Tim Burton directs Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder and Diane Wiest in this romantic fantasy about a man built by an inventor who died before completing his creation, leaving the innocent with scissors for hands.
I’m surprised, looking back over this blog, that I haven’t watched more Tim Burton over last few years. He was a beloved favourite of my youth. Have I outgrown the stripy, slashy cartoon gothic fantasies of his heyday? Or has his tumbling decline into soulless, off key blockbuster territory tainted even his early masterworks? I don’t know. If you told the teenage me there would be a week, let a lone half a decade where, I didn’t eagerly revisit his best stuff… well that kid just wouldn’t believe you. I happened to watch this on TV in a hotel on holiday. The DVD I own of it has lived in its cellophane wrapper untouched for longer than I can remember. And I adored Edward Scissorhands as a kid.
The tale of a horrific looking outsider who is embraced by suburbia for his otherness. They celebrate his artistic talent… he chops big hair, scruffy dogs and unkempt bushes into sculptures and pop art. The bored housewives are drawn to this silent, blank other… something different to gossip about, mother and be attracted to. And then they turn on him… as much out of the conformity and ennui that drew them to him in the first place. Leaving this quiet, confused, gentle being to be chased and hounded like Frankenstein’s monster.
Is Frankenstein the key inspiration for Burton’s smallest but most affecting warped bedtime story? Or is it Pinocchio? A fake child looking for love and humanity and authenticity in a world where such things are in short supply, almost hypocritically. Vincent Price’s Inventor is more Gepetto than Victor Von. Caring, nurturing, fascinated by his creation. A brilliant swan song by the delightfully hammy horror actor – gifting us a child who looks like a horror beast but clearly walks through the world like an angel. I’m sure Stan Winston and Burton enjoyed bringing to life a cinematic freak who pointedly wasn’t a violent tormentor like their previous icons of design.
Everything about the production is just lovely. Danny Elfman’s wondrous, soaring lullaby of a score. Bo Welch’s candy coloured suburban bungalows – a maze of false innocuous traps for our razor clawed innocent to navigate. Diane Wiest’s good soul Avon lady – part 50s sitcom mom, part fairy godmother. Winona Ryder’s Kim Boggs, a simple but gorgeous love interest. A clear subversion of her gothier, cool star image. Here she is the cheerleader, the clean cut kid, the Disney princess. If the film has one slight bloody knick to its near immaculate composure, it is that it waits just a little too long to bring Edward and Kim together. The consumption of the attraction feels rushed and unfulfilling, overwhelmed by the bigger plot developments as a lynch mob forms and Edward escapes the neighbourhood.
And we get Depp’s first significant lead role. The stillness, confusion and yearning of Edward is sold to us in a few closed off, rickety movements and some rare but sweetly muttered line deliveries. It is a less-is-more central turn. Though Depp proves remarkably good at softsold physical comedy – moments with a waterbed, a whisky nightcap and a sexual awakening owe more to Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd or Stan Laurel than his emo rock star image. His work with Burton gave Depp a safe space to figure out his strengths away from being a pretty boy pin-up. Depp has always struggled playing everymen, action heroes and romantic leads but his dress up and act weird style eventually found a wide audience. I certainly don’t want to blame the brilliant Edward Scissorhands for how grating and over flipped that has long since become but here you see the pure shit before it went to cut.