Posts Tagged ‘Tim Burton’

tim-burtonYes, it might seem obvious, “Oh, Tim Burton is directing Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” — how sweet.  At mediateacher.net, we’ve explored Mr. Burton’s beguiling cinescapes before.

The powerful inspiration that Mr. Burton’s works have given to many young (and not-so-young) people for over a generation seems to renew its promise with this new feature.  And here is an answer to the “not phoning it in” title above:  The Making of a Film Fablean article by Mekado Murphy.

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Where is the truth and what does media communicate to us? Ben Affleck standing in center with the real-life inspirations for “Argo,” including his character, CIA agent Tony Mendez, on far left (Keegan Bursaw/Embassy of Canada)

In earlier posts, I have discussed possibilities of cross-curricular work with social studies courses and this fall has offered countless examples of further opportunities to use media literacy to enhance learning in social studies classrooms.  Here are related pages from the newseum siteEdutopia, and Frank Baker’s Media Literacy Clearinghouse.  For the media literacy classroom, one of the most interesting aspects of this election was the creation of videos outside of the two campaigns and their dissemination through the Internet, such as the lip-dub treatments of the debates and other comedy pieces such as the gangnam-style parody with a Mitt Romney imitator done for the College Humor site.  At my own school, social studies teacher Mike Barile had his Civics students make their own videos for fictional campaigns (no, not comedy parodies but ones that suggest new approaches to official campaign ads) and they used them for comparison and analysis with current media and historical examples from American presidential races.

Still from Edward Zwick’s 1989 movie “Glory,” from which certain scenes can provide interesting comparison and contrast to “Lincoln”

Among current movies, two releases may provide for interesting discussion and study in either American history or International Studies curricula.  Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln joins the rich trove of Civil War movies that can be used in the classroom, while Ben Affleck’s Argo can be used in relation to studies of the history of Iran and its relations with the United States during the 20th century.  Here is an excellent counterpoint piece written by radio journalist Jian Ghomeshi in response to the depiction of Iranians and the political context of Iran in Argo, while here is a Washington Post article on the real people behind the story of this movie.  For Lincoln, there is an iPad book for the movie that may be useful for teachers.

Speaking about iBooks, in an earlier post about Tim Burton, I talked about his recent movie Frankenweenie.  Disney has released a free iBook for the movie, which is highly recommended.

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Tim Burton with stop-motion characters from Frankenweenie

If teens have opportunities to research moviemakers and deliver reports on their bodies of work, who would be the most popular choice?  Steven Spielberg?  Quentin Tarantino?  Spike Lee?  Well, in my experience, the decision is not even close: it’s Tim Burton.   I have been teaching media literacy and digital production courses for a decade and a half, and during that time Burton has been the one consistent choice when students can explore personal interests in movies through an independently-researched presentation on the career and work of an individual moviemaker (this assignment is part of the Instructor’s Resources package of Moving Images).

Burton with early creations Jack Skellington and Sally

Over the years, interest in different directors rises and falls intermittently – for example, Tarantino will be quite popular for a couple years (most notably during the Kill Bill period), then there will be no interest at all for a while; the same goes for M. Night Shyamalan, James Cameron, and many others – but Tim Burton is always selected.  Clearly, his work connects with certain young people growing up in America.  This recent New York Times interview with Tim Burton helps to highlight some of the reasons for this resonance with viewers.

Mr. Rzykruski voiced by Martin Landau

Burton’s stop-motion feature Frankenweenie came out last week, and at its best – particularly the opening fifteen minutes or so of the movie and the scenes with science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (voiced by Martin Landau, who won a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar as Bela Lugosi in Burton’s Ed Wood) – it has passages that resonate among Tim Burton’s most compelling and personal work (those two things tend to go hand in hand for him, such as in his early classics Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, The Nightmare Before Christmas directed by Henry Selick, and arguably Batman Returns).

I think that those first minutes of Frankenweenie should be quite useful and popular for media literacy teachers when they explore the history of moviemaking in class (and in Chapter 2 of Moving Images).  In fact, I have used the original short live-action version of Frankenweenie a number of times in class over the years, whether for issues of black and white cinematography, storytelling, or reanimating dead pets.   

By the way, who would take the number two position?  Again, in terms of my own classes, it’s definitely John Hughes.  His movies have actually grown in status over the years, and of all of them The Breakfast Club is an undisputed classic.  As opposed to most movies from that time, it continues to connect with kids today.

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Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki measuring light on the set of Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”

I was amused to see the picture accompanying one of the most recent in-depth interviews with Emmanuel Lubezki, a featured cinematographer in Chapter 4 of Moving Images (titled “Storytelling with Light”).  This photo from the shoot of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life shows Lubezki measuring light.  When I was in the process of completing the work for Chapter 4 of Moving Images, which focuses on cinematography and compels students to understand and reflect on the capture and use of light and its impact on visual storytelling, I found an image that showed a famous cinematographer using a light meter.  I thought it would serve as a good illustration of a director of photography at work and bring home the basic idea that light is something that can be measured and manipulated in order to create the images that one wishes to use to tell a story in moving image media.  I contacted him to request permission to use the image.  He responded with a thoughtful response, but he forthrightly declined, making a variety of comments that amounted to “these devices are stuck resolutely in the past” and offering phrases of the “manufacturing a buggy whip after the invention of the car” variety.  I moved on and was graciously offered an image gratis from independent filmmaker William Farley.

Interestingly, since then, there has not been a single year yet in which the majority of Oscar nominees for cinematography have shot digitally.  Although that year is sure to come, it is clear to me that it is in any student’s interest to have a fundamental comprehension of key concepts of light and photography, whether for digital sensors or through celluloid.  To establish an understanding that one can measure light, that it makes a difference how and with what tools one captures light, and that the ways light is used by a creator to tell a story help to form the basis of what we view as moving images, whether in feature films, TV shows, commercials, local PSAs, music videos, YouTube streams, and everything in between and beyond — that is what educators must convey when introducing “Storytelling with Light.”

Clive Owen, Emmanuel Lubezki, and Alfonso Cuarón during the making of “Children of Men”

The cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki offers some of the most powerful contemporary examples of the expressive possibilities of moving images, particularly his work with Alfonso Cuarón, such as the awe-inspiring Children of Men and A Little Princess (see Fig 4-14, Moving Images); with Terrence Malick (including the Oscar-nominated The Tree of Life); and in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.  And here is a commercial directed by Lubezki for broadcast during the recent London Olympics.  

For more thoughts on issues about working in digital or celluloid-based media, here is an interview with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, Steven Spielberg’s long-time collaborator and DP on War Horse and many other features.  In the accompanying article they announce that Kaminski would be shooting Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, but the cinematographer of Saving Private Ryan didn’t seem to have what it takes to make the cut since Benoît Debie ended up as DP.  In 35.  Go figure.

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