Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Inside the Monster's Mouth

Last Saturday, my fantastic friend Jen invited me to join a visit to the Tim Burton exhibit currently at MoMA.

While Tim Burton's movies are always incredibly visually interesting, I don't think I ever really envisioned him as an "Artist." Yes, I tend to view filmmakers as artists in their own right-- but I don't think I had ever really thought of Tim Burton this way, for some reason. Maybe because his films are playful, even (or especially) when they depict the grotesque.

However-- seeing him on paper opened him up in some way. The exhibit not only displayed his evolution from sketching to film making, but also did a phenomenal job of laying bare his process. The most fascinating pieces were those around the creation of the short film "Vincent." Burton's character studies and storyboards were really excellent.

My favorite two individual pieces in the exhibition were a legal pad of notes from the making of Beetlejuice ... on which-- get this-- he reminded himself to remember Virginia Woolf during the story construction. How about that for a mind flip??

Also-- there was a glass display case with some of the Nightmare Before Christmas characters. I wish that I had a camera, because they had Jack-- and about 20 different versions of his head, with different facial expressions on each. I always thought that the models were mold-able. Luckily-- someone else got a partial pic here

Overall-- my main reaction to the exhibit was that I wished MoMA regulated how many people were inside more closely...

But, more importantly, I thought the exhibit ultimately not only fantastically showcased Tim Burton's creativity, but also made the artistic process really accessible.

i.e. One of his early animations was in a condition where it still had lines in the picture showing how Burton was figuring out the form of his characters. Much like the below sketch-- but animated.

As someone who is currently trying to negotiate a day job and other creative efforts, I took particular notice of and interest in this earlier part of the exhibit-- everything before the "Beyond Burbank" [read: career as a film director] section-- where you could see Burton channeling his creativity outside of his (apparently frustrating) job at Disney-- but also utilizing his time there to contribute to his career-- i.e. his really fascinating Hansel and Gretal video adaptation which played only once on the Disney channel.

It was inspiring, as a relatively young artist, to see this development and negotiation. The online exhibition (though fantastic in its own right) does not do justice to this aspect of the physical exhibit. The experience of walking through his works -- seeing not only his notes and creative process on paper, but also their development as he aged -- is really worth actually going to see.

So if you are a young or aspiring artist-- get yourself to 53rd street, I say.

[I would argue that MoMA would agree with me on this point, as their Family Activity Guide for the exhibition utilizes the experience of the instillation to encourage children's understanding of creativity and process.]

"Untitled (Trick or Treat)," Tim Burton, 1980

On a side note... the phsyical objects on display were so richly deatailed and painstakingly crafted, one wonders if (what I believe is) the decline in quality of his films have something to do with his more frequent use of computer generated imagery (think Big Fish, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland) as opposed to phsycial fabrications (Beetle Juice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands). But, that is a question for another day...

Picture 1 from, 2, 3, 5, 6 from MoMA online exhibition, 4 unkown.

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