Sunday, August 25, 2013

Happy Birthday, Tim Burton!

Tim Burton was born on August 25, 1958, in Burbank, California. After a shaky start to his career working for the Disney studio, he has gone on to become a renowned (sometimes controversial) film director, film producer, writer, artist and animator. He may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I greatly admire him and love his truly original brand of filmmaking. He would definitely be on my list of ultimate fantasy dinner party guests.

Tim Burton's dark, gothic, and quirky aesthetic has seeped into every corner of popular culture and has influenced many contemporary filmmakers, writers, illustrators, designers, and animators. His distinctive style and recurring collaborations with certain actors and crew members have caused somewhat of a backlash against him in recent years, but that's exactly what I adore about him and I take pleasure in the fact that he continues to defiantly march to the beat of his own drum.

Tim Burton Concept Art

Beetlejuice, Batman Returns and Sleepy Hollow are amongst my all-time favourite movies. Not to mention Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Frankenweenie, Corpse Bride, and yes, the much maligned Dark Shadows too! [Incidentally, Coraline, which I also love, is NOT a Tim Burton film. That popular misconception seems to have arisen from the fact that both The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline were directed by Henry Selick.]


Batman Returns

Sleepy Hollow
So, if you're a fan like me, which three Tim Burton movies would you pick as your favourites?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Happy Birthday, Blossom Rock!

Blossom Rock was born on August 21, 1895, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In her youth, she performed on the vaudeville stage with her older sister, actress/singer Jeanette MacDonald, and later went on to a career in movies, television, and Broadway. She is probably best remembered however, in the role of Grandmama on The Addams Family TV series (1964 -1966).

Although Grandmama was portrayed as the mother of Morticia in some later incarnations of The Addams Family, when the role was played by Blossom Rock in the original sixties series, she was the mother of Gomez. The part of Morticia's mother, Granny Frump, was played by Margaret Hamilton, who was the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.

Grandmama Addams as she was depicted in cartoon form by her creator, Charles "Chas" Addams.

Blossom Rock died on January 14, 1978, at the age of 82.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Delightfully Dark Style: Bell, Book and Candle

I first saw the movie Bell, Book and Candle (1958) on TV one cold, rainy afternoon when I was a teenager. It's the story of Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak), a witch living in Greenwich Village with her cat and familiar, Pyewacket, who falls for her very normal neighbour, Shepherd Henderson (James Stewart). My mother had casually remarked that it was the inspiration behind the television series Bewitched, and my interest had been instantly piqued. As a kid, I loved to watch the reruns of shows like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, and of course, The Addams Family. My aesthetic taste is a strange brew of mid 20th century style mixed with the Gothic, and I'm sure a childhood television diet of magical sixties sitcoms filled with witches, genies, and charmingly macabre oddballs is partly responsible for that. Bell, Book and Candle, with its combined retro cocktail chic and supernatural elements, also had a huge impact on me.

Although she had the pinup looks of a standard fifties bombshell, Kim Novak never came across as a ditzy blonde playing Gillian in Bell, Book and Candle. With her smoky, modulated voice and her sultry, languid movements, she's the very essence of mystery and urban sophistication. And of course, we can't forget the other star of the film... no, I don't mean James Stewart... I'm referring to Pyewacket the cat! I love all cats, but it was Pyewacket who kick-started my particular affection for felines from the Siamese family.

The sets and clothing (Gillian's wardrobe is almost exclusively red and black) are a huge part of the film's appeal, and in fact, Bell, Book and Candle was nominated for Oscars in Art Direction/Set Decoration and Costume Design.

Now, I will confess, it's not a perfect movie. There is a moment when things turn decidedly Doris Day-ish, but it's only a few minutes of screen time, and I've trained myself to re-imagine it aesthetically. I'm sure that moment, which I personally refer to as the "big cop-out", was intended to appeal to mainstream audiences of the day. No doubt, Bell, Book and Candle's subculture of beatnik witches and Gillian's avant-garde lifestyle would have seemed comically confronting and weird in the fifties, but I'm guessing that most people who love this movie the way I do, dig it for precisely that delightfully dark fringe factor.

The illustration (left) of Gillian and Pyewacket is by artist, Pete Emslie of The Cartoon Cave.