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Wild At Heart review of Tim Burton exhibit at the TIFF in Toronto

Wild Bill Ketelhut provides the "blog" to this anti-blog

Wild At Heart

Have I ever told you, my faithful readers, that Toronto is one of my favorite towns to visit? Just this past weekend, I had the pleasure of taking a road trip up to Toronto for some fun. If you read my blog on Monday, you already know I saw OMD in concert (who plays the Crofoot this Friday) so you can get off your lazy asses and see one of the great 80’s bands rock your world!!!

The rest of my road trip was pretty good also. I left very early just to make sure I could get a good place to park and have time to walk to my destination, the recently built TIFF Bell Lightbox. This is a beautiful building built to help the Toronto International Film Festival with its operational goal and give them an actual home. I have never been to the Film Festival but my friend Becky, who used to work at the library in Toledo, OH used to travel there religiously for the festival. So I get my parking space, walk past the Hockey Hall Of Fame and through the rain to get to the TIFF (located in the entertainment district) about 2 hours ahead of schedule. I stop in front of the building to see a beautifully weird sculpture created for the museum by Tim Burton that is a cross between The Grinch and Little Shop Of Horrors as shown in this video:

To waste some time, I noticed a bunch of restaurants across the street and try by luck at Fred’s Not Here, a tasty little smokehouse where I can dry off a bit after walking 10 blocks in the constant drizzle. I thought I had swimmer’s ear by that point in the day. I got this lunch special that started with a lobster and crab soup with a pastry on top of the bowl and finished with a 8 oz Angus steak with French fries cooked with duck fat that were just excellent. Not bad for $15. I left and went next door to a French café called Le Saint Tropez for desert. I got something called a Torte au Citron which translates to lemon pie with a raspberry topping. It was delicious and only cost $7. The place was very colorful and Tuscan looking but not as colorful as what I was about to embark on.

La Saint Tropez

I was still a bit early so I walked around the building. Besides having a museum exhibition, they also have a number of theatres showing foreign and art films much like what you would see at out Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak but so much bigger. They have a restaurant that had special Tim Burton inspired dishes like Mrs Lovett’s Meat Pies, Big Fish, Alice’s Magical Mushroom Lasagna and drinks such as the Beetlejuiced and Drink Me (inspired by Alice In Wonderland). On the top floor is a free exhibition designed to highlight Canadian talents. The current exhibition is dedicated to silent film star Mary Pickford, once known as America’s Sweetheart. She was born in Toronto and preferred theatre but reluctantly got involved in the movie business which she grew to love. She became one of its biggest stars appearing in over 100 shorts and features. She founded her own studio in 1916 and later UA studios with Charlie Chaplin and went on to help start up the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers. Her celebrity was shown in her own Cosmetics line, her work raising war bond and other charities (one drive had her sell a curl of her hair for $15,000 in bonds) and as being in the first Hollywood power couple when she married Douglas Fairbanks (sorry Bradgelina). The exhibit featured a number of personal items, souvenirs, movie posters and other items. My favorite was the lantern slides which features pictures from various movies. They are something you don’t see very often due to their fragile nature. I got to talk with Shane Smith, Director of Public Programming who hinted that they are working on an exhibit for that room on one of my favorite film directors, David Cronenberg (fingers crossed).

After going through the exhibit, I got talking to Shane who was generous enough to talk with me and not get on my case too much about not realizing the connection with the building and the film festival, after all I heard about it looking for something else to do in Toronto to make a trip to see OMD worth it and a Tim Burton exhibit is right up my alley. I remember the first movie I saw by him was “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” which was really quirky and you have to love the Tequila dance. Next was “Beetlejuice” which I saw in the theatre and quickly fell in love with. I love sci-fi/fantasy/horror and I have also enjoyed the slightly odd ball stuff (like early 50’s sci-fi, Monty Python and the like) so Tim Burton (along with Terry Gilliam) was right up my alley. “Edward Scissorhands” was the films that really impressed me as the movie that really jumpstarted Johnny Depp’s career. I was also a big fan of Ryder and the costume of the lonely loner just hit a nerve. My favorite film by Burton is “Ed Wood” with its excellent cast which won Martin Landau an Oscar for best supporting actor for his role of Bela Lugosi. I just loved watching him struggle with the fake octopus. A supporting cast by George “The Animal” Steele, Jeffrey Jones and Bill Murray doesn’t hurt either. More recently, with the exception of “Big Fish”, I felt that Burton ideas while remaining powerful has been diminished a bit by lackluster plots (Alice, Planet Of Apes, Charley) though “Sweeney Todd” was a lot of fun. Still, with the exception of Apes, his films also excite the eyes in ways very few film directors are capable.

