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Edward Scissorhands Review

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by Chris McEneany Dec 1, 2005 at 12:00 AM

    Edward Scissorhands Review
    One of the most distinctive movies of the nineties, Edward Scissorhands also reinforced the quirky, idiosyncratic nature of its creator, Tim Burton and proved an unusual catalyst to remove him from the blanket of his devoted cult following (courtesy of Beetlejuice, Batman and Pee Wee's Big Adventure) and into the mainstream. For such an odd, and decidedly whimsical story that is also his most personal, it is nothing short of extraordinary that his peculiar vision should become so beloved by so many. I know people, all of them ladies it should be made clear, who claim that this film changed their lives forever, enriching their outlook on the world and their understanding of the sensitivity of others. Hmm. Perhaps, more worrying yet, I know blokes who rave on about the unique outsider status of Edward, and his lovelorn innocence, and claim to have such an innate understanding of his fractured psyche that they have adopted almost melancholic tendencies in emulation of him. Honestly. I'll resist the temptation to name names, though. Yet, when I first saw it I was still reeling from the gung-ho impact of Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall, a movie that clung to the mightily violent bloodlust frenzy of the grisly 80's - which was something that I, myself, was extremely reluctant to let go of. Perhaps I wasn't quite so enthusiastic about embracing the soft, earnestly oddball antics of a freakish, blade-fingered loner who only wanted to fit in, but Johnny Depp's skewed intensity, coupled with Burton's reality-removed milieu inevitably worked their magic on me also. Although, it definitely took another couple of viewings down the line for me to realise.

    “Edward, I think you should come home with me.”

    Left alone in the gorgeously gothic mansion on the edge of town, poor Edward's life is consumed with creating fantastical shapes out of the hedges in the grounds. His hands, so cruelly left unfinished by the untimely death of his creator, are nothing but a twisted tangle of metal blades and clicking scissors. Quite why the mad inventor who gave him life decided to leave him with such unfeasibly grim appendages, whilst he toiled at concocting some more appropriate fingers, is never adequately explained and you have to wonder about the ability of wild-haired young Edward to answer the call of nature. Certainly the myriad scars coursing over his pale face give rise to some disquieting images. Adorning the wall beside his lonely little bed up in the forlorn attic are press cuttings that enforce his knowledge of just how different he is to those living down below in the town. Obviously a pathetic creature in need of company and love, Edward is given the opportunity to experience life on the outside when Dianne Wiest's Avon lady, Peg comes calling and takes pity on the scythe-handed urchin. Allowing him into her home, much to the interest of the curtain-twitching neighbours, she makes him one of the family and, fairly soon, Edward's peculiar skills with his knives - the afore-mentioned topiary soon takes second stage to his amazing hairdressing abilities - has him celebrated as the talk of the town. He finds a happiness that has been denied him since his creator died - a family, friends and, inevitably, love. Which, as we all know, can only lead to trouble ... even in fairytales.

    “Now, I can help with the scars, but I just want to consult the big Avon handbook before doing anything.”

    Winona Ryder, sporting a rather un-fetching strawberry-blonde wig as Peg's daughter Kim, snatches Edward's heart and the seeds of a tragic love are sown with almost Shakespearean aplomb. Her would-be suitor Jim, played by Weird Science's Anthony Michael Hall, is hardly the kind of man to stand aside whilst a rival with fingernails longer than his sweetheart muscles in. The fable being that, although he is well-liked, and even desired by the neighbourhood nymphet, he is ultimately just too different to be tolerated - much like the spider up on the ceiling, who is okay only so long as he stays there and doesn't come down unexpectedly. Or, more obviously, Frankenstein's monster, who struggles to be accepted and even finds a kind of peace with the old blind man, only to have it shattered when so-called normality intervenes and turfs him out again. So, much like the poor misunderstood monster, Edward will end up hounded by the very people that took him in, his sad plight as unavoidable, and as un-changeable as that of the spider, who will inevitably come down from his perch on the ceiling for an ill-advised sortie.

    “It's not Heaven he's from ... it's straight from the stinking flames of Hell!”

