Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #6: Edward Scissorhands (1990)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

When these ads showed up,
I officially started pacing the floors.

©20th Century Fox
In the summer of 1990, magazine advertisements for Edward Scissorhands started popping up in my entertainment magazines. "Edward is coming" or "Edward was here" read the tag lines, looming above topiar or heads with strange haircuts. I knew Johnny Depp was working on this film about a guy who had some sort of scissors for hands. I was excited that Johnny was working with Tim Burton, whose movies so far, I loved--Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, and Batman.  Pee-Wee was hilarious and caught the perfect spirit. Beetlejuice was one of a kind and entirely imaginative. And, when Tim's version of Batman came out, I thought it was exactly as Batman should be: dark, twisted, and funny. These were all big hits, and  I was thrilled for Johnny, having snagged this interesting opportunity in a movie that was a little more mainstream. Unlike Cry-Baby, Edward Scissorhands had potential to show up at a theater near me. Then, everyone would start seeing Johnny's movies! Apparently, my inner cheerleader slipped out. As soon as it was released, we