The famous director was in Prague to introduce a show of his props and drawings
In what is surely to be the most popular exhibition of the year, 500 items from film director Tim Burton’s archives of more than 10,000 film-related pieces are going on display in Prague. Some 150 of them have never been shown to the public before.
The World of Tim Burton
When: March 28–Aug. 3; Tues–Sun 10 a.m.–8 p.m.
Where: House of the Stone Bell
Tickets: 190 Kč, purchased in advance from Ticketpro (recommended)
The show includes not only props and sketches relating to his famous hit movies, but also drawings for unrealized projects ranging from another Batman sequel to Little Dead Riding Hood. Parts of comics he drew before he was famous, travel sketches and large-format Polaroid pictures round out the sections of the show.
Many of the items were never meant to be seen publicly, but were just part of the creative process. “It’s a strange thing to have things that are sort of private and personal showing in public. For me, drawings have always been a way of thinking, a form of communicating. … I was never a very good speaker, talker, so I always found it was easier for me to communicate through drawing,” Burton said at a press conference. “When I worked at Disney as an animator, I used to hide in the closet for most of the day.”
All of the items have his trademark dark sense of humor, or “carnivalesque interplay between comedy and the grotesque,” as curator Jenny He told the press.
The main theme of the exhibition is the well-meaning but misunderstood outcast who rebels against conformity by creativity, Jenny He said. “We invite visitors into Tim Burton’s world and hope they discover their own personal viewpoint of Tim’s unique and singular output,” she added.
Burton gave Jenny He and her team free access to his archives and let them “go through everything” to pick the items for the show. He helped to identify what pieces related to what films or unrealized projects.
A different version of the show was at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2009 and drew 800,000 visitors, making it that museum’s third-most popular show. “It is smaller than the other show. But … this is a unique city, so we tried to put pieces in that we felt were part of the spirit of what we feel about Prague,” Burton said. He also praised the work of the Czech designers that created the space for the show.
He likes that the previous version of the show was popular. “Growing up in the culture I did, I didn’t go to museums a lot. The culture of art and museums was different, and not inviting. The thing that this show did was it got people that usually wouldn’t go to a museum to go to a museum and see stuff that they wouldn’t usually see in a museum,” he said.
Jenny He said that it was fitting to have the exhibition in Prague because of the city’s rich history with stop-motion animation. Burton used this technique in films like his production of Nightmare Before Christmas, which has many items in the exhibit. “At a time when we are going to infinity and beyond with CGI, Tim brought animation back to its roots,” she said.
Burton cited Czech animator Karel Zeman as an influence. “[I saw] his films like [The Fabulous] Baron Munchausen, and I remember some dinosaur series. … And where I grew up in Burbank there was a documentary on Karel Zeman that showed his process. That was extremely inspirational to me. He and Ray Harryhausen were probably two inspirations in terms of wanting to remain true to doing stop-motion and [having] a handmade quality. They did that amazingly. You saw this process, and I’ll never forget that. It was very inspirational,” Burton said.
He also had praise for Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer. “He does amazing work. The history here in terms of animation, this is again why I am so happy to be here. There are so many amazing animators throughout the history of this country. As computers have taken over the world, this place still — as you walk around the city — this place has the feeling of art and handmade. It continues here; it’s incredible,” he said.
He also noted the mixture of darkness and humor in Czech art. “Without really thinking of it, I was very influenced by this place.”
Even further back in time, he was excited by children’s books. “Some of my earliest influences were [books by] Dr. Seuss. I loved his artwork and stories and his imagination. My influences came from lots of things, monster movies. Not so much art, but films were definitely an inspiration.”
The dark nature of Burton’s work is a form of therapy, he said. “For me it is getting feelings out that are sometimes trapped inside. … It’s always kept me alive,” he said. He began drawing as a child and just kept going with it, despite not being particularly good at it, in his own estimation. “It was a form of expression.” He also dabbled in filmmaking in his youth.
“I went to Cal Arts and worked at Disney because of the combination of film and drawing [in animation]. It made the most sense to pursue that,” he said, adding that it was a great way to learn about the entire filmmaking process.
He likes working with Johnny Depp because that actor takes risks. “He doesn’t mind looking ridiculous. It helps when an actor is willing to try to do things in different ways. He’s always been that way for me,” he said. But Burton isn’t concerned with wanting to work with particular actors. “For me it is all about the part. It really stems from what the piece is and who is the best person to play it. I always try to remain open minded. I do like people like Johnny who don’t mind looking ridiculous.”
Burton thinks all of his films are special in some way but says he likes Edward Scissorhands and Nightmare Before Christmas in particular. “Those are slightly more personal,” he said. But he likes all of his films, even though he seldom goes back to rewatch them. “They are all special in some way. Even if they are horrible films, there is something for me that in terms of making it or whatever is special,” he said.
While Prague is known for filmmaking, Burton only filmed here once. In 2000 he made two commercials for watch company Timex. “It was fun to shoot in Prague. It was a strange experience, it was great. Our production office was in brothel. I kept walking in, going in and out doing something, and I was going, ‘Who are these girls, and what do they do sitting here?’ and I found out. This was our production office,” he said.
“Because I knew of some of the artists like Karel Zeman, I was aware of the vibe of the city, and I always wanted to visit, so working here, it is always better to do something like that than to be a tourist because you can really get to know people, you can work with them, with the artists. … So that was very special. In some ways it is a better way to get a sense of the place and the city and people, working rather than touring,” he said.
Timex commercial by Tim Burton: