For me, the sign of a good film book is that it makes you want to revisit the films that the author discusses. Tim Burton: The iconic filmmaker and his work by Ian Nathan while defined as unofficial, covers all of Burton’s films, mostly presented in chronological order, and features snippets of interviews with Burton and his many collaborators.
Title: Tim Burton: The iconic filmmaker and his work
Author: Ian Nathan
Publisher: Aurum Press
Published: 6 Oct 2016
If asked, I’d count myself as a huge Tim Burton fan – indeed I’ve seen all of his films and most multiple times. On reflection, I’d admit that I’m not so thrilled about his more recent oeuvre and I’ve yet to see this latest (and 19th) feature Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – which is covered briefly. Although I will.
Nathan is a regular writer for Empire magazine, and clearly a Burton fan too. This looks and reads like a labour of love. This is a book for fans, and is not necessarily meant to convert the sceptic. The fact it is presented with a glorious slip-case and is released in time for the aforementioned latest release highlights this fact. So what can the reader expect within the book itself? It begins with a few pages of background to Burton’s childhood and influences. It mentions his early shorts and work in college and for Disney. From the outset, you are clear the type of book this is. No expense spared in the quality of paper and large publicity photographs, stills from his movies (see the black and white of Burton with Geena Davis early on or with Johnny Depp on the set of Sleepy Hollow) and posters from across the genres Burton is regularly associated with: The Creature from the Black Lagoon poster looks terrific.
After the introduction, we have a few pages on each of his films chronologically, grouped in 2s or 3s in loose themes. Thus we have the chapter Strange Heroes on Batman and Edward Scissorhands and later Family Plots on Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows for example. The only oddity is the middle section where the 3 stop motion films (Nightmare…, Corpse Bride, and Frankenweenie) are logically discussed together. There’s also a neat pull-out timeline. Each chapter describes the film in context, brings forth quotes and parts of interviews from Burton and other, and finishes with comments on critical reception, box office and sometimes what Burton thought in hindsight. So, very comprehensive.
The idea that Burton is a genre within himself is explored throughout the book. Even the dreaded term Burtonesque – which Burton himself gets irritated by – gets mentioned. So is Burton a genre? What does Nathan conclude? Is there a conclusion? I’d suggest his best films that could call properly Burtonesque are his early works: Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, both Batmans and Sleepy Hollow. Although I personally love Mars Attacks, I actually consider Ed Wood and Big Eyes to be his most accomplished works. Even in these films, Nathan illustrates how reoccurring themes of the outsider, suburbia and family re-occur. Maybe Burtonesque can only be applied to a certain visual sensibility (the framing, the gothic shadows, the curly trees) and not his film’s themes.
So is the book any good? Well, as a fan who has seen his 19 films more than 50 times in total, I want to go back and watch most of them once more. But not Planet of the Apes. Never again. But Nathan even finds some positives in that one. Would I recommend Tim Burton: The iconic filmmaker and his work to a Burton fan? Absolutely, although I’m sure a fan would find little new here. General film fans should check it out for sure. It’s a lovely book with glorious images. I’d be interested in finding out if someone who isn’t a fan of Burton would be persuaded to revisit some of his work. I think Nathan nicely portrays Burton as a producer and director of some of the most iconic films of the past 30 odd years.
Reviewer: Ian J Simpson