Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Beetlejuly: Edward Scissorhands

Whenever asked what my favorite Tim Burton film is, Edward Scissorhands is the first thing to come to mind. In fact, Burton and Danny Elfman have gone on record saying that this is their most cherished work and after watching this film dozens of times throughout the years, I'm quite certain it's my personal favorite Burton film as well. In my mind, no Burton film captures the very essence and nature of his macabre and quirky imagination better than Edward Scissorhands and out of all his movies, Edward Scissorhands is the most humorous, the most tearjerking, the most jarring and the most climatic  Burton experience for one to embark on. It was based upon a drawing Burton did in his youth while living in Burbank and as the years went by, Burton debated whether or not to bring this whimsical, outlandish creation to the big screen. During the production of Beetlejuice, Burton hired Caroline Thompson to adapt his brainchild into a screenplay and since Warner Bros. decided not to distribute the film, Burton and company packed their things and took the motion picture to Twentieth Century Fox. The role of Edward was considered for many top stars of the time, everyone from Tom Cruise to Robert Downey Jr. to William Hurt. Finally, the role went to a not so well known television actor by the name of Johnny Depp and a grand friendship between Depp and Burton was born that lasts to this very day. Edward Scissorhands was also the swan song for one of the greatest American actors to ever grace the cinema, the great Vincent Leonard Price, who had previously worked with Burton on his short film Vincent. The role of the inventor was written specifically for Price and even if he has a few brief scenes in the film, he plays them out beautifully, like a child in Candyland, like a good hearted scientist who not only loves to build things, but marvel and indulge himself in the things he builds. Edward Scissorhands didn't have any scenes that would have scared the skins off me as a child nor did it have any scenes I was completely bored over. It had that perfect balance of creative atmospheres, character tension, sweet romance and above all, imagination at the heart. That's what makes a good movie for me, the marriage of all these exotic, yet interesting elements.

I love the way Johnny Depp portrays Edward, as a kind, yet oblivious and curious fellow who has a hard time fitting into the real world and the flesh and blood humans that inhabit it. I mean, come on, if you were a guy with scissors for hands, you would have a hard time fitting in as well. What's interesting to note about Depp's performance is that he based Edward's movements and mannerisms off of that of the great silent film star, Charlie Chaplin. When watching the film, I couldn't help but see a lot of the Tramp in good old Edward, for he waddles and roams about just like Chaplin did in a lot of his films. Not to mention that Robert Downey Jr., who was originally considered for the role of Edward, went onto play Charlie Chaplin in the 1992 biopic Chaplin and get nominated for an Academy Award.  I think what I like most about Edward is what he stands for. I think his character shows that entities of all sorts can be frightening and demonic on the outside, yet be good hearted, gentle souls on the inside. Even if Edward was considered a menace at times and made to look like so, he still retained a kindness and gentle spirit which at times was very heartwarming. Heck, one of the film's covers shows Edward reaching out for a butterfly. You can just tell that he wants to explore the world around him, yet be careful and thoughtful as he does it. He's not a artificial man that likes to rush into things and purposely cause panic, he likes to observe things first and then, when it is needed he helps out and even saves lives, even if he injures or maims in the process. He's got a mechanical heart of love and I think it's quite touching that the first emotion he shows is love, when he sees the picture of Winona Ryder's character, Kim. Edward's face and Elfman's score really make the scene as exemplary as it is and we can just feel the butterflies flapping their wings inside Edward. It's that emotional. And even if he was an outcast and weirdo to her at first, Kim comes to love and appreciate Edward for who he is by the film's conclusion. Many people like to compare this film to Beauty and the Beast and this is one of the reasons why.

Another story the film brings to mind is Frankenstein. Of course Burton made his own version of Frankenstein with Frankenweenie, but with this film, he really nails it and helps us better understand the hard life of an artificially built man. We see that Edward struggles to understand the human ways, much like the Frankenstein monster. We see that he longs to understand why he was made, what he was meant to do and what destiny has in store for him, things that the Frankenstein monster no doubt dealt with and even questioned his creator of in different adaptations. We also see how the townspeople act around Edward, just like the townspeople acted around the Frankenstein monster in the many variations of Shelley's classic tale and most importantly, the 1931 film. One of the neighbors of the Boggs' family even calls Edward a product of the devil. Intense stuff, yes, but the reason the scene is so saddening is because Edward can't understand what the nasty neighbor is accusing him of.

