Nightmare on King Street

Corpse Bride

Image via Wikipedia

What do “Nightmare”;  “James and The Giant Peach”;  “Mars Attacks”; “Batman”;  “Beetlejuice”  & “Sleepy Hollow” have  in common?
You know, you know………..
Okay how about “Edward Scissorhands”; “Alice in Wonderland” and “Corpse Bride”?
They all sprang from the genius mind of Tim Burton. AND you can see an amazing selection of his drawings,sculptures, maquettes, costumes, videos and sculptures as well as watch a host of Tim Burton movies at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on King Street.
Fresh from the MoMA in New York, this exhibition can be found squished into 2 open concept rooms on the ground floor. Entry is through a timed ticket system, so it is better to book ahead, although the evening I was there I could’ve simply bought my ticket and gone in straight away as it was very quiet.
Though grotesque and Dali-esque it is impossible not to appreciate the glorious expertly executed cartoons and storyboard scribblings, many using pen and ink . Whatever you might think of the macabre nature of many of his films, the precision and details of his artwork is superb. And this is from the woman who to this day has various scenes from the evocatively spooky” Sleepy Hollow”  etched in her mind to the extent where every time I travel along a tree-lined road in the dark, in winter with the headlights picking out the twisted branches overhead, I think of his film and am on the watch for the headless horseback rider!!!
Anyone whose ever made their own little cartoon flicker books knows how much time it takes to draw every minute change of a movement in order to bring a cartoon character to life. But you don’t really KNOW until you see this type of exhibition as this sort of insight really drives home the man-hours of work and talent that lie behind the production of these projects.
One of the rooms is devoted to his pre-fame formative years, with displays tracking his school and college work,  (he went to the California Institute of the Arts in the late 70’s) including excerpts from school notebooks, a stop motion film in 8mm he made at age 13; still-life drawings (one with a small monster etched in the corner – a little nod to the fact that even whilst sketching a  nude model, his mind was already working on the creation of the fantastical creatures that would come to dominate and brand all his future work.
The first part of the exhibit speaks to the influences of the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, Roal Dahl and the drawings and poetry of Dr Seuss ;  it then moves on to profile each of Tim Burton’s major films through original art work, scribbled notes and scaled models. In fact some of the satirical cartoons of his early years were distinctly surreal “Terry Gilliam/Pythonesque.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the neon splendour of something called “Carousel”, a gigantic spectacularly coloured sort of revolving mobile model with the prototype drawing off to the side. I also wanted all the actual models of the Corpse Bride AND the silhouette artwork depicting all the characters lined up and scaled to each other; even as silhouettes  with no surface detail,  they were so exquisite that it was still obvious which character each silhouette depicted.
At the end of the show was a wall devoted to one of Burton’s early cartoon features . Called “Vincent”    featuring a little boy who imagined an alternate reality where he WAS Vincent Price, and –  you guessed it – narrated by …………….Vincent Price
So even though I have been Tim Burtoned to death at home (did I just make him into a verb? – he’d probably make a film about that) courtesy of a teenaged son whose crazy about this guys’ art and as a consequence have leafed through many of the books we have; there is nothing as powerful as seeing the original pieces set out in an exhibition as skilfully and contextually put together as this one. A delightful gem of an exhibit if you like this sort of thing, and you’ve really got to get past/ignore the fact that Tim Burton must be one conflicted individual to be harbouring so many dark images in his imagination.  In fact I’ll leave the last word on this to one of the friends I went with.
“You wouldn’t want to have dinner with him would you ” ………………………………………….Probably not!!
The exhibition is showing until April 17
Tiff Bell Lightbox
416-599-TIFF (8433) or toll-free at 1-888-599-8433.

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