Tuesday, February 9, 2010

From Lakeland to Wonderland: Tim Burton and Marketing Melancholy

I recently had the pleasure of cramming into the Tim Burton exhibit at MoMA. After waiting about 20 minutes or so, my friends and I stiffly scuttled around the "occupancy limited" gallery space, teetering on the brink of panic attacks. I still feel as though I need a second visit to absorb everything. If you haven't yet gone, I suggest arriving on a Tuesday morning.

I must say, despite the fact that I was frustrated hearing people exclaim things like "wow, this is kinda dark" I was pleased to come out of the exhibit, because after seeing all of Burton's work lumped into one place, I realized that although I feel his recent work has been rather cringeworthy, his best work still outweighs the bad.

Having grown up in a middle class Connecticut suburb, Burton's films often spoke to me because his protagonists were often battling with being misunderstood outsiders trying to connect with the very world by which they were victimized. From Vincent, to Batman to Jack Skellington, Burton's characters, often dissatisfied with the banality of their surroundings, were people (or skeletons) I could identify with.

Although Burton's attempts to put his twist on old classics *cough*CharlieandtheChocolateFactoryPlanetoftheApes*cough* have seemed like sort of a cop-out, I really have been looking forward to Alice in Wonderland. For one, it just looks cool. It's exciting to see Tim Burton's imagination come to life with such fascinating special effects (and in 3D!). I mean, who couldn't escape into yet another interpretation of Wonderland? Secondly, what a cast! Sure, we've seen too much HBC and JD in Burton's films, but look at how well they fit into these roles! Plus, the addition of Anne Hathaway and Crispin Glover is a really smart call.

Alas, like Wonderland, it can't all be all whimsy and delight. I was bound to come across something, somewhere, that would make me say "Eat Me".

To be honest, most of the promotion for the film has made me rather giddy. Some of the subway stations are adorned with beautiful oversized posters of Alice's major characters. But, as I was doing research for a project on media literacy, I was looking through a teen magazine when I found a name that I'd never thought I'd see in that context: Tim Burton. It was in an advertisement. Evidently, OPI, a cosmetics company specializing in nail polish, is releasing limited edition Alice in Wonderland lacquers in colors like "Off with Her Red" and "Absolutely Alice".

Additionally, Urban Decay has released the "Book of Shadows", an AIW inspired set of cleverly-named eye shadows, neatly packaged in a book-like box with a pop-out scene from the movie. Even more tripped out? " A large mirror rests behind the scene – you feel as if you are transported into the film itself." Whoaaaaa....it's like 3D for your FACE.


I wish I could stop there, but I ran into yet another ad, where Organix Hair Care products were matched up with the film, with no real rhyme or reason. And like other Burton films, a line of action figures has been released and a video game has been announced.

OK, so Burton made it to the big time long ago. Why should I be so offended by the type of marketing involved with this film? Well, for starters, I'd like to point out that this is Burton's FIRST film with a female protagonist (you might be fooled considering Johnny Depp's creepy mug seems to be the centerpiece of just about every promotional poster). Wow. After a career that spans over two decades Burton has to find a way to cater to a female audience. At the time of this writing, the film has not been rated, but I can't recall Lewis Carroll (pedophile that he was) incorporating any sex or blood into the novel, so I think it's safe to guess that the highest rating will be PG-13. So it looks like there's plenty of room to market to young girls.

So, nail polish, eye shadow, hair products....hmmm. That's how you sell a movie with a female lead character, is it? Come on Tim, you're supposed to be on our side! We don't want to be like everyone else! You made your living by not being like everyone else!

What would the man who directed Edward Scissorhands think? You had an entire strip of little boxes made of ticky-tacky in Lakeland, FL painted pastel to illustrate suburban conformity, and now, 20 years later, young girls are painting their nails....I think you see where I'm going with this...

But I digress, I have a sliver of hope that maybe this marketing could entice girls who normally wouldn't show interest in Burton's work. But are we really living in such a sad state that cosmetics are the way to a young girl's heart? That's too bad.

I know that I can't blame this on the director of a film (although I do turn up my nose at long-term partnership with the Disney monopoly, which I'm sure is behind all of this). Burton will still be one of my greatest influences because he spoke a language that I understood, he made movies I could relate to.

I am just curious to see how he influences the next generation of young, female filmmakers.

Until then, I'm going to work on a pair of sweatpants that read "Beetlejuice-y" across the butt.


  1. Good post. I've never seen Tim have a good handle on women in his films (with the exception of Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice) except casting his lovers (Lisa Marie and currently HBC) in his work. Its simply not a strong suit of his, which like you, makes ALICE very fresh and intriguing to me, even at the expense of being a loose adaptation. The cosmetic products are following th trend of typical blockbuster movie tie-in-fluff...OPI and Urban Decay should simply shoot themselves in the face. I wish I could see the exhibit, because I've felt that since ED WOOD (*ahem* BIG FISH maybe), Mr. Burton has lost a lot of his edge, even though he's one of the most unique American directors of the past twenty years (and by unique, I meant making films with a signature that no one can mimicry)...but lately, I've been let down by the adaptations and remakes (PLANET OF THE APES...what a misfire). I wish he could go back to his roots (VINCENT!!!), and its looks that way with the Frankenweenie stop-motion feature in the works. Reading this just makes me thankful that his first feature brought Pee-Wee to the big screen (and Danny Elfman)...I'm still crossing my fingers they'll do something again.

  2. Damn typos...make that 30 years :) One more thing: I'm happy that Crispin Glover is getting some A-list work again. Met him after he gave his traveling slideshow at Anthology a few years back...great, great dude.

  3. I would agree with you there. I hope he is going back to his roots. Maybe seeing all his work in one place was a good thing for him.