Esmeralda: It's not heaven he's from! It's straight from the stinking flames of hell! The power of Satan is in him; I can feel it. Can't you? Have you poor sheep strayed so far from the path?
Edward: We're not sheep.
Esmeralda: Don't come near me!

That's another reason why I like Edward so much. In some instances and situations, he doesn't know how to act and what to do. In one scene of the film, he is forced to rob a house and as the cops come to arrest him, they tell him to put his hands in the air. As the frail and nervous Edward comes out with his hands up, the police think he has knives in his hands and they tell him to put them down or they will open fire. Since the scissors are obviously his hands, he obviously can put them down, so the police prepare to shoot, that is until the neighbors rush to the scene and tell the police what he is and who he is. Another scene that shows how Edward's mind works is when Mr. Boggs, played by Alan Arkin asks Edward what he would do if he found a suitcase full of money. Do you A. Keep the money B. Use it to buy gifts for your friends and your loved ones C. You give it to the poor or D. You turn it into the police. Edward, having the love filled heart that he has says that he would give it to his loved ones, only to be ridiculed by Mr. Boggs and his son. It's not that he doesn't think, it's just that he has an entirely different way of thinking and hasn't really been taught anything essential except for the inventor's teachings.

In fact, it's almost like Edward's entire purpose of being built in the first place was to love and ONLY love. Think about it. A scene in the movie shows the inventor (played by Vincent Price), watching his cooking making machine make dozens of multi shaped cookies. He then takes one of the cookies, which is shaped like a heart and holds it up to the chest of one of his lettuce slicing robots, intending to make a man out of the automaton. It's the film's most touching sequence in my opinion. Another scene shows the pages of a book depicting Edward's building process and one of the pages shows a completed Edward without the scissorhands, with shorter hair and a suit that looks like something a teenager would wear to prom. He looks like an ideal "prince" or man women would drool over. Perhaps Edward was made to charm a young woman in the inventor's life or charm any woman in general. Perhaps he was built to be the son the inventor never had and he would meet a woman, marry her and keep the inventor's family going. Many questions are raised when you REALLY watch the movie and ponder on what it has to offer, but I think in times like this, we can let our imaginations fill in the empty spaces.

But my favorite scene out of the entire movie is when the neighbor, Joyce opens a beauty salon in which Edward will work at and cut hair. She leads Edward into the back room and tries to sexually seduce him, that is until the chair Edward is sitting in falls over, prompting Edward to get up and leave the salon. Later on, Edward meets up with the Boggs family at a diner and as Mr. Boggs asks Edward how his day went, Edward tells him of the marvels in the beauty salon, just before saying this....

And then she showed the back room where she took all of her clothes off. 

The first time I saw this scene, I thought it was (Literally) the funniest thing I had ever seen. Just the fact that Edward just comes out and says it, the way he says, the way the family reacts and the unexpectedness really adds to the scene's overall charm and hilarity. I still wet my pants every time I see it and it's undeniably the film's funniest scene, along with the scene where Edward gets drunk off of "lemonade" and falls to the floor. Peg Boggs, played by Dianne Wiest comes off as a sweet motherly figure to Edward and even when things get rough and rocky, she still tries to look on the bright side of things and see the goodness that lies within Edward. She knows and understands why Edward is the way he is and tries to help him understand right from wrong. She's the true person Edward needed in his life and the relationship between the two is probably the film's most touching relationship. The relationship between Edward and Kim's boyfriend (played by Anthony Michael Hall) is also fun to watch. Right from the beginning, the guy has an immediate dislike for Edward and tries to humiliate him and force him into trouble every chance he gets. He is also disgusted at Edward for liking Kim and when Edward accidentally cuts Kim's hand, Hall's character believes him to have done it on purpose and tells him to go away and never return. Hall's character is that guy we love to hate and in the end, he gets what all the baddies get, an over the top demise. In a moment that will leave you gasping, Edward impales Hall and sends him flying out the window of the abandoned castle. It's another one of those jarring moments in the film, but since Hall was such an unlikeable character, many were probably glad to see him go. Go back to the Breakfast Club, you dirtbag! 

