the difference between a print or a painting. It was just art that was hanging on the wall.”
Burton, an artist in his own right who had his drawings, paintings, storyboards, photographs and other works exhibited at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne’s Australian Centre for the Moving Image and other galleries around the world in 2010, became a fan of Keane’s work.
He first met Keane in 1995 and commissioned her to do some paintings for him, including family portraits with his former partner Helena Bonham Carter and their two children Billy, 11, and Nell, 7.
Keane remains a friend, spent hours with the screenwriters, Burton and Adams, and was a regular on the film set. She did my kids’ eyes,” Burton smiles.
“She did one eye, the boy and the girl, and they’re charcoal. Given the fact her style is not overly realistic, it’s incredible how she captured their eyes.
“She’s good, not that I didn’t know that but it just showed me the power of her work”.
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in a scene from Tim Burton’s new biographical drama