If you’ve ever seen a Tim Burton movie, you know the guy is probably pretty awkward. At the very least, he’s gotta be soft-spoken, right? Which begs the question, “How interesting can a Tim Burton-only commentary be?” Well, we’re here to answer that very question with this week’s Commentary Commentary.
In honor of Dark Shadows, Burton’s latest collaboration with Johnny Depp, we’ve decided to go back and delve into their first pairing, Edward Scissorhands.
Burton took the commentary duties by his lonesome here, and I’m sure amid all the fumbling of words and general gracelessness there’s enough to pack in here to hold our interest. At the very least it’ll be an entertaining car wreck. So here, without further ado, is everything we learned about Edward Scissorhands from listening to its director, Tim Burton, speak on it. We didn’t learn Tim Burton is a strange guy. We knew that one already.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Commentators: Tim Burton (director), awkwardness and long silences, but those come with the territory.
- Burton hadn’t seen many of Johnny Depp’s performances before seeing him for Edward Scissorhands. “I’d never seen 21 Jump Street,” the director says jokingly, as if there was any doubt. He knew Depp had the qualities the character needed from meeting him for the first time.
- Burton had been developing the idea for Edward Scissorhands since he was a teenager. “Since I liked to draw since I was younger, oftentimes images would come up, and they’d stay with you, and you’d keep drawing them. This was a character I sketched a while back,” he says. He explains the character represented him as he was in his teenage years and how the film represents much of his time growing up. He likened growing up in Suburbia to a Frankenstein movie with the suburbanites acting as the angry villagers.
- According to Burton, Diane Wiest was one of the first actors to react positively towards the screenplay. He refers to her as an “emotional inspiration” to the film and feels her performance brings a weight to the character. It’s basically everything he would have said about her had he won an Oscar for the film. And had an hour-long acceptance speech.
- “When I first started drawing the characters, they were more sharp instruments, and the emotional thrust of it was a character who couldn’t touch, a character who had emotions, who wanted to feel things, but, because of the sharpness of his fingers, couldn’t actually touch somebody.” Burton goes on to note they weren’t scissors in the initial drawings, just sharp items. He mentioned using things from your own environment for how he came up with scissors.
- Burton jokes that the Inventor’s mansion where Edward lives is Martha Stewart’s future home. He actually cracks himself up over this joke, possibly thinking up ideas for a sequel. Edward Scissorhands Living.
- Burton remembers sending a copy of his first film, Vincent, to Vincent Price. Actually, Burton refers to the legendary actor as “Him” the first time he mentions Him, so we’ll go Biblical for Vinnie P for the remainder of this article. Anywho, He wrote Burton back after watching Vincent, and the director mentions He was the first person “of that stature” who supported his work. It was a huge moment in Burton’s early career for someone like Him to not only notice him but also appreciate him and understand what he’s doing with his work.
- The director jokes – Or does he? – that some of the scars on Depp’s face were real, because there was an adjustment period for the actor wearing scissors on his hands.
- Most of the characters in Edward Scissorhands were representative of real people Burton knew growing up in Burbank. The Peg character, who Wiest plays, was not one of these, but an amalgamation of someone Burton wanted in that community but who did not exist. “It’s more of a fantasy Avon lady, guardian angel fantasy,” he says. Likewise, he finds Alan Arkin‘s Bill to be the scariest character in the film, as he’s lifted directly from Burton’s Burbank days.
- “That’s a scary shot,” says the director when the camera falls on the picture of Winona Ryder and Anthony Michael Hall‘s characters’ prom photos. Burton does mention he had a tux like that, but it was yellow. There’s no word if that was the traumatic moment that set his career in motion or not, but we can speculate.
- The film was shot in an actual neighborhood in Florida, and the houses were all painted to match as they are seen in the movie. Although the production painted most of them back – They also removed all the topiaries that had been planted for the film. – Burton mentions some of the owners liked the change and kept the new colors.
- Burton mentions there were two things that caused Depp to “throw up” while filming Edward Scissorhands. The first was all the food he had to stuff into his face during the cook-out scene. The other was a scene later when he’s running down the street away from the police. Depp had to film the shot of him running the length of the road six times, the last of which caused him to run into the trees and purge. “I think only two,” says Burton. “I’m only aware of two.” Hopefully these weren’t Depp’s bulimic days and Burton didn’t notice. Did Johnny Depp have bulimic days?
- Even though he grew up on and loved monster movies, Burton doesn’t consider the drawings he did that lead to projects like Edward Scissorhands as “dark”. “Most things, especially if they stayed with me, had a more emotional subtext to them,” he says, “so I never really saw them as dark. They always seemed more positive in a way.”
- Burton didn’t feel that the people he grew up around really cared for music, but everyone seemed to have a liking for Tom Jones. He refers to the singer as “the music of the neighborhood” and says this proves the people in his neighborhood had some taste. “I guess if they’re gonna like one thing, it better be pretty good,” he says.
- The director feels we live in a time where media controls what people think, that they have opinions on something but don’t actually have any feeling towards it. He also feels it’s becoming more and more like that. He doesn’t tie this into the film, though he does bring it up when reporters are trying to speak with Edward after he is released from jail. Burton also remembers Christmas in the suburbs and how everyone would adopt an intensity with decorations but had no real feeling towards the holiday or its more traditional aspects. He also mentions people in Suburbia tended to get crazier during the holidays, to which he chalks up to guilt. “I think people feel pressured by their families and things,” he says. “It brings out all the skeletons from the closet.”
- A scene with Edward in the hospital was shot on the first day of production. Burton notes the scene was cut, because they didn’t need it but also due to the fact that the makeup had changed from pre-production to actual production. It took a few days of filming before they captured the character’s look as it is now.
- Burton mentions the power and emotion on set the day He – Remember who He is? Good, because it’s been so long since Burton has even mentioned Him. – filmed His death scene given the actor’s age. Like with everything else, there isn’t much detail or substance given to this statement. You’d think Burton would have more to say about working with Him, but it’s not meant to be on this commentary, at least.
- The director mentions how happy he is that the studio allowed them to give Edward Scissorhands a darker ending. He notes studios will oftentimes step in and ask for something more upbeat, but he appreciates how they were allowed to keep it more of a classical fairy tale. He remembers getting grief for wanting to end his short, Vincent, on a down note. As he notes, 20th Century Fox got what they were going for with the ending as it is. Of course, the ending to Edward Scissorhands Living will be ending with the titular character and Martha Stewart frolicking through sunflower fields.
Best in Commentary
“I’ve realized this film could be a result of watching a lot of those K-tel ads with all these weird products growing up. I didn’t realize the inspiration could be the Pocket Fisherman.”
Without question, the Edward Scissorhands commentary is the worst commentary we’ve covered in this column. Burton, with all of his fumbling and rambling, uneasiness and nerves, simply doesn’t work by himself. When he isn’t sitting quietly – Make no mistake on this. There are LOOOOOOOOOONG stretches of silence on this commentary – he’s pointing out obvious subtext or reflecting on his days in Suburbia. Really, Tim Burton? You like to use the opening credits to set the mood? You like how Danny Elfman helps to make that mood a reality? Fascinating.
You have to hand it to Burton. He has to know how awkward he comes off, yet he still sat down to record this commentary track as well as others. We won’t be covering many of those, though the one he did with Martin Landau on Ed Wood sounds interesting. That’s mostly Landau, though.
This was a chance to explore how Tim Burton comes off by himself while talking about one of his best works to date. Simply put, it’s uninteresting, monotonous, and ends up being a chore. Sorry, Mr. Burton. We love your old movies, but we don’t want to hear you talking about them ever again.