Burton is apparently from a vaguely WASP-ish, non-churchgoing Protestant family background. Available biographies of the director provide no indication of any specific denominational affiliation. He grew up in Burbank, California at a time when it was an important suburban center for film production as well as aeronautics manufacturing. Burton's predominant childhood influences seem to have been television, movies, kitsch, suburbia and pop culture.
From: Ken Hanke, Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker, Renaissance Books: Los Angeles (1999), pages 26-27:
When Tim Burton entered the world (as Timothy William Burton) in Burbank on August 25, 1958, it was into this echt-1950s world of suburbia that he came. Burbank, in 1958, was not yet a cultural joke. Indeed, it was scarcely known to the world... Burbank was a small town within a big one and largely reflected the Eisenhower-era world of mss conformity with it standardized houses and lockstep mentality. Everyone was largely expected to do and behave the same way. Anything outside a fairly rigid set of largely unquestioned rules was considered suspect or worse. This, after all, was the end of the eara of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the extensive witch hunts for supposed Communists festering in America's underbelly. It was simply safer to play it safe--and the more you were like your neighbor, the safter you were, and the more your neighbors were like each other (and like you, of course) the more you were validated.
Everyone being alike--as in the world of Burbank, California--tends to endorse the idea that you must be okay, too. "Nobody did anything. No one would every say he was an atheist, they'd say they were Protestants. You'd never do anything to reveal youself," Burton told Village Voice columnist Gary Indiana in October 1994. Burton's parents, Bill and Jean, were very much a part of this world. A former minor-league ballplayer for the Los Angeles Cardinals' farm team... Bill now worked for the city--in Parks and Recreation--and Jean ran a cat-oriented gift store, Cats Plus, which specialized in knickknacks that in some way depicted the feline form. If this was a sign of eccentricity on her part, it was certainly of the mildest and most respectable kind, not to mention a somewhat precious and kitschy variety.
There seems to have been little or no real sense of family in the Burton household, at least from Tim's perspective. When asked about his father in a 1991 interview for the New York Times Magazine, he commented, "I'm not close to him. It's been a source of confusion. I'm just something of a remote person in some ways. I've had an incredible desire to get out of the house from an early age." His feelings about his mother are equally detached: "I don't know. It sort of freaked me out several years ago, realizing I don't know a whole lot about my parents, don't even know some of the basics, like where they were born."
The degree to which this vagueness about his family roots is literally true is certainly open to quesiton. However, ther eis no getting around the fact that Tim was an unusual and detached child.
About Tim Burton's childhood in Burbank, California, from: Hanke, page 28:
It was a world of joiners--Elks Clubs, Moose Clubs, Rotary Clubs, Boy Scouts, Little Leage. . . . The whole concept was one of belonging. And Burton was never much of a joiner. He admits to having played some sports... but the only evidence of him being a part of a group is during his sophomore and junior years at Burbank High, when he was on the Water Polo Foothill League...
In 1950s' Burbank, everything was geared toward holding together a facade of stability and so-called normalcy. This is not surprising when it is taken into consideration that this was also the era of the idea of imminent nuclear war. A great many people, perhaps most, felt that World War Three was waiting in the wings and that they would shortly be incinerated, or, worse, left to the lingering death of radiation... Burton would later tell Premiere magazine that Burbank was "a visually wonderful, hellish place. . . . When you're a kid you think everything is strange, and you think because you're a kid everything is strange. Then when you get older, you realize it is strange."
About Tim Burton's childhood in Burbank, California, from: Hanke, page 29:
Burton--a withdrawn, and naturally sensitive boy--was very much a part of this world at an early and... impessionable age... He made his own adjustments to the era. The attraction to horror films was immediate for him. An unusually perceptive child, as is often the case with creative children who observe from the sidelines, Tim was quick to see the facade of his suburban existence.
Hanke, pages 30-31:
It is also more than a little intriguing to find [Tim Burton] describing people hiding behind "masks of normality," since Burton appears to have taken this concept to heart and inverted it in his own life, hiding much of himself behind what might be called a "mask of eccentricity." Burton might have complained about the people in his childhood--"You'd never do anything to reveal yourself"--yet, except in his art, that could very well be said of Burton himself, since there is so much of his personal life and history that he simply never discusses or reveals to anyone, and much of what he says in interviews is so similar that it begins to sound like a rehearsed script. If an interviewer departs from that script--such as asking a question about his brother, Daniel--the result is a blanket refusal to speak on the topic.
