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(Credit: Gage Skidmore)

Film

Tim Burton names his five favourite films of all time

@SamWKemp

When it comes to all things gothic, few directors are as well-versed as Tim Burton. The cat-eyed creator of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow bought the aesthetics of German expressionist cinema (think Nosferatu) to the balmy climes of Hollywood. That’s not to say that Burton’s cinema is always dark and unforgiving. The director has also made films like Big Fish – undoubtedly one of the most touching celebrations of storytelling in cinema.

The vast array of influences at work in Burton’s movies is suggestive of a director with a very deep knowledge of cinema. Looking at his five favourite films, I’d say that’s about right. Kicking off his list, Burton chose the 1972 pulp horror movie Dracula A.D. 1972. Giggling at his own suggestion, Burton told Rotten Tomatoes: “It was a great year for films. Seeing that movie is one of the reasons I wanted to move to London, because it’s quite swinging — it’s like this weird mixture of a Hammer horror film and swinging London. There’s a scene where they cut from, I don’t know, 1569 or whatever, and it cuts to rock music and a jet aeroplane, so there’s a weird juxtaposition of things. I’ve gotten to know Christopher Lee over the years and I know that he would not say that this was one of his favourite films. I think it was Hammer on the decline and they thought, ‘Hey, let’s get hip,’ which was a mistake. But I enjoy mistakes sometimes.”

Burton went on recall falling in love with the 1974 folk-horror gem The Wicker Man as a child. “It’s like a weird musical,” he began, attempting to categorise a film famously difficult to pigeonhole. “That is actually one of Christopher’s favourite movies that he did, unlike the last one. It was not a very successful movie when it came out but it’s really quite a hypnotic and amazing film I think. It’s like a weird dream. Some of these films I can’t kind of watch over, because they play in your mind like a dream. It reminds me of growing up in Burbank. Things are quite normal on the surface but underneath they’re not quite what they seem. I found this film to be such a strange mixture; the elements are very odd.”

Burton’s third pick marks a change in tone. Discussing The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad, Burton said: “Ray Harryhausen is another inspiration to me. He did it all himself, too, you know, in the days when it was difficult to do that. In his characters — even the things that had no character — you could feel an artist at work there. You could feel his hand in it, and that’s rare, in any kind of film. His acting was better than the acting of the humans. It really tapped in to what I like about movies, I mean, the fantasy but also that handmade element, when you can see the movement of the characters — it’s like Frankenstein or Pinocchio, taking an inanimate object and having it come to life. That’s why I still like to do stop-motion projects.”

Burton’s selection so far has revealed an obvious appreciation for the weirder side of the cinematic landscape. His next pick, 1970’s The War of The Gargantuas, is no exception. “One of my favourites. It’s my two-year-old daughter’s favourite movie. She’s the green Gargantua and my other son is the brown one, and she loves being the bad green Gargantua. She’s obsessed with it, as I was. I grew up watching Japanese science fiction movies and I particularly, unlike most hard-core film people, like dubbed movies — there’s something about that language and the translation that somehow fits into the movie; it’s like a weird poetry. There’s a beauty to these films, the Japanese character designs — there’s a human kind of quality to these things, which I love. Monsters were always the most soulful characters. I don’t know if it’s because the actors were so bad, but the monsters were always the emotional focal point.”

Tim Burton’s five favourite movies:

  • Dracula A.D 1972
  • The Wicker Man
  • the Golden Voyage of Sinbad
  • The War of The Gargantuas
  • The Omega Man

Finally, we come to 1971’s The Omega Man, a post-apocalyptic drama set in a world ravaged by a deadly virus. Ringing any bells? The difference between our post-pandemic world and the world of The Omega Man is that the latter includes far more zombies. “Seeing Charlton Heston reciting lines from Woodstock and wearing jumpsuits that look like he’s out of Gilligan’s Island — there are lots of good things,” Burton said of The Omega Man.

“The thing I liked about this is that the vampire characters were played by real people. They had a really cool look to them — black robes, dark glasses. Not Charlton Heston with his shirt off. [laughs] I was kind of obsessed by him, because he’s like the greatest bad actor of all time. Between this and Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green and The Ten Commandments — I know that was a religious film but I always thought it was like the first zombie movie. He starts out like this real person and by the end he’s like this weird zombie.”

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