Why do teenagers love Tim Burton? Because he’s just like them—uncomplicated and completely predictable.
It’s been announced that, for their next collaboration, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp want to bring to the big screen the infamous small-screen drama of Dark Shadows, a gothic soap opera from the late seventies.
In a way it’s the most predictable thing in the world: the two most obnoxious developments of pop culture, the Burton-Depp partnership and the Vampire craze, combining their forces to bring us another horrendous piece of pop art. At the same time it’s almost merciful—recent attempts of Burton to break out of the ‘cult’ pool for his inspiration have tended to be even more disastrous than his normal endeavors.
For a man who has an especially limited narrative ability, the stories that have already been popularized by a cult following seem to suit him. At least, better than any ‘original’ stories could—-who could forget the mind-numbingly depressing “Big Fish”? Or the notable suicides it inspired? If Burton’s talent lies anywhere, it is in the field of tasteless adaptation. And thankfully, that’s what the notion of “cult” is all about.
But the problem with so many Burton films is his inability to do justice to either cult or camp—and so spare us from some truly terrible choices. If “cult” is the very vocal, very self-conscious love of a thing practiced in groups, camp is the very vocal, self-conscious love of a thing which does not rate five minutes of anyone else’s attention. Camp cannot be produced for the masses, and for something of cult status to be appropriated in such a way would seem to be insulting to the cult itself.
But cult comes to mean, in the film industry, everything it doesn’t mean in the dictionary—a sure bet, a predictable market, a group of people solidly willing to watch what other people can’t justify watching. A market as predictable in its actions and loyalties as Burton himself. Burton, somehow, has been able to popularize something as exclusive as cult status, and also to rob ‘cult’ of its actual meaning—to deprive it of real weirdness in favor of a commercialized weirdness best evidenced in his trademark style.
Individual style should, first of all, never become a trademark, and secondly, should never look like Burton’s. The faded faux-gothic look of his scene design, the watered-down Edward Gorey aesthetic of his animated films, the hideous predictability of his lead actor—predictable both in Burton’s choice of him, and in what he chooses to do with every single role he’s given—all of these factors combined could only produce something that no one in their right mind would want to watch, right?
For most people, yes. But then there are 13-17 year olds. And unfortunately, 13-17 year olds are the ones who actually control the film industry, because they are the ones who actually go see movies while they are still in theaters. And they love Burton, because his brand of weird matches so perfectly with their own understanding of it—which is a “weird” not weird at all, but fashionable, something you can wear, a persona like Depp’s that you can put on and imitate and feel cool about.
So I have no fears for “Dark Shadows,” postponed though the project may be. Just like I have no fears for the extended reign of the “Twilight” empire.