CATEGORIES Columns, Cinematical


Welcome to Framed, a column at Cinematical that runs every Thursday and celebrates the artistry of cinema -- one frame at a time.


It's hard to believe that Tim Burton's 'Edward Scissorhands' was released 20 years ago this month. The film was a project of firsts for the director, marking the start of a career-long collaboration with partner in crime, Johnny Depp, and the first time working with cinematographer Stefan Czapsky. While it was hard for some Burtonites to find anything redeeming about his latest film, the ADD-riddled 'Alice in Wonderland,' his 1990 fantasy flick about an artificial man-child who is the beast that wins the beauty remains a fan favorite. It's Burton's most personal film to date, (themes about the artistic outsider and alienated, awkward teenager abound) -- flooded with unforgettable images that transport you into a quirky, pop-goth fairytale.

The candy-colored suburb of a small town neighbors a wicked castle, looming high in the sky. This is the home of Edward (Johnny Depp), who was patched together by an inventor (played by the great Vincent Price, in his last on screen performance), but wasn't able to be properly fitted for a pair of hands before his maker died. He's been left with scissors instead of fingers, but that doesn't deter an Avon lady (Dianne Wiest) from inviting him to live with her and her family -- including her daughter, Kim (Winona Ryder), who Edward takes an immediate liking to. While the family has the best of intentions for the quiet and talented stranger from the house on the hill, things take a turn south when Edward's hair-cutting/landscaping prowess is used for evil by Kim's jerky, jock boyfriend (Anthony Michael Hall). The neighborhood that embraced him (albeit like a circus sideshow act), now rallies against him and it's a romantic, but violent, duel to the finish.


I mentioned that it was hard to believe the film is 20 years old and this is largely due to Burton's ambiguity about the movie's time period. Edward's uber gothic mansion (and Edward himself) has a German expressionist and steampunk quality about it, while Kim's neighborhood could be straight out of the 1950s. At the same time, there are almost futuristic touches to the story, like the hairstyles that Edward crafts (the blending of these cinematic styles is evident in this week's frame). This approach to the setting gives the film a timeless, fantastical feeling, which matches the fairy tale story.

Burton filmed 'Edward Scissorhands' in a Florida community, changing the exterior of several houses on the block to match a sickly, kitsch 50's palette -- which art director Rick Heinrichs described as "sea-foam green, dirty flesh, butter and dirty blue." The windows on the cookie cutter houses were reduced in size to make things look a little more "paranoid" -- something Burton also does by using claustrophobic camera angles, particularly when the tacky, busybody neighbors are on screen. The contrast of Edward's dark, twisting mansion next to the suburban wonderland is visually striking. In typical Burton-esque manner, the director flips things around by making the local community seem far uglier and more frightening than the ghostly Edward and his creepy castle.

The real monsters in 'Edward Scissorhands' live inside Easter egg-colored houses, which is indicative of a theme that Burton has carried throughout his career. You can never judge the merits of Burton's characters based on outward appearances alone. Edward's haunting visage and sinister abode belies his child-like innocence and enormous heart. It's this kind of juxtaposition that helped make Burton's film a sad, moving and at times very funny Christmas tale -- the kind we often don't expect.