Monday, May 14, 2012
IF YOU'RE GOING TO ASK WHETHER SOMEONE EVER WAS A GOOD DIRECTOR, YOU NEED TO KNOW WHAT A DIRECTOR DOES
The thing about troll pieces is that their intent is to attract attention by pissing people off. You rage, you lose, as the saying goes. So I'm not going to get angry about this piece about Tim Burton. The rhetorical question posed in the title is a valid one, but it's one that has a very simple answer: “Was Tim Burton ever a good director?” “Yes. Yes he was.” He's one of the most unique visual stylists in the history of the medium, and one whose authorial imprint—in Burton's case, a blend between production and costume design, camerawork, music, and the frequently large, presentational performances he elicits from leading actors, frequently Michael Keaton or Johnny Depp—is unmistakeable. One can spot a Tim Burton movie a mile away. He's tilled the field as no one else quite has.
Most importantly, and this cannot be clarified enough, the term “auteur” as applies to cinema is not the same thing as being an “author” in the sense of being one who writes words on paper. Cinema consists of a wide array of elements, from costume/set/makeup/visual effects design to cinematography to editing to writing on down the line to the people who make sure lunch is ready. The producer is the one who hires all those people and arranges to pay for it (and don't sell that short as a skill; producing is one of the most under-appreciated roles in the entire medium and it's something one can be very good or very bad at). The director is the one whose job is to make sure all that insane amount of shit actually results in a movie. Directors can (and do, if they're doing it right) have a say in all the above-mentioned elements, including selecting their producer (or, if they can multitask, doing it themselves).
This is why it's possible for a director who does not write scripts, like Tim Burton, to be the auteur of the pictures he directs. He may not write the script. He may not even be the first director to work on the picture. But once he comes aboard it becomes, even for fleeting moments in something like the unfortunate Planet of the Apes movie he made, a Tim Burton film. Good or bad, and recently it's mostly been bad, this is invariably the case, even if lately it's more like “Ah, late-period Alice in Wonderland/Dark Shadows Tim Burton . . .” you still know it's him.
The argument that Tim Burton never was any good because he didn't write his own scripts will a) get you a machete in the balls from anyone who's ever seen Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, the two Batman pictures, Ed Wood, and from what I gather from the fervor of the people who've seen it, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, and b) betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of what it is a director actually does. Again, it could be that the author knows this full well and is pretending otherwise to piss people off. Though, if that's the case, it would be advisable to not make oneself look that fucking stupid in public. If indeed the author's entire argument does rest on the belief that to be an auteur one has to write one's own scripts, then I refer him to the work of Fritz Lang, John Ford, Roberto Rossellini, and Alfred Hitchcock; if black & white movies hurt his eyes, then Ridley Scott or David Fincher will suffice. But, seriously. Learn more.