Big Eyes (2015) is probably Ed Wood (1994). Alas, that is a minuscule compliment. Burton began as a refreshing original working within a tinseled industry, but formulaic demands soon rendered his later work imitative and an example of style over substance.‘s most satisfactory film since
Burton was once the hip auteur for the perennial college and goth crowds. Now, he is the butt of their humor: a cautionary warning of a sell-out losing all originality and vitality.
He went the distance in proving the cynical naysayers correct, reaching his nadir with Alice in Wonderland (2010), which jettisoned authentic Carrollesque surrealism in favor of populist fluff and a cringe-inducing slice of Johnny Depp ham.
In vain, one hoped Burton had nowhere to go but up, but he only continued his slide, proving nostalgia is fleeting with an ill-advised and execrable update of Dark Shadows (2012). He followed this with a pointless, self-plagiarized feature, Frankenweenie (2012), which predictably worked better in its original version as a compact short.
Burton is certainly not immune to critical fallout. Of course, it has hardly affected his box office standing, but popularity with aesthetically illiterate masses is only salt to the wound.
With Big Eyes, Burton belatedly responds to critics by playing the narcissistic victim, projecting himself onto the figure of artist Margaret Keane. In doing so, he damn near kills the film, but, surprisingly, his opus (barely) survives him.
Burton’s epic misstep is in subduedly addressing Keane’s art as kitsch. It is kitsch. There is nothing original about her mass-produced art for the Walmart home spread. Her illustrations are a kind of synthetic parody of Modigliani. Yet, Burton is a Keane fan, and fan is short for fanatic. Naturally, he takes the fanboy approach in identifying with his object of adulation. Undoubtedly, Burton can find affinity in Keane’s strategical marketing to a bourgeoise public.
In pedestaling Margaret Keane’s gimmicky, one-note cartoons, Burton casts the art critics and gallery dealers as two-dimensional, jealous predators. It’s the equivalent of a cinematic exclamation point, or a big bang at the end of a pedestrian symphony. The homogenous Tim Burton/Margaret Keane hybrid becomes a much put-upon martyr. Cue big, puppy-eyed closeup. It is the kind of manipulative choice that Spielberg used to be so goddamned guilty of.
Big Eyes would have been a far better film had Burton made a smarter choice by avoiding the topic altogether, or in taking either an objective or idiosyncratic approach (as he did in Ed Wood). In many ways, Big Eyes serves as little sister to Ed Wood, but in that earlier film, a younger, fresher director did not succumb to tomfoolery. Continue reading TIM BURTON’S BIG EYES (2014)