Then there's Vincent Price, who gives a heartwarming performance as the old inventor who dies before he gets to finish Edward, living him with the scissorhands for the rest of time. I just love how he observes the contraptions he builds, he's like a kid in a Toys R Us. I wonder if he's the one that taught Pee Wee Herman how to build his breakfast machine. The scene in which he teaches etiquette to an unfinished Edward will have you chuckling and tearing up, all at the same time! Seeing Edward try to smile for the first time, it kind of reminds me of when the Terminator tried to smile in a deleted scene from Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The scene where the old inventor dies is one of the most heartwrenching scenes in a movie, and what makes it so sad is that this really was Vincent Price's last major performance in a motion picture. He gives it all he's got and for his last performance, he goes out with a powerful, yet sorrowful bang. What makes my heart break is that he died right when he was going to give real hands to Edward and as he falls to the floor, Edward's scissorhands go right through the hands, breaking them to bits. Then Edward looks down at the dead body of his mentor and because he doesn't fully understand death, he cuts the inventor's cheek, observing his blood and realizing that he will be stuck with the scissorhands for all eternity. That's a powerful moment and gets me choked up each time. I think a lot of us feel the same way, for Vincent Price was truly a remarkable man and a true inspiration, not only to Tim Burton, but to countless others as well. He is certainly an inspiration for me. His voice, his charm, his sense of humor and his love for the arts are certainly the things that made him special. He was one of the world's greatest actors and this film was a great swan song for his entire career.

If there are two other aspects that must be praised, it's the design and the film's soundtrack. The way the inventor's castle looks is very reminiscent of the castles from Roger Corman's Poe films which Vincent Price starred in in the 60s. I also like the look of suburbia and the hedge trimming Edward does to the neighborhood's plants. He makes people, dinosaurs, and even demons! The exotic haircuts Edward gives the ladies of the neighborhood are also interesting to look at and look like something the Whos would don in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  The way Edward looks is very iconic and nice to look at as well and looks like a mashup between Marilyn Manson and Freddy Krueger. The man who designed Edward and his scissorhands was Stan Winston, the special effects and makeup artist whose work includes the Terminator series, the Jurassic Park series, Aliens, Avatar and Iron Man. You could just tell that Winston had a passion and heart for his work and he did a fantastic job making Edward actually look like an artificial gentle man. The score by Danny Elfman is simply his best work, at least in my opinion. His score for Edward Scissorhands is melancholy and sweet when it needs to be and it's dark and menacing when it needs to be and I have never heard a score as beautiful as the Ice Dance score. One time, when I was younger, I saw snow falling outside on a cold winter's night. It was dark, but not to the point that stopped me from seeing each individual snowflake fall to the white ground. I immediately thought of the Ice Dance theme. It's the very epitome of a beautiful tune. The theme that plays during the opening montage of the inventor's exotic lab equipment is also delightful to the ears and sets the mood for an odd, yet incredible flick.

I could sit and talk and talk and talk about every single aspect of this movie, but I won't. I'll let you see this one for yourself if you haven't already and perhaps you will be blown away just as I was when I first saw it. If you have seen it already, then why not give it another watch. It may be depressing and dramatic at times, but I doubt you will walk away feeling that you wasted two hours of your time. It's got the perfect mix of what makes Tim Burton's films so great and the ending to the movie sums up the entire picture perfectly, giving us one more heartwarming scene before the screen turns black. Edward Scissorhands makes us think about a lot of things. What makes a man? What can one do to impact the lives of others? What does one do when he's got obvious deformities? What does it take to be loved? Only you can interpret these things for yourself and make them last a lifetime. 

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