“I really wouldn’t know a good movie if it bit me in the face — up to a certain point,” laughs Tim Burton, recalling his childhood movie watching experiences. We recently caught the filmmaker behind such iconic work as Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas as he unveiled his exhibition of art in Melbourne, Australia, where he revealed his all-time personal five favorite films. “These kinds of films, there was something that harkened back to when you read a weird kind of pulp or fairy or folk tale,” he explains. “They’ve got kind of rough edges around them. There’s something primal about them. A lot of these movies, for me, some of their flaws are actually their strengths. These are the kinds of films that if they’re on, I’ll watch them. Call it masochism, I don’t know. They’re a part of me.”
It was a great year for films. [laughs] Seeing that movie is one of the reasons I wanted to move to London, because it’s quite swinging — it’s like this weird mixture of a Hammer horror film and swinging London. There’s a scene where they cut from, I don’t know, 1569 or whatever, and it cuts to rock music and a jet airplane, so there’s a weird juxtaposition of things. I’ve gotten to know Christopher Lee over the years and I know that he would not say that this was one of his favorite films. I think it was Hammer on the decline and they thought, ‘Hey, let’s get hip,’ which was a mistake. But I enjoy mistakes sometimes.
It’s like a weird musical. That is actually one of Christopher’s favorite movies that he did, unlike the last one. It was not a very successful movie when it came out but it’s really quite a hypnotic and amazing film I think. It’s like a weird dream. Some of these films I can’t kind of watch over, because they play in your mind like a dream. It reminds me of growing up in Burbank. Things are quite normal on the surface but underneath they’re not quite what they seem. I found this film to be such a strange mixture; the elements are very odd.
Ray Harryhausen is another inspiration to me. He did it all himself, too, you know, in the days when it was difficult to do that. In his characters — even the things that had no character — you could feel an artist at work there. You could feel his hand in it, and that’s rare, in any kind of film. His acting was better than the acting of the humans. It really tapped in to what I like about movies, I mean, the fantasy but also that handmade element, when you can see the movement of the characters — it’s like Frankenstein or Pinocchio, taking an inanimate object and having it come to life. That’s why I still like to do stop-motion projects.
One of my favorites. It’s my two-year-old daughter’s favorite movie. She’s the green gargantua and my other son is the brown one, and she loves being the bad green gargantua. She’s obsessed with it, as I was. I grew up watching Japanese science fiction movies and I particularly, unlike most hard core film people, like dubbed movies — there’s something about that language and the translation that somehow fits into the movie; it’s like a weird poetry. There’s a beauty to these films, the Japanese character designs — there’s a human kind of quality to these things, which I love. Monsters were always the most soulful characters. I don’t know if it’s because the actors were so bad, but the monsters were always the emotional focal point.
Seeing Charlton Heston reciting lines from Woodstock and wearing jumpsuits that look like he’s out of Gilligan’s Island — there are lots of good things. The thing I liked about this is that the vampire characters were played by real people. They had a really cool look to them — black robes, dark glasses. Not Charlton Heston with his shirt off. [laughs] I was kind of obsessed by him, because he’s like the greatest bad actor of all time. Between this and Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green and The Ten Commandments — I know that was a religious film but I always thought it was like the first zombie movie. He starts out like this real person and by the end he’s like this weird zombie.