“A pale, frail-looking, sad-eyes man with hair that espresse much more than last night’s pillow struggle. A comb with legs would have out-run Jesse Owens, given one look at this guy’s locks. A clump to the east, four sprigs to the west, a swirl, and the rest of this unruliness to all points north and south. I remember the first thing I thought was: “Get some sleep”, but I couldn’t say that, of course. And then it hit me like a two-ton sledgehammer square in the middle of my forehead. The hands – the way he waves them around in the air almost uncontrollably, nervously tapping on the table, stilted speech (a trait we both share), eyes wide and glaring out of nowhere, curious, eyes that have seen much but still devour all. This hypersensitive madman is Edward Scissorhands.”
This is how Johnny Depp describes Tim Burton in his foreword to the book Burton on Burton. Tim Burton has never changed: he has had that body and that look, which so impressed Johnny Depp, since he was ten years old, and he has them now, forty years later. They are the cornerstone of a singular inner world, which one accepts or rejects from the start, a world of many twists and turns, and secret passages, of lines that are meandering rather that straight. Since he was a teenager, Tim Burton’s pale features and messy, disheveled hair have expressed his way of being crazy, anxious, macabre, affectless, emotionless and intensely alive.
This is what Johnny Depp appears to recognize in Burton: “He is an artist, a genius, an oddball, an insane, brilliant, brave, hysterically funny, loyal, nonconformist, honest friend (…) He is him and that is all. And he is, without a doubt, the finest Sammy Davis, Jr impersonator on the planet. I have never seen someone so obviously out of place fit right in. His way”.
Burton’s success has never put in question or compromised his singular personality; on the contrary, it confirms his strategy and style as a dealer in ‘contraband’. Every mask Burton invents – Pee-Wee, Edward, the Joker, Betelgeuse, the Penguin, Catwoman, Ed Wood, the Headless Horseman or Willy Wonka – bears the imprint of a primitive culture, a culture that rises from the hidden depths of childhood and that comes back from the dead. All masks, frequently autobiographical, are always deeply personal.