Tim Burton has gone back to his roots of off kilter Americana with his latest film Big Eyes. Burton is probably the first director I became aware of when I was very young and has been constantly disappointing with his films since Big Fish with the exception of Frankenweenie and to a much lesser extent Dark Shadows. One of the film’s greatest strengths is Burton is working on a low-budget of $10 million his lowest since his debut feature Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. I’ve often thought Burton should get the money Terry Gilliam gets and Gilliam should get the money Burton gets to make a film with.
Big Eyes is about the stranger than fiction true story of the Walter (Christoph Waltz) and Margaret Keane (Amy Adams). Margaret Keane painted the famous “Big Eyes” and her husband passed them off as his when the paintings started to get some attention much to his wife’s dismal. The film is set against a backdrop of firstly conformist ‘50s American to sprinklings of Beatnik bohemia to eventually the dawn of woman’s liberation in the ‘70s. I interviewed the screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski around the film’s theatrical run and this was very deliberate narrative arc that they envision for the film
Margaret is an extremely private person from all accounts but over the years has become something of a cult feminist icon and Burton described her in an interview, as “one of the most quiet, under-the-radar feminists you’ve ever met.” Amy Adams’ performance perfectly captures this quiet somewhat submissive woman but at the same time she has quite anger bottled up that will come out if need be. Amy Adams as everyone knows one of the finest actresses of her generation, it’s just a shame she didn’t get an Oscar nomination, she won a much-deserved Golden Globe though.
Christoph Waltz gets the showier role with Walter, the film’s climax has to be toned down because the real Walter said crazed stuff in the trial over the ownership of the Big Eye paintings and he did cross-examine himself. It shows the real range Waltz has especially compared to the total flip side to Walter with his quiet vulnerable performance in Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem. Waltz’ captures the charisma Keane had (there is a small clip of him on a talk show on the internet) but the only fault is his German accent does seep through his portrayal, Walter in real life had a strong American Midwest accent.
Burton naturally due to the subject matter drops his gothic aesthetic leanings but when he needs to the film does drop into Burtonesq. The Keane house looks like it could have come out of Edward Scissorhands for example and there is a wonderful piece of surrealism in a grocery shop. Burton’s best films all look at the quirky side of Suburban Americana and in Big Eyes it’s helped by the gorgeous cinematography of Bruno Delbonnel who is known her his expressionist use of colour especially greens, ambers and reds in his work with Jean-Pierre Jeunet and The Coen Brothers.
Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski like they did with their previous collaboration with Tim Burton Ed Wood they take creation license with events. The last act happened about a decade later after a long public dispute between Walter and Margaret when culminated in the trial. However despite obvious inaccuracies it is similarly written that way to move the narrative forward, the events happened in that way and the changes never seem disingenuously. Scott and Larry have found a niche that is full their own with this, Ed Wood, The People Vs. Larry Flynt and Man on the Moon of biographical films about marginalised but extremely entertaining figures in pop culture who lived fascinating lives and all of them have a nice dose of comedy and tragedy what more could a screenwriter need?
It’s so refreshing Tim Burton has went back to roots and made his best film since probably Ed Wood which for me and lot of others remains the high watermark of his career. Big Eyes will over the years hopefully gain the following it deserves, it was mildly successful financial and critically but it’s remarkable achievement that everyone involved should be proud of themselves. It’s an endlessly fascinating and multifaceted story with two lead performers at the top of their game in an aesthetically rich looking film with shades of Douglas Sirk melodrama.
The UK Blu-Ray contains the same special features as it’s US counterpoint so no need to import. The features are a relatively meaty 21 making of that is better than usual promo fluff and 34 minutes of Q&A taken from various Q&As including one with Margaret Keane herself.
Genre: Drama, Black Comedy Distributor: Entertainment in Video BD Release Date: 20th April 2015 (UK) Rating:12 Aspect Ratio:1.85:1 Director: Tim Burton Cast: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Jason Schwartzman, Danny Huston, Terrence Stamp Buy: Big Eyes [Blu-ray]
Listen to the interview I conducted with the screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski Here