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A section of an article from Films in review on Tim Burton, 1990s
There really is no one like him (just as there was no one like Whale) working in film today, and, indeed, his unique mixture of childhood and adulthood, combined with his empathy for the alienated characters that people the world of his films probably bring him far more in alignment with the more serious side of the pop music world. It is hardly surprising therefore that all of his feature films have been scored in collaboration with Danny Elfman, the founder and driving force of the rock band Oingo Boingo, who, under Burton's auspices, is currently on his way to becoming a filmmaker in his own right.
The connection to Elfman goes far deeper than might be imagined on the basis of filmmaker and film scorer. In interviews, Elfman always speaks of their working relationship in terms of collaboration, indicating that Burton very clearly does not simply hand him an answer print of the final cut and ask him to put music to it. The release of Frankenweenie with its sweeping score by Michael Convertino and David Newman makes it obvious that this is so, since it is but a small step from this to the Elfman scores. It is, however, a very important step. The similarity in approach between the Convertino-Newman soundtrack and those of Danny Elfman is simply in the type of music. Elfman's scores are far more creative, far more in line with Burton's combined sense of charm, irony, and absurdity, and generally just better music.
Elfman himself tends to minimize the connection between his movie scores and his work for Oingo Boingo, but this is at least partly a bit of self-deception. Orchestration differences are not composition differences, and while Elfman's scores are richer and more varied than his rock music, the core of Oingo Boingo is always just around the corner. This is not a bad thing, though, since it is part of what keeps Elfman's work from crossing over into the realm of John Williams' sub-Wagnerian big-for-big's-sake scoring. The blending of such diverse influences as 1930s jazz/pop music with high energy rock and a taste of ornate film scoring produces an effect as unique as Burton's visual sense.
For Burton the connection to Oingo Boingo may well be more pronounced than either he or Elfman would care to admit, especially if one carefully examines Burton's first feature, Pee-wee's Big Adventure. A passing familiarity with the distinctive album cover art that adorns the Oingo Boingo work immediately attests to a striking influence on the design of the film, while an even more obvious design and approach can be found in Danny Elfman's brother's (Richard) 1981 avant gardist film Forbidden Zone, for which Danny composed the music (including Oingo Boingo songs this time) and even played the part of Satan (or Satan rethought as Cab Calloway in a Max Fleischer cartoon). Richard Elfman's low-budget cult classic, a homage to the world of Max Fleischer prior to the Production Code, is very much at one with Burton's work, even though it is far more overtly sexual than Burton has thus far allowed in his own films. Where Burton was bizarrely out of step with Disney, he would have been quite at home with Max and Dave Fleischer in teh early 1930's, and his own "cartoonish" qualities, like those of Richard Elfman, are distinctly more Betty Boop than Mickey Mouse.
It would be unfair to say that Pee-wee's Big Adventure is a sanitized knock-off of Forbidden Zone. It would also be incorrect, but the connection is undeniably present—not so much cleaned up as made more overtly mainstream. The curious thing about this is that ultimately Pee-wee's Big Adventure is the more subversive of the two films, simply becausw it can and does pass muster as a mainstream personality work for the singular talents of Paul Reubens (Pee-wee Herman). And those talents are so central to the film that Burton's exact creative position on the project is not as easily defined as on his other works. In fact, it is more than a little possible that Reubens had a good deal to do with the hiring of Danny Elfman and the overall Oingo Boingo influence, thereby bringing the composer and filmmaker together.
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