It’s all very PECULIAR

i nside the head of di­rec­tor tim bur­ton

Albuquerque Journal - Parade - - FRONT PAGE - by Will Lawrence Cover and Open­ing Pho­tog­ra­phy by Leah Gallo Fig­ure Il­lus­tra­tions by Tim Bur­ton

He grew up in the sun-drenched sub­urbs of Bur­bank, Calif., but much of Tim Bur­ton’s child­hood was lived in the shad­ows— quite lit­er­ally. His par­ents had bricked up the two large win­dows in his bed­room, leav­ing just one small aper­ture high up the wall. The at­mos­phere was some­what odd, his in­te­rior world very still. To peer out into the brighter world, young Bur­ton had to clam­ber onto his desk.

“It was some­thing to do with in­su­la­tion,” re­calls the film­maker, now 58, “although we were liv­ing in Bur­bank—it’s like 80 de­grees! Talk about be­ing buried alive! I felt very Edgar Al­lan Poe even be­fore I knew who Edgar Al­lan Poe was.”

Through his child­hood years, Bur­ton de­vel­oped a deep pas­sion for Poe, the au­thor of such 19th-cen­tury gothic hor­rors as “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” although his hunger was for the film adap­ta­tions that blos­somed dur­ing the 1960s rather than for the writ­ten words. “My par­ents used to say that I watched mon­ster movies be­fore I could walk or talk,” he says. “I was al­ways drawn to them and I never found them scary.” He loved the films of di­rec­tor Roger Cor­man and spe­cial-ef­fects guru Ray Har­ry­hausen. The ac­tors Vin­cent Price and Bela Lu­gosi were his he­roes. As a child, he wanted to be the man inside a Godzilla suit. “I al­ways felt an em­pa­thy with mon­sters,” he says. “In those early films, the mon­sters were the most emo­tive char­ac­ters. The peo­ple were the scari­est ones.” He adores

the 1931 Franken­stein film by di­rec­tor James Whale, where the fren­zied vil­lagers pur­sue the mon­ster to the wind­mill. Bur­ton em­ployed that mo­tif in 1990’s Ed­ward Scis­sorhands and in his Franken­wee­nie movies—the short film from 1984 and the fea­ture in 2012. “With mon­sters it was of­ten a case of, ‘Let’s try and kill this thing that we don’t un­der­stand,’ ” he says. “It is a really in­ter­est­ing and un­for­tu­nate hu­man dy­namic. King Kong, Franken­stein, the Crea­ture from the Black La­goon—th­ese crea­tures are the most emo­tional things in the films. ‘I don’t un­der­stand you, let’s put you in a cage. I don’t un­der­stand you, let’s kill you.’ That’s a motto I have felt my whole life.”

