Today, Alex Pappademas wrote a piece for Grantland outlining Tim Burton’s career, and how the director has slowly morphed into a also-ran cover-artist. I’ve seen this type of thought process before, so I guess I shouldn’t be shocked that this storyline is being regurgitated after every new Burton project that every hates is coming out. The same is true with Burton’s favorite leading man, Johnny Depp. People love to talk about how the two have descended into cartoonish versions of their previous artistic selves. My question: why them?
I’ll give anyone who is reading this the fodder needed to explain to anyone else why it shouldn’t be read: I am a huge Burton/Depp fan. The peaks of their careers are near and dear to my heart. And when the two came together in a good way (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood), it is exactly everything I want in a movie. That’s all I really need in my artists. I don’t crave longevity or applaud avoiding miscues. They happen to everybody. And I mean everybody. Spielberg still ruined Indiana Jones and gave us War of the Worlds. Francis Ford Coppola’s 21st century campaigns leave much to be desired. It happens. Not everyone can be Alfred Hitchcock, who luckily made his worst films before directing his best.
In a 1997 interview with The New York Times, Quentin Tarantino talks about how important his career is to him. “He not only studied movies, he studied the careers of directors and producers, and he knew what to expect and what he wanted. His goal was simple: Tarantino was interested in posterity, a body of work that would endure.”
It’s that kind of self-consciousness of one’s perception that gains credibility in today’s art world. Not to knock Tarantino; after all, wanting to make nothing but high-quality films is not a trait one should thumb their nose at. However, the other end of choosing projects is simply doing the things that you want to do, no matter how they are perceived or how they would rate on your IMBD page. This is what Tim Burton does. And people hate him for it.
I liken this reaction to that of Metallica. The heavy hitters of metal released four albums in the 1980s that, even if you abhor the genre, are universally recognized as either groundbreaking, masterful or both. In 1991, when the band released Metallica (or more commonly known as The Black Album), people were pissed. It was not the Metallica people knew and loved, so the common thought was that it was shit. This followed with 1996’s Load and every other record the band released for the rest of their career. Their latest album, a collaboration with Lou Reed titled Lulu, was universally made fun of and dismissed. It was weird, not very focused and downright unlistenable to most people. Yet, the artists themselves loved it. It’s what they wanted to do. But none of that matters, because since the 1980s, all anyone ever wanted from Metallica was for something that reminded them of Master of Puppets or Kill ‘Em All. This wasn’t that, so it had to go.
The truth is, both Metallica and Burton (and to a degree, Depp) have reached a point where their masterpieces cannot be topped. So, what’s the point? Why not use their resources to fund projects that they have always wanted to do, despite the reality that it might not be their top work artistically? To play the game of Oscar/Grammy nominations is simply not winnable. For Burton, it was Mars Attacks and Sleepy Hollow that got people to stop paying attention. While many critics will point to Load, it was really the Napster debacle and St. Anger that pissed off Metallica fans. For those artists, doing their own thing but stepping out of the box of what made them superstars killed their careers. But so what? We know that now. Why keep going to Burton flicks or download Metallica albums when you know they aren’t doing the things you used to like them to do?
I don’t enjoy Burton’s latest works either, so I stay away. I do enjoy (and understand) Metallica’s career arc, so I continue to listen. We need to come to a realization that artists owe nothing to us, and for them to stop doing the things that we love isn’t a betrayal; it’s artistic freedom. Freedom isn’t safe and nicely wrapped up for everyone to love. It comes with it a certain danger that what you might encounter could be something you hate. But they’re doing their thing, and I respect that. You won’t be getting the next Beetlejuice or Ride The Lightning anytime soon, so stop expecting it. And get over it.