    Thus, Burton's tale is a wistful hybrid of the Frankenstein myth and that, uniquely cinematic, 80's phenomena of teenage-outsider-cum-hero that American movies actually managed to make seem cool. Patently wrapped in the trappings of the horror genre, Burton's outcast protagonist cuts a frighteningly exotic figure. It can be no surprise, surely, that Edward resembles The Cure's Robert Smith, his gothic otherworldliness blended beguilingly with a get-up like that of one of Clive Barker's sadomasochistic Cenobites. Even the multiple blades that round off his fetishist ensemble deliver a sharp nod to that other 80's icon, Freddie Krueger, almost as though Burton is signing off the decade of commercial and cultural excess with a gesture of wanton sentimentality. A black dove of peace, as it were, as Burton gives fantasy back a monster with feelings. But so cleverly subversive is his creation - a man made by a mad old scientist in a spooky old mansion on a hill (Vincent Price, no less, in another nostalgic handshake with the demons of the genre's past) who is left alone and unfinished when his maker dies at the critical moment of bestowing him hands - that he becomes practically the most normal character in a movie that loves to poke fun at the materialism of a bored and false-valued society. Burton's wry observations are painted broadly across the pastel-shaded town nestling in bogus-comfort beneath Edward's grim and ominous abode. The neighbourhood is filled with women who have no aim in life other than to gossip, to goad and to go-get, a lazy, sniping opposite to the Stepford Wives ideal. Mid-American suburbia is decorated as a gaily harmless locale in which the men count the pennies and their wives organise coffee-mornings and barbecues. It is so comfortable and pleasant that it is positively sinister. Again, a typical Burton trademark - hiding mischief behind a gossamer-thin, candy-coated charade. No surprises, then, that he should recently unleash a version of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, starring none-other than his cinematic alter-ego of Johnny Depp, once more. But his childlike perceptions of an illogical adult world have been prevalent throughout his career, with the notable exception of the misguided Planet Of The Apes re-imagining, of course. And his magnificence at highlighting the behavioural absurdities of his heroes is unsurpassed. But, only with Edward Scissorhands has Burton found the perfect vehicle with which to peddle his circus freak show of ideas. Innocence literally hand-in-blade with grotesquery, loss and acceptance unified in love and beauty before an inevitable hostility once again turns understanding into shunning. Burton's themes walk a tragic, and a very lonely path. But with his relish for flamboyant visual artistry, that strange and twisted path becomes something so entrancing that to avoid it would be unthinkable. Edward Scissorhands is not the darkest tale he has ever told but, in spite of its almost timid tragedy, it is perhaps the most hopeful. Edward is a survivor. Burton is offering hope to all the high school misfits and outsiders by giving them their own cultural ambassador or messiah, if you like. Perhaps, now that I am so far down the line from when I first saw the film, I am at the point where I can begin to understand what some people saw in it that made them so eager to change their ways. Perhaps.

    “Well, did you hear that? He's a perversion of nature. Now, isn't that exciting?

    Well, if Tim Burton wrote the Loners' Bible, Danny Elfman wrote their anthem. His soaring score unashamedly strums the heartstrings, the melodies he has created for Edward's pining love affair with Kim amongst his most memorable. He likes Burton's warped sensibilities and finds the images his friend fashions remarkably easy to compose for. There are moments within Edward Scissorhands when the marriage between music and image truly captivates, that lilting, heartbreaking main theme playing through the mind long after the film has finished. Even when nothing is really happening - the knife-fingered guest bemusedly tussling with new clothes, for example - Elfman's delightful cues provide a gleeful, foot-tapping vibrancy that helps propel the admittedly daft plot forward. The partnership between the director and his loyal composer has become one of the most solid and reliable over the years, but here with Scissorhands, I think Elfman's contributions, more than ever, have aided the success of the movie. Burton's power is in his visuals and his initial concepts, but he needs the strength and the emotion that Elfman provides to energise them. Even his performing mainstay of Johnny Depp - one of the most staggeringly magnetic of actors - would come up short without the sweeping harmonies of Elfman backing him up. Think of Sleepy Hollow without the music and Depp's Ichobod Crane simply founders on the shores of pure pantomime, Burton's panache with a camera lapsing into mere screen-decoration. The seeds of the three performing friends were sown perfectly here in Edward Scissorhands, and it is a triumvirate that is nigh on unbeatable when all are on form.

    “Come downstairs and shake his hand.”

    Shake his hand!

    It's great to see this fairytale again. It is a reminder to me of when the high-concept action-fodder of my teenage finally seemed to slip from its blood-soaked, bullet-strewn pedestal. Don't get me wrong, I still love watching John McClane smashing through the Nakatomi Plaza's windows, Martin Riggs blasting his way out of a mercenary-filled nightclub and John Matrix laying waste to vast swathes of inept goons, but Burton's fable ushered in a whole new sensibility. Suddenly it was cool to be different. Even if being different just meant you liked strange films about doomed love affairs as well as wall-to-wall carnage.

    Check out the great Vincent Price though ... he looks just like how Bruce Forsythe does now, doesn't he?

    The Rundown


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