Al­ways the Out­sider

Bur­ton is a peren­nial out­sider, al­ways feel­ing like an odd­ball, a pe­cu­liar­ity. This is a theme that runs through­out his work, his film­mak­ing. A pa­tron saint for waifs and strays, he reg­u­larly re­turns to the theme of an un­usual child or out­sider bid­ding to make his or her way in a hos­tile world. Just con­sider his short film Vin­cent (1982), about a boy’s wild imag­i­na­tion, or Pee-wee’s Big Ad­ven­ture (1985), in which an “adult” be­haves like a ju­ve­nile. The raff­ish sprite in Beetle­juice (1988) has been com­pared to a rogue Peter Pan, while Ed­ward Scis­sorhands is Franken­stein’s mon­ster pack­aged as a child­like in­no­cent. Each story is shaded by both light and dark. The theme is per­sis­tent. On ei­ther side of Scis­sorhands, Bur­ton made Bat­man (1989) and Bat­man Re­turns (1992). He was never a great comic book fan but al­ways loved Bat- man, drawn to the idea of a hero with a dual per­son­al­ity, a light side and a dark, which he strug­gles to rec­on­cile. “It’s a char­ac­ter I could re­late to,” he says. He re­lates both to char­ac­ters with masks (Bat­man, Cat­woman, a heav­ily made-up Joker) and to re­pressed per­son­al­i­ties like the Pen­guin, who are sad­dled with the bag­gage of their trou­bled child­hoods, as he is. “There is just some­thing about me. Go­ing to high school was one of the most ter­ri­fy­ing things. You are put into a cat­e­gory. And once you are deemed a weird per­son, you are in the weird group. I had a feel­ing that I was some sort of alien that didn’t quite fit. I did feel alone, lonely, and while I as­sume that most peo­ple feel that way, it was quite heavy for me. “I was afraid of my par­ents and my rel­a­tives and where I grew up,” he says. “I didn’t feel I had a close re­la­tion­ship with my par­ents; we seemed to not get along. I felt lonely and bad but it forced me to take the reins my­self.” At 18, he won a schol­ar­ship to Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute of the Arts, and three years later he was work­ing at Dis­ney as an an­i­ma­tor on The Fox and the Hound. “I put my­self through school; I got a job.” That lone­li­ness, iso­la­tion and per­va­sive feel­ing of pe­cu­liar­ity got poured into Sleepy Hol­low (1999) and Big Fish (2003), which fea­ture he­roes travers­ing strange and fan­tas­ti­cal lands. It’s there among the mis­an­thropes in Ed Wood (1994), in his ver­sion of Planet of the Apes (2001), Corpse Bride (2005) and Alice in Won­der­land (2010). It’s there in his one pub­lished book, The Melan­choly Death of Oyster Boy & Other Sto­ries (1997). And, not sur­pris­ingly, it is also present in his lat­est film, Miss Pere­grine’s Home for Peculiar Chil­dren, open­ing Sept. 30.

“I could make The Sound of Mu­sic and peo­ple would say, ‘ It’s too dark.’ ”

Meet Miss Pere­grine

The story takes its ti­tle from the New York Times best-sell­ing novel by Ran­som Riggs (2011), but it seems as though it could eas­ily have come from Bur­ton him­self. The adap­ta­tion fea­tures ris­ing star Asa But­ter­field ( The Boy in the Striped Pa­ja­mas, Hugo) as a teenager, Jake, who trav­els from Florida to a re­mote Welsh is­land to join a group of chil­dren with odd abil­i­ties and af­flic­tions. “One of the themes of the story is about cel­e­brat­ing your pe­cu­liar­ity and your weird­ness,” says But­ter­field. “It is very sur­real and gothic and odd, which I think Tim is best at cap­tur­ing, com­pared to any other di­rec­tor. It feels like a Tim movie even when

you read the script.” In­deed, it’s a story that will ring with fa­mil­iar­ity to any Bur­ton devo­tee. It has a co­terie of out­siders, chil­dren with im­mense strength or who pos­sess a fiery touch. There are twins who, like mini-Me­dusas, can turn crea­tures to stone with just one look. One boy is in­vis­i­ble. An­other is full of bees. Jake’s love in­ter­est (played by Ella Pur­nell from Never Let Me Go and Malef­i­cent), mean­while, is lighter than air and needs iron boots to pre­vent her from float­ing away. “Their pe­cu­liar­i­ties ex­tend into their per­son­al­i­ties,” Pur­nell says. “Miss Pere­grine, who is the weird­est of them all, leads them. She can change into a bird and she has a real bird­like qual­ity to her.” Miss Pere­grine (played by Bur­ton’s lat­est muse, Eva Green) is the pipe- smok­ing, time- watch­ing and shape-shift­ing guardian who pro­tects the young­sters from their ter­ri­fy­ing preda­tors, the Hol­low­gasts. Green sees echoes of Bur­ton in all the chil­dren. “They don’t fit in the out­side world, and I think Tim felt like this as a child,” Green says. “Lots of peo­ple feel like that and iden­tify with that. I still feel like this. This is a movie that says that you just have to ac­cept it, em­brace it and cel­e­brate it. It is beau­ti­ful to be dif­fer­ent.” The book is cer­tainly very sin­gu­lar, ap­peal­ing to Bur­ton not only through its out­landish ad­ven­ture story but also via its pre­sen­ta­tion. Its au­thor, Riggs, em­bel­lished his novel with a se­ries of haunt­ing blackand-white pho­to­graphs. “What I loved about Ran­som was his ap­proach with the old pho­to­graphs,” Bur­ton says. “They tell you a story without you know­ing ev­ery­thing. There is some­thing very po­etic, creepy, haunt­ing and mys­te­ri­ous about them. It re­minded me why we like folk­tales and fables and fairy tales. They de­scribe some­thing and there is a mys­tery to it. It is not lit­eral, nec­es­sar­ily. There’s some­thing hid­den about it.” Bur­ton’s film un­folds in a world brim­ming with fairy-tale tropes, a realm that ex­ists on the bound­aries of our own. The story plays out in a land­scape stud­ded with top­i­ary cen­taurs, or gnarled and mis­shapen trees. The chil­dren live in a gothic mansion. Even the real world of Wales is mag­i­cal, mys­te­ri­ous and misty. And his highly in­di­vid­ual stylis­tic em­bel­lish­ments shine through, whether it’s via a stop-mo­tion se­quence with duel­ing toys or through a nod to one of his fa­vorite movie scenes of all time: the fight­ing skele­tons in Ja­son and the Arg­onauts (1963).

The Eyes Have It

Then there are the eyes. Eyes are al­ways im­por­tant to Bur­ton—he even made the film Big Eyes in 2014, about Mar­garet Keane, the painter of saucer-eyed waifs—and some of the mon­sters that hunt the chil­dren in Miss Pere­grine have lost their own eyes en­tirely and feast on the eye­balls of peculiar chil­dren. The crea­tures are ter­ri­fy­ing, but also rather sad. “They are like some­thing out of a child’s night­mare,” Bur­ton says of the Hol­low­gasts. “I am a mon­ster fan,

so for this film I tried to find some­thing where there was still this hu­man­ity to them.”

This is typ­i­cal Bur­ton, says Green, who also worked with the di­rec­tor on Dark Shad­ows (2012). “He has such an un­der­stand­ing of all out­casts,” she says. “All of them are beau­ti­ful. Even the evil char­ac­ters in his movies have hu­man­ity. There

“I could wear white linen suits and dye my hair blond and make happy movies and they’d still think, What is he do­ing? Some­thing is wrong.’”

is some­thing very po­etic about his work. Some­times peo­ple say that Tim’s work is dark. I don’t think so. It’s some­thing ac­tu­ally very beau­ti­ful, very sen­si­tive.”

Bur­ton has an aver­sion to cat­e­go­riza­tion and has of­ten felt frus­trated by ac­cu­sa­tions that his work isn’t light and lively enough. “I al­ways get ac­cused of that,” he says. “It hap­pens over and over.

“I could wear white linen suits and dye my hair blond and make happy movies and they’d still think, What is he do­ing? Some­thing is wrong. I could make The Sound of Mu­sic and peo­ple would say, ‘It’s too dark.’ Once you get cat­e­go­rized, that’s it. You get, ‘Oh, well, it’s very Bur­ton.’ Well, who am I? I don’t like think­ing

of my­self as a thing.”

Bur­ton’s de­sire to ex­plore themes and worlds close to his heart, his abil­ity to make the mun­dane mag­i­cal and the mag­i­cal mun­dane, has led to the coin­ing of the term “Bur­ton-

Di­rec­tor Tim Bur­ton’ s lat­est movie, Miss Pere­grine’ s Home for Peculiar Chil­dren, fea­tures a cast of odd “out­sider” char­ac­ters led by a shape-shift­ing guardian. Visit

Pa­rade.com/pere­grine to find out how Bur­ton had fun on the set.

From top: Bat­man, Beetle­juice, Char­lie­andthe Cho­co­lateFac­tory and Ali­ceinWon­der­land

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