Shane first found Burton while in Australia and he saw his short movie “Frankenweenie” (set for a big screen remake soon) which always stuck with him. I asked if he remembered what film played with it and he couldn’t remember. The Tim Burton exhibit is the first major exhibit at the TIFF and came about with someone who was a friend with someone at MOMA (who put on the exhibition) and thought it was the “perfect art exhibit for the role of cinema from an artist’s perspective”. His off-kilter vision of the suburbs to the reimagining of Alice (and it doesn’t hurt following one of the top grossing films of 2010) have thrilled numerous fans who also relate to his quirky outsider characters. Let’s not forget the unimaginable popularity of “Nightmare” which I loved in the theatre but never thought it would still be as popular today as it was back then. One high school age girl looking at the designs from the movie told her two friends “this is my favorite movie…I have watched it over 100 times”. She might not even have been born when the movie came out which makes me feel old.

At the start of the exhibition, Tim Burton stopped by and did a few children program for the TIFF. Shane stated that Burton didn’t really want to talk to the press but did give generously to the young kids during his few days talking to them about there own short works and such. It’s nice to know that while probably an oddball, he is an oddball with a kind generous heart much like some of his characters.

The TIFF also does a lot of programs for budding filmmakers and gets there fair share of celebrities coming in. Woody Harrelson (Cheers, White Men Can’t Jump) is doing a film in Toronto and is supposed to stop by for a day and recent guests have included director Paul Haggis (Crash) and special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull (Blade Runner). Shane says some of these people are local or working in the city but sometimes, like with Trumbull, they come in esp for an event. With these types of people coming in, I am definitely going to keep my eye on future events. For film fans and those working in the industry, this should almost be a Mecca destination as it also houses the largest film reference library in Canada and is only 2 blocks south of the National Film Board Of Canada where you can watch over 5,500 Canadian films and shows for free in their lobby viewing area. So TIFF looks to be here to stay with its theatres, libraries and galleries. The current Tim Burton exhibit is set to end on April 17th so make plans for a road trip now to see this (sorry I couldn’t give you more of a head’s up).

The exhibit is a must for fans of Burton’s work. The gallery has timed admissions and was very busy when I was there. You start by going though the exhibit which is mostly chronological. It covers all of Burton’s films and shorts (including the web favorite Stainboy) as well as some drawing and sculptures at the end from some unfinished projects. There is a side room with some art arranged my categories like clowns or women, along with work he did in high school and college including some films he did with his friends (most of which he also starred in). I particularly liked seeing a failed children’s book he was working on for Disney about monsters entitled “Giant Zlig”. His work was even weird back then. The exhibit is mostly drawing with some sculptures but does have some props including the Edward Scissorhand’s costume, the razors from Sweeney Todd, Michelle’s cat suit from Batman Returns, the severed heads from Mars Attacks, Ed Wood’s angora sweater, the scarecrow form Headless Horseman, etc. There are also numerous models for the movies “Corpse Bride” and “Nightmare Before Christmas” which were among the most popular items on display (and worth the price of admission by themselves). They even had concept drawings he did, though unused, for the Black Cauldron. As you leave, they are showing Tim’s TV production of Hansel and Gretel which only aired once which while average story-wise, is great visually, esp the candy house.

If you just even like Burton’s films, this is a must do road trip to see this wonderful exhibition. The amount of work they have on the walls can really make one wonder about the sanity of the man but it is wonderfully captivating. You don’t get the opportunity to look into the mind of an artistic genius too often and this exhibit is worth it and makes me excited for future projects. Most exhibits of this type usually focus on Star Trek or Star Wars so seeing something different is definitely a plus. If you want to know more info about this exhibit or the TIFF in general, go to You will not be sorry you did.