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The Cinémathèque’s exhibition devoted to filmmaker Tim Burton is winding up on a triumphant note. There are still crowds of people lining up to see the show, Parisians of all ages but especially the young. Burton is possibly even more of a cult figure in France than in the US. The French public has long loved the visual stylishness of Burton’s films, as well as his humor.
Similarly, his fetish actor and alter ego Johnny Depp has a huge following here: Depp’s recent breakup with longtime partner (and French icon) Vanessa Paradis has been getting as much media attention as the alleged feud between Valérie Trierweiler and Ségolene Royal. The Cinémathèque has done a good job organizing the great mass of material. The exhibition covers Burton’s life and times, with interesting memorabilia (his first artworks: fire safety and anti-litter posters), notes he wrote for film projects, all sorts of juvenalia (animated shorts done with fellow students at CalArts). But most of the exhibition displays his incredibly vast output of visual art ranging from pen and ink drawings, acrylic paintings, and plastic sculptures. Burton doesn’t lack for energy—or imagination and wit: a not-bad series of drawings was done on paper napkins, including one from Caesar’s Palace (with the resort’s logo wittily used in the drawing).
The exhibition brings order to Burton’s phantasmagoric universe, dividing the pictures into subject categories like Women, Men, Creatures, Clowns, Animals, Pirates, Dwarves. This highlights Burton’s interests and obsessions over the years. It also brings out his many influences and affinities. As a mature artist he’s taken in expressionism, Pop Art, surrealism, Hieronymous Bosch, and much more. His predilection for bug-eyed and spindly polymorphic characters reminds us of surrealism especially. One sculpture resembling a giant Venus Flytrap is also similar to Francis Bacon’s early crucifixion paintings.
As a youth Burton was more influenced by popular entertainment, ranging from comics, toys, ads, sci-fi, and greeting cards. He was clearly entranced by the holidays he later went on to make films about, Halloween and Christmas. The exhibition’s revelation is Burton’s continuous fascination with the spooky space between childhood and adulthood, the bodily transformations that are as fascinating (and frightening) as anything in a horror film. From his beginnings to now Burton has dealt with these issues with his own unique mixture of the comic and the macabre. The youngest visitors registered both chills and amusement from the safety of their parents’ shoulders.
The exhibition confirms Tim Burton’s talent as a visual artist. He began his artistic career in high school art competitions, went to CalArts, the California Institute of the Arts (founded by the Disney brothers, Roy and Walt), and then served an apprenticeship at the Disney studio. He struck out against convention with his earliest efforts while still at Disney, films like Vincent and Frankenweinie. But he’s rarely transcended the purely visual in his movies. If anything the early movies Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice, full of the fire of youth, have more emotion and narrative interest than his later work. Although a projection screened loops of movies like Batman, the interesting thing about the exhibition is how Burton’s substantial oeuvre as a visual artist overshadows the more commercial Hollywood product. Nevertheless, like any shrewdly organized exhibition, this one ends up in a nifty boutique where this reviewer shelled out for a couple packs of Tim Burton Playing Cards.
Aside from the exhibition, the marvellous new Cinémathèque Française building also houses a permanent collection in its museum, features screenings of films from the world over, and has a first-rate bookstore featuring film books and DVDs. It’s set against a large green expanse very near the Bercy Omnisports auditorium, in a neighborhood conveniently filled with cafés and restaurants. The Cinémathèque’s web site contains not only lots of useful information and a user-friendly reservations service, but also a video created by Tim Burton expressly for the exhibition.
1. Tim Burton, Fille bleue avec vin. 1997. Huile sur toile, 71,1 × 55,9 cm. Collection privée © 2011 Tim Burton
2. Les Noces funèbres (Corpse Bride) Réalisé par Tim Burton et Mike Johnson (2005). A l’image : Tim Burton sur le plateau. Photo credit: Derek Frey
3. Tim Burton, L’Exposition à La Cinémathèque française © Stéphane Dabrowski / La Cinémathèque française