The only relief Tim found to his existence in this land of ticky-tacky box houses and people playing at being "normal" lay in the horror films on telvision and in the second-run movie houses. Fantasy of all sorts appealed to him, especially the Japanese Godzilla films... and the Ray Hrryhausen stop-motion films like Jason and the Argonauts (1964). However, what held the most attraction, what spoke to Burton directly was the array of colorful horror films of Vincent Price, especially the adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories that Price made for moviemaker Roger Corman. "Growing up in suburbia, in an atmosphere that was perceived as nice and normal (but which I had other feelings about), those movies were a way to certain feelings, and I related them to the place I was growing up in," explained Burton. "Vincent Price was somebody I could identify with. When you're younger things look bigger, you find your own mythology, you find what psychologically connects to you," he added. Indeed. It is particularly apt that Burton should refer to mythology, since in not too many years Tim would be crafting a mythology of his own, to which an astonishing number of people would psychologically connect, just as he had connected with the Price movies.
Hanke, page x:
[With his film Edward Scissorhands,] Burton appeared to have tapped into the malaise of the last of the "baby boomers" of suburbia of the early and mid-1960s, a subgeneration no one else seemed to even realize existed. Burton had not only recognized its existence, but depicted its world with alarming accuracy--both in realistic and fantasticated terms... and was creating a mythology to go with it.
Hanke, pages xiv-xv:
On the surface... [Steven] Spielberg would appear to be a fair comparison to [Tim] Burton. Both are children of the suburbs. Both are self-confessed movie brats. Both have been professionally successful beyond anyone's wildest imaginings. Both deal largely in fantasy. And both seem to have a preoccupation with childhood. However, there the similarities end. Indeed, the two are a study in contrasts, and possibly the reason lies in one simple fact--Spielberg, born in 1946, is twelve years Burton's senior. Spielberg's rather roseate-tinged sitcom visionof suburbia is of a wholly different era. Burton's darker and more realistic, yet not unaffectionate, onscreen view is clearly fueled by the same vague feeling of imminent destruction that permeates the music of his frequent collaborator, composer Danny Elfman. The view is skewed by a young childhood marked by the anarchic discontent of living with the idea that at any moment the Soviets were going to blast the United States out of existence... this phobic, even paranoid atmosphere clings to [Burton's] every depiction of childhood, and doubtless has bearing on the streak of morbidity that permeates all of his films.
Tim Burton began making amateur films during his childhood, particularly stop motion animation films and fantasy films. He made films instead of doing writing assignments during high school. Hanke, page 32:
An indifferent student and self-confessed non-reader, he discovered that making a film on a book or a topic was easier than actually reading the works in question and discussing them, and was a sure way to a good grade. The effort and the novelty alone are enough to dazzle a teacher, especially in those precamcorder days. Nonetheless, it is obvious that these backyard doodles were an expression of Tim's interests and personality. He may joke about bluffing his way through a high-school psychology project by loosely matching visual images to the title track from shock-rocker Alice Cooper's Welcome to My Nightmare album. However, the choice of material to expess his view of his own psychology is certainly telling, not to mention that it evidences a youthful fascination with the kitsch and pop culture that would ultimately permeate his professional films.
Burton began honing his skills in drawing during his teen years. Upon graduation from high school, 18-year-old Tim Burton received a scholarship to the Disney-founded California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). He decided to become an animator. After a year there, he was hired by Disney's animation studio to work on their feature film The Fox and the Hound, directed by Latter-day Saint animation director Richard Rich. Burton worked as an animator for The Fox and the Hound and as a conceptual artist for The Black Cauldron (also directed by Richard Rich), but his work was uncredited in the on-screen credits for each film, and it is likely that there is little or no actual work by Tim Burton on screen in either of these films. This was Tim Burton's first professional position in the film industry. From: Hanke, pages 37-39:
The Disney Studio... was not concerned with degrees as such. The review board was just as likely to pull a promising freshman out of CalArts and offter him a job on the lot as they were to wait and choose from the crop of graduating seniors... Burton suddenly found himself a fully employed animator at work on Disney's The Fox and the Hound (1981). It was the lot's latest attempt to repeat what they perceived as Walt Disney's formula: a rather saccharine, eighty-three-minute narrative about the childhood friendship between the two natural enemies of the title and how it plays out as their tendencies emerge. It features the voices of such decidedly non-Burtonesque performers as Sandra Duncan and Mickey Rooney.
At the studio, Tim was assigned to Disney staffer Glenn Kean, an animator of the old school. Upon discovering that his new acquisition's talents didn't run toward drawing "cute fox scenes," Kean assigned the newcomer to dealing with more distant shots--the long shots where detail wasn't so important. The results for Burton were far from pleasant. His attempt to force himself into doing somethign he neither believed in, nor identified with, resulted in a significantly unpleasant period where he has spoken of sleeping upward of fourteen hours a day--ten at home and another four at work. This psychological escape mechanism--technically called hypersomnia--is a classic symptom of a serious form of depression. Burton openly hated the entire experience of animating someone else's ideas...
