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MoMA

MIDNIGHT AT THE MOVIES WITH TIM BURTON

December 2, 2009  |  Film, Tim Burton
Midnight at the Movies with Tim Burton
<i>Sleepy Hollow</i>. 1999. USA. Directed by Tim Burton. Paramount Pictures

Sleepy Hollow. 1999. USA. Directed by Tim Burton. Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Whenever Ron (Magliozzi, my co-organizer) recounts his “eureka” moment that spurred him to curate an exhibition on the work of Tim Burton—while watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on a Sunday in 2005, as described in Ron’s first Burton post—it always takes me back to that Monday, when he excitedly approached my desk to chat about his weekend. The first thing he said to me that morning was, “You know who we should do next? Tim Burton!”

At the time, Ron and I were in the thick of working on Pixar: 20 Years of Animation (December 14, 2005–February 6, 2006). I remember looking at him and thinking, “The body’s not even in the ground yet, and we’re already plotting our next victim?” I admit, at that point I had yet to see Charlie; but like most of the film brats of my era, I grew up feasting on the films of Tim Burton. That seed Ron planted in my head, four-plus years ago, has since given me the opportunity to revisit all the wondrous and delectable earthly (and out-of-this-earth-ly) delights that inhabit Tim Burton’s filmic universe.

I can’t recall the first Burton film I ever watched, nor do I remember if I saw it on VHS on my couch, or in 35mm in a theater. (Digression: I do fondly recollect my first and only drive-in movie—2001′s Planet of the Apes.) But I remember the first time I saw Sleepy Hollow (1999)—to this day, one of my most memorable movie-going experiences.

The lush imagery of the trailer was the first hook. The painterly compositions, the atmospheric design—and of course, the idea of a headless Christopher Walken stalking Johnny Depp made securing a ticket to a midnight screening on opening night an absolute must. In the weeks and days leading up to the screening, my film school compatriots and I giddily anticipated the film, discussing our favorite Burton movies and lamenting the three-year drought since the wonderfully irreverent Mars Attacks! descended upon us in 1996. We scoured imdb.com and internet search engines for every detail on Sleepy Hollow. We were excited that Burton’s long-time collaborators—actor Depp, production designer Rick Heinrichs, costume designer Colleen Atwood, and composer Danny Elfman—were involved in the film, a discovery that led to many arguments on the auteur vs. collaborative-collective theories. (If you’re curious, I landed squarely on the thought that they are not mutually exclusive. The decision to work with the same artisans time and again is in and of itself an auteurist choice.)

Finally the time came, and about a dozen of us traipsed downhill to the only multiplex in Middletown, CT, on a fittingly foggy night, typical of fall in New England. Settled in our seats with popcorn and soda, we were still yammering on about Burton and movies when the credits rolled. A hush fell over the group as we sat mesmerized by the opening sequence—the vivid image of dripping red wax sealed our silence—and we remained mesmerized for the next 105 minutes. When the film closed on Ichabod, Katrina, and Young Masbath embarking upon their new life in New York City, all of us remained in the theater to watch the credits until the faithful MPAA rating popped up. As we exited into the chilly night, not one of us spoke. I imagine everyone was doing the same thing I was: replaying the film in my head, savoring and visualizing all of its luridly beautiful and gory images. (For me, in particular, a black-clad Christopher Walken with pointy, shaved teeth, juxtaposed with cherubic sisters in pale pink dresses against a snowy backdrop, kept resonating in my mind.) At last, when we had reached the campus and started to go our separate ways, the silence was broken: “When are we seeing it again tomorrow?”

Comments

I’m interested to know whether or not the films have been acquired for the permanent film collection. I had always felt that Sleepy Hollow was Burton at his peak (even since the 12 times I watched it as when it came out on DVD [when I was 9]). Fantastic post, if any film deserves to be in the collection, it should be Sleepy Hollow.

Evan, thank you for your comment. The Museum is in the process of acquiring all of Tim Burton’s feature films for the permanent collection.

If you don’t mind me asking, does the museum usually make acquisitions of entire director’s works after director monographs (such as the Michael Haneke and Spike Jonze retrospectives) or is Tim Burton’s work simply worth the acquisitions.

I’m very grateful for your response to my question about Tim Burton. I’ve been very interested in what films the museum collects, which usually enhances my view of specific films in whole new light.

Hi Evan. The Department of Film’s exhibitions and acquisitions are not mutually exclusive nor are they always linked. We exhibit films that we do not collect, and we collect films that are not timed for any specific exhibitions. On occasion, exhibitions are opportunities for the Museum to collect an artist’s work in depth, such was the case with the “Tim Burton” exhibition. We also organize exhibitions to present recent acquisitions, such is the case with our upcoming “Frederick Wiseman” exhibition (January 20, 2010–December 31, 2010). The curatorial staff of the Museum is responsible for the works that we choose to exhibit and acquire. Hope this answers your query!

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