An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Edward Scissorhands (1990)
PUBLISHED: 07:12 08 July 2018
Movies that tell a good story and have engaging characters provide that all-important re-watch value necessary for a great film. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies which may entertain if you are in the mood for something different
Edward Scissorhands; dir: Tim Burton, starring: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Alan Arkin, Vincent Price. Cert: PG (1990)
As the new Millennium dawned I was asked to contribute to a greatest movie list. A number of critics and film writers were approached to draw up a list of 25 of the greatest films of the 20th century. There was one stipulation – each director and leading actor could only appear in the list once, so you had to make your choices carefully.
Knowing that there would be plenty of tried and tested classics nominated – films like Citizen Kane, Gone With The Wind, Lawrence of Arabia etc – I took a conscious decision to make my list a very personal one. It would be a list of films which I came back to and could re-watch time and again. This is, surely, the test of a great film?
In among Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, John Ford’s She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Ealing’s The Ladykillers, I slipped in Edward Scissorhands, Tim Burton’s contemporary fairytale, set in a timeless suburbia, which offers a dark, satirical warning which remains relevant to this day.
In many ways Edward Scissorhands is the first of Burton’s signature movies, building upon the success of Beetlejuice and the first Batman movie. Whereas Batman is relentlessly dark and brooding, Edwards Scissorhands seems remarkably bright – at first – taking place in what appears to be the location of The Monkees hit Pleasant Valley Sunday. Then things start to turn darker.
The movie takes place in an artificial world, it’s a place of planned conformity, where identical houses sit neatly alongside one another, painted in pleasing pastel shades. It looks like the visualization of Malvina Reynolds and Pete Seger’s suburban critique Little Boxes “all made out of ticky tacky”.
However, this being a Tim Burton film, there’s a topiary-filled Gothic castle sitting on a nearby hilltop and Peg, the fearless local Avon lady, (Dianne Wiest) comes a-calling. Inside the dark, cold, collapsing building she finds Edward, a lonely, emotionally stunted, boy, the son of a now deceased elderly inventor.
Both onscreen and off, we all share a collective gasp, as Edward reveals that he has multi-blade scissors for hands and then we accept it.
Peg immediately invites Edward home and welcomes him into her family and the neighbourhood. But, this is a strange Stepford-like suburb, where, on the surface, everything is nice and friendly but there’s deceit and hypocrisy lurking in the background. You can’t help but thinking that the individualistic Burton is making a comment on his own childhood.
Whereas Peg is genuinely welcoming, her teenage daughter Kim (Winona Ryder) is actively hostile, thinking Edward strange and is angry at him for making her look different in the eyes of her ‘need to be cool’ conformist friends.
Edward’s story is told largely in flashback. We get to see the brilliant Vincent Price as a Geppetto-like inventor, loving constructing his son but dying before he can replace his temporary hands. Alone, for so many years, Edward has become highly skilled with his scissor-like blades and in addition to producing complex topiary, it turns out is a wonderful hairstylist who swiftly becomes the talk of the neighbourhood.
However, as a teenage boy, Edward only has eyes for Kim, and soon his fumbling, romantic approaches turns this pleasant happy world into chaos.
One of the joys of Edward Scissorhands is that you can see so many references to other influences, other films, other storytellers, other pieces of enduring folklore. In the beginning you have echoes of Pinocchio but with the inventor working in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis but then, as the community turn on Edward, the film starts to resemble the mob pursuing Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera. In places the film has the look and feel of a silent movie – added to by the gothic nature of the castle.
Having his roots in animation, all Tim Burton’s films, have a very definite look. They are designed and the visuals always betray their authorship, even on films where Tim Burton isn’t the day-to-day director, films like The Nightmare Before Christmas.
This was the film that made Johnny Depp a star and cemented Winona Ryder’s fame after her breakout roles in Beetlejuice and Heathers. The pair became an item off-screen and their closeness adds emotional depth to some later tragic scenes.
Dianne Wiest serves as a spokeperson for the best of humanity, a caring, warm individual and Alan Arkin is the kindly but confused Dad but this is Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s film. It’s a movie about outsiders. Burton has designed it well but it is Depp who gives the film its soul with a beautifully nuanced heart-rending performance. A true masterpiece which is given added majesty by Danny Elfman’s gloriously catchy score.