This, and Tim's generally erratic behavior (he took to sitting in a closet or hiding under his desk to avoid dealing with anyone), did little to help Burton form any strong ties with his co-workers. Overall, his depression and his unusual talents came across only as strangeness. He was still very much the outsider, and probably the only thing that saved him from being fired was the generally confused atmosphere of a film studio in search of a direction in the late 1970s.
Some measure of salvation came the following year when the studio decided that perhaps Burton's talents might be put to better use as a "conceptual artist" and not as an animator. Instead of trying to draw other people's ideas, Burton would be allowed to have a shot at creating the ideas themselves. The only problem was that nothing every came of his efforts. They were admired, even praised, but that would be the end of it. "It was a very weird relationship, because on the one hand they let me get away with murder, but it was like, 'Don't tell anybody,'" Burton noted of this period in his career. These brilliant ideas (including the one that would become Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993), were going nowhere at an alarming rate (Burton had spent a year coming up with ideas and designs that were never used); and what good is all the artistic freedom in the world if no one ever sees it?
...In an ill-advised effort to blend the old and the new (the Disney hierarchy was not about to commit themselves to anything all that daring at this point), and to find something for Burton to do, they teamed Burton with "old school" artist Adreas Deja to design what would become one of the studio's few animated financial disasters, The Black Cauldron (1985). It was not a collaboration in any sense of the word. Deja did his usual thing and Burton let his fertile--and too-long-untapped--imagination run free, and never the twain did meet. Not surprisingly, it was Deja's work that ended up in the eighty-minute effort. Burton's was considered, as always, just a little too "weird" to be of any "commercial" use. This kind of conceptual work that went nowhere did have a payoff, though--in the form of the admiration of two of the Disney higher-ups, producer Julie Hickson and head of creative development Tom Wilhite. They sensed that Burton's originality might be worth exploring, at least tentatively, in the search for a sense of direction.
[Hickson and Wilhite backed Burton in making the first professional film he ever directed: the short animated film Vincent (1982), about a young boy who escapes middle-class boredom by imagining he is Vincent Price.]
Hanke, page 48:
Another inherently unsettling area of [Tim Burton's film Frankenweenie]--and a theme that Burton touches on again and again in subsequent works--is what it consciously leaves out of the story of Frankenstein. There is no moral. Burton's Frankenstein is not punished for daring to emulate God. Indeed, God doesn't enter into it at all. No one even suggests that this creation of life might be an affront to God, only that it's out of the ordinary and needs removing. The reaction is essentially no different to what they might have done if an "undesirable" family had moved in down the street. These people are clearly the basically nonreligious "Protestants" of Burton's childhood. Family films that don't at least pay lip service to some notion of religion--especially in a context that normally does so--are certainly not the sort of thing one expects to find bearing the Disney Studios logo!
Hanke, pages 72-73:
In many respects, the onscreen character of Lydia [in Tim Burton's film Beetlejuice] is more a portrait of Burton than any offered so far. The tension between her and her parents has far more relation to Burton's own life than the rather cozy depiction of the Frankenstein family in his earlier Frankenweenie. Her status as a misunderstood loner is certainly unquestioned... Similarly, Lydia's seeming aversion to sex or at least the eovertly sexual is strikingly in keeping with Burton's apparent view of the matter--as when she pounds on the walls when she thinks her parents are in the throes of passion, or when, seeing the Maitlands in their sheets and mistaking the image for some sexual peculiarity on the part of her parents, she yells, "Sick! Sexual perversion! If you guys are gonna do that weird sexual stuff, do it in your own bedroom!" Burton and sex are not something that go well together on-camera... It is a subject with which he is clearly not comfortable--unless it is wrapped in the essentially sexless romanticism of the Maitlands, where the specter of the act of sex itself is never even approached. A review of [in] the October 1, 1997, issue of Harper's Bazaar, says of Burton's book, The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories (1997), "Burton remains mercifully presexual"--an assessment that could pretty much be applied to his work straight down the line.
Hanke, page 123:
As if it were a holdover from Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns opens with snow falling, in this case around a Warner Bros. logo, befoe the film plunges into an exquisitely designed, commpletely visual precredits sequence dealing with the origins of the Penguin, nee Oswald Cobblepot, a (suggested but not seen) monstrosity born into the ritzy Cobblepot family on a winter night. The fashionable Cobblepots... do what any respectable members of the haut monde would when faced with such a situation--take Baby for a walk and then clandestinely dump him--Moses-like in a basket--into the drainage system that runs under the sewers under Gotham's old zoo. (Bizarrely, the whole Moses angle--the abandonment of the infant in a basket to float downstream, supposed Semitic overtones in [Danny] DeVito's makeup, the plot to kidnap the firstborn of Gotham's rich and powerful, et cetera--was taken very seriously in some quarters, causing the film to be branded as having anti-Semitic overtones.)
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