This is the saga of how and why I ended up at the gala opening of Tim Burton’s wild, fanciful exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and how I found myself in a great second-floor, barely lit salon (lighting part of the ambiance) in a crowd of…what was it? At least 500. Let’s call it a horde of folk all related in some way to Tim Burton’s work, and to us, strangers all.
Tim was upstairs on the 3rd floor which housed the exhibition, making his appearance to masses of folk trying to shake his hand. It was art-madness of the best type, all in the style of the artist himself, the wild-haired, rumply crumply but very sweet guy who created this mad world. Here we were taken by the curator (Ron Magliozzi) to greet Tim for a quick handshake and a hug. The exhibition itself was so wall-to-wall crowded that I intended to enjoy it next day, so we returned to the second floor crush downstairs. It was my intention, as a Buzzine writer, to approach as many Burton folk as I could, so I set out to “do the crowd.” But first let me explain why we happened to be guests of the gala.
Part of the exhibit is to be a series of Burton’s films. The composer of most of these films is Danny Elfman. Elfman’s first film score was Forbidden Zone, written, produced and directed by Buzzine‘s publisher, Richard Elfman, hence the invitation for Richard, Lauren (managing editor) and Clare (literary editor). I had met Burton years ago at a scoring of an early film, and I particularly wanted to join the gala not only because I love Tim Burton’s unique body of work, but because I have a special interest in Forbidden Zone.
First, my older son not only wrote and directed Forbidden Zone, but appeared in many roles — my favorite as a masseur singing the inimitable “Yiddishe Charleston.” My younger son wrote the score and appeared singing the role of the devil. My husband appeared in the classic segment, “Pico and Sepulveda,” smoking in a non-smoking factory, and my father played the Jewish money-lender in hell. I myself was offered a role if I would agree to be naked in a sheer negligee chained to a post. Unhappily, I declined and lost my one chance at an acting career. If you follow that logic, it explains how I found myself in the darkened room of hundreds of Burton-connected folk on gala night at the MoMA.
This was a crowd of talented strangers, each connected in some way to Tim’s Burton’s films or with this MoMA exhibit. Where to begin to meet as many of these special guests as possible? First, I dressed for the occasion. The invitation required cocktail attire. I spent days trying to decide what to wear. I chose the black outfit I had worn to my younger son’s Oscar nomination. The right jewelry, a lovely beaded scarf. As it turned out, it was so dark that nobody could see what anybody wore. I could have come in a nightgown — nobody would have noticed. So crowded that you had no actual perspective to focus on clothing. Okay, there I was, trying to meet as many strangers as possible before I “gave out.” I had already walked a mountain of stairs (no, I am an old gal — shlepped up the stairs would be more accurate).
Modus operendi was this. I chose a little group, entered hand-out explaining that I was Clare Elfman from Buzzine and I wanted to meet as many in that room as possible, and would they mind? They were so great…nobody minded. They were just little groups of folk standing with a drink in hand, wondering what to do next. Of course, I was was a stranger…but also the oldest gal there and my name was Elfman. Made a bit of a difference. Oh, I wish I had taken a notebook with me to record names, but this was “cocktail attire” and would have been rude, which actually I was. However, I started with a little group of three. One woman, a tiny, very pretty Japanese gal looked so terribly familiar. I entered the group, made my introduction and said, “Ah, you look so familiar. Are you perhaps an actress?” She laughed, nodded her head yes. In her slight English, she said, “Scary movie!” and made scary movie hand gestures. She was the star of the Japanese horror flick, Grudge. She was the spooky one who suddenly had the hair over her face, and she was there as a friend of Danny’s. With her was a huge, over-sized guy with a beard. He did security for some of the Burton’s films, and I think he was there as a sort of bodyguard. Great start!
Next group — four tall guys, one whose shirt I admired, high pink buttony collar. They turned out to be the remarkable artists who create the puppets for Burton’s films. Puppets, creatures, odd-shaped thingies. One had met Richard in Barcelona, so I hailed back and brought him over. Two groups, and suddenly these strangers were becoming familiar and, ah, so interesting. Next, two kids who spoke few words of English. One I remember by name, Marta Martinez of Barcelona, and her friend from Portugal. (Now understand that everyone in L.A. speaks at least a little Spanish, enough for a small conversation.) These were two young kids who did animation. Marta and I really hit it off. I reminded her of her abuela (granny) back in Spain. We shared ideas about the importance of family. What a sweet lady. Next I chose “suits.” Happened to be four fellows from the USA TV network selling advertising, etc. And from there three really young teachers in MoMA’s classes for kids. So charming. And so on for more than an hour.
It was pure icing on the cake, which was the exhibit I returned to see next morning. How to describe it? Tim Burton is one of those unique talents who display all his…how shall I say it? From his wildly creative, inventive brain, everything inside spills outside — no mad stuff censored. All his dreams and nightmares and private fancies and mad thoughts and crazy perceptions and scary fantasies…all out for the world to see. We know him by his films, which are totally and wildly unique. The boy with scissors for hands. Pee Wee Herman, the child-man whose world falls into a bizarre twilight world of time. A skeleton who decides to switch Christmas and Halloween. Here were hundreds of his sketches and puppets and photos, a savvy madman creating creatures which spill out of his imagination like the web from a spider. And Tim himself, with those crumpled clothes and wild hair who is as gentle and kind and warm a creature as ever stepped out of a canvas created by himself.
That gala at MoMA brought together all the auxiliary folk who bring Burton’s work to life: the illustrators and animators and puppet-makers and designers and the business suits who do the dull work of marketing. The “imagination of Tim Burton” has become the kind of collective world of art which enriches those of us who dream mad dreams and slide into fantasies which we are careful to hide under civility and normalcy.
What a night for the Old Broad, who barely hobbled down the steps and into a cab to finish the evening with a great meal at ‘inoteca, which is absolutely our favorite dinner in New York, eating the creative and so-satisfying food while we chewed over a wonderful and eclectic evening with the Tim Burton auxiliary, the folk who take these madly wild dreams and present them to us, who take an hour to see the exhibition or two hours at a Tim Burton film and know that we have been privileged to see something entirely original from the fantasy of a man willing to share his naked id.
Ah me, naked in a sheer negligee chained to a post and I might have been a star...
Tim Burton's Exhibition runs at New York's Museum of Modern Art from November 22, 2009 to April 26, 2010