Baby’s Got Big Eyes

Tim Burton Big Eyes Movie Poster 2014

I saw Tim Burton’s latest film, Big Eyes, a month ago. Although the trend has passed, as they do, that’s no reason not to put perfectly good handwritten notes to blog. Warning: spoilers.

I.

Jason Schwartzman delivered some particularly zingy one-liners as the highbrow gallery owner. To Walter Keane: Stop cluttering up my gallery!

II.

As a female viewer, it felt somewhat vindicatory to see a male villain portrayed as the weak, needy, conniving, bitchy spouse.

III.

Many art writers panned this film, and not without reason, whether from the Keanes’ real-life conflicting accounts of their marriage, the critics’ well-informed level of knowledge about how fine art careers get established, or that it simply didn’t “feel” like a Tim Burton film. However, I think these reviewers missed the nuances of kitsch in this biopic – they were indeed more subtle than one might expect from his oeuvre. The tip-off is the scene in which Water Keane is watching an episode of Perry Mason. Not only is it obvious foreshadowing of the court battle that occurs towards the end of the film, it points directly at the atmosphere Burton is hoping to achieve: the melodrama and mystery of television and movies from that era – often tedious, but with surprising payoffs (I’m also thinking of certain episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents).

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Combining these narrative devices, as well as using both cool jazz and modern incidental music for soundtrack, I believe Burton is attempting to make an observation about kitsch in various media produced the mid-20th century and today. Not that it is explicitly either of their intentions, but don’t contemporary Hollywood movies, like Margaret Keane’s paintings, appeal to the lowest common denominator of their eras? Will Hollywood movies released today in the be considered kitschy in 50 years? Perhaps more importantly, whose narratives/ideas are being stolen in this sordid process? Big Eyes isn’t a satire, and it’s not necessarily paying tribute to Margaret Keane’s impact on popular culture, but I do think this movie is a pretty honest treatment about society’s expectations for artists and creatives, then and now, and perhaps critiques our own longing for Burton’s iconic whimsy which was (sorely? or not?) lacking in this film. The again, maybe some asshole executive producer got in the way.

IV.

Can I time-travel back to San Francisco in the 50’s? The music, the clothes… so much eye/ear candy.

V.

I was also scared for the family dog. As a defenseless, innocent symbol of Margaret’s inviolable urchins, I worried that Walter would wreak his revenge on it after a fight. Thankfully, the dog went unharmed.

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