Handy in the cutting room

25th April 1997 at 01:00
Tim burton: the book and the video Pack includes a book, Burton on Burton, edited by Mark Salisbury and a video of Edward Scissorhands Faber and Faber Pounds 12.99

Laurence Alster finds a book and video pack about the director of Edward Scissorhands is a shear delight. If you undertook a snap poll among teenagers to find their nomination for best film director (ever) it's a fair bet that Quentin Tarentino, director of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, would breeze it, even though most of them would, in theory, be too young to have seen these 18-rated works.

But Tim Burton, with such winningly unorthodox films as Beetlejuice, Batman and most recently, Mars Attacks! would run him a pretty close second - not least among young women. For Burton has not only talent, he also has Johnny Depp.

It is Burton's films featuring the doe-eyed Depp, Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood, that have gained most praise from critics and fans - strange when one considers that in both films, Depp is well-nigh unrecognisable.

Tim Burton: the Book and the Video goes some way to explaining the director's ideas and Depp's appeal in Edward Scissorhands. The book, Burton on Burton, consists of interviews with the director, while the video offers the widescreen version of the film. This attractive package will certainly delight teachers and students alike.

Particularly enjoyable is Burton's voice, that of the outsider, the oddball, the class daydreamer and doodler, who eventually comes not only good, but rich and famous too.

Most of Burton's films are, like the characters in them, highly idiosyncratic. As the director readily acknowledges, there is more than a passing resemblance between himself and many of his protagonists.

His personal and professional reminiscences, although a little clumsy - "I much prefer to connect with something on a subconscious level than to intellectualise about it" - still make interesting reading. Far more rewarding, though, is Edward Scissorhands, a film in which Burton shows inspired form.

Depp as the eponymous character, a young humanoid who has shears where his hands should be, is given a home by a kindly middle-class couple, and eventually falls in love with their daughter. But things turn sour when Edward is unjustly involved with the law, and eventually forced to return to the Gothic pile from whence he came.

A fairy tale, clearly - but, like all the most poignant fairy tales, Edward Scissorhands points out significant truths. Simultaneously a satire on suburban conformity and an allegory on the corruption of innocence, the film offers some memorable comic images.

Among them is Edward's casually brilliant topiary, as well as several delicate acting performances, Depp's being perhaps the most impressive. So literally self-effacing a role would have scared off any number of lesser talents. Depp, though, succeeds in radiating goodness from beneath his character's ravaged surface.

The relevance of both elements of Tim Burton: the Book and the Video to drama, film and media studies is obvious. And teachers of psychology and communication studies could make good use of the film to explore such themes as group dynamics and social conformity. Teachers of other subjects should simply invent their own excuses for showing Edward Scissorhands. Their students (females especially) will love them forever.

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