REQUIEM FOR TIM BURTON & JOHNNY DEPP

Apparently Pee Wee’s Playhouse: The Movie is actually in production and is slated for a 2011 release.

There has always been an uneasy relationship between avant-garde and outsider art. In 1985, Tim Burton and Pee-Wee Herman brilliantly thumbed their noses at any pretense of tension between the two with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Herman and Burton seemed refreshing fresh air to a relatively young medium that was dangerously growing stale with mass manufacturePee Wee's Big Adventured Hollywood product.

Of course, Herman went on to produce what was possibly the best television program in the last twenty years with Pee Wee’s Playhouse, that is until some uptight Florida cops busted him when they caught him pleasuring himself in an adult theater (which is bit like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500, one would think). This was during the heyday of the now practically extinct video store. Panic ensued and everyone from the Blue and Yellow Giant down to drug stores yanked every Pee Wee video from the shelves. Oddly enough, not too long after O.J. Simpson was accused of decapitating two people, those same video chains were in a panic trying to get every O.J video into their stores, which is quite a commentary on American mores: Hmmm, let’s see, it’s much worse to masturbate than to kill people. Now would I rather my child grow up to have a healthy sex life, or be a mass murderer?  (PS: On September 12th, 2001 those same corporate video chains were hustling to get all the Nostradamus videos in, feeding off American paranoia).

Meanwhile, Burton showed much promise.  The flawed Beetlejuice and Batman lived up to that early promise. Despite the absurd Hollywood fight ending, Edward Scissorhands was a much needed scathing satire on suburbia and was the work of a visionary working within the system.

Batman ReturnsBurton topped himself with a near masterpiece in Batman Returns; a grand guignol superhero burlesque with Michael Keaton in top form and, yes, the underrated Keaton made a much more complex, interesting Bruce Wayne than does the one note playboy act of Christian Bale (much in the same way George Reeves’ Clark Kent was far more compelling than Christopher Reeve’s tripping over the banana peel caricature Kent). Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny Devito consistently surprised as well in a film that threw in every kitchen sink metaphor into the mix with homages ranging from silent film (Walken’s Schreck and Phantom of the Opera), to the bible (killing of the first born).  Returns was so edgy that, according to rumour, it costs Warners their beloved Happy Meal deal.

Then came the long overdue Ed Wood. There has never been a better or more charming film about an outsider artist and, for better or worse, Wood symbolizes the quintessential outsider. Burton, along with stars Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Jeffrey Jones, and girlfriendEd Wood Lisa Marie were “perfect.”   Ed Wood remains Burton’s greatest achievement, a sincerely heartfelt valentine to a fellow misfit.

Mars Attacks was a star studded misfire that should have forgone the big names and been much worse ( therefore making it much more memorable), but it seemed an honest misfire with some stand out scenes, including Lisa Marie’s alien.  The same could be said for Sleepy Hollow which reunited Burton with Depp and added Christina Ricci in for good measure. Despite some interesting set pieces and a few memorable performances, Sleepy Hollow was little more than a late 90’s Hammer film and took itself a bit too seriously even for that.

The end came with the ill-advised remake of Planet of the Apes, even if it too showed some promise, unfortunately ruined with the worst, most predictable ending of recent memory. Of Planet of the Apes (2001)course, this was also the film that ended Burton’s personal and professional relationship with Lisa Marie, after hooking up with Apes star Helena Bonham Carter. Perhaps Burton should have stuck with genuine eccentric Marie, as Carter; a complete weird-on-the-sleeve bore, seemed to have terminally rubbed off on him.

Big Fish was absurdly overrated and hardly the comeback film all the critics were predicting, because then came the overblown Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That was unfortunate, because the original, near classic Willy Wonka seemed ripe for an even better re-make. Depp was on-the-sleeve obvious, paling in comparison to Gene Wilder’s under the skin eccentric performance.

If Depp seemed horribly miscast and blatant in Factory, then he was an even paler, synthetic imitation of George Hearn’s made for TV, 1982 Sweeney Todd. Sadly, Depp seemed to personify the Hollywood trend of casting the “prettified.”

Predictably,and all too obviously, Burton and Depp are now teaming up for Alice in Wonderland.

Tim Burton: “Pseudo Avant-Auteur” is pure hype. Despite the claims of his rather annoying and tiresome school, he is, essentially, an auteur of a pop drivel which caters to very particular crowd consisting mostly of pulp comic book hounds wallowing in their illusion of pseudo intellect.

As much as Burton seems to have lost his nerve and all traces of originality, Johnny Depp has lost even more. Depp is another figure in Hollywood whose reputation is wholly undeserved.  He is hopelessly complacent, as his recent resume indicates. Depp is hardly the actor of ‘daring choices’ that his publicists make him out to be.  Besides Ed Wood, Sally Potter’s The Man Who Cried and Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man are about the only roles of considerable interest. At at least, those films strived for something other than hawking a Disney ride.

Pauline Kael once speculated that Depp may be the next Brando.

The late Brando certainly made some misfires, but even during what is considered to be his lowest ebb, he appeared in a number of films that at the very least could be considered conceptually interesting failures: The Nightcomers (1971), Night of the Following Day (1968), Candy (1968), Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), The Ugly American (1963) and One Eyed Jacks (1961, with Brando starring and directing).

Of course, the prospects of a Pee Wee’s Playhouse: The Movie certainly isn’t going to conjure up comparisons to anything Brando-like, but unless Mr. Reubens really screws it up (and he very well might) it’s going to be a damn sight more colorful than anything from the dull, hopelessly old hat combination of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.

2 thoughts on “REQUIEM FOR TIM BURTON & JOHNNY DEPP”

  1. Yes I completely agree, ‘Mars Attacks’ was the death knoll for Tim Burton, everything after that has been overproduced, dull and uninspired. “Dark Shadows” was a train wreck. I still feel “Batman Returns” is Burton’s best film.

    I actually didn’t mind “Sweeney Todd” however, I felt the film had a genuinely dark and dire feel to it, a nastiness and near nihilistic tone, more bite than most of Burton’s outings – but then that may have had more to do with the source material than anything else. It was certainly less sentimental than “Alice” or “Big Fish”

    As regards Depp, yeah, he gets paid a lot for essentially indulging himself while his eccentric acting choices are pretty safe most of the time (Pensive and odd Barnabas Collins, school girl-like Ichabod Crane – nothing particularly transgressive or confronting about either) And I have always wondered why people got so much more excited than I did over “Pirates” and Captain Jack Sparrow? The man gets an Oscar nomination for the equivalent of masturbating right into the lens (Now THAT would make for a more interesting Depp/Burton collaboration) Also the bastard promised us Beckett at Sea for Pirates 4! I’ve never forgiven him for letting us down so badly – if he thinks bringing on a pig with something tied to it is a suitably fitting nod to Absurdist Theater he’s got another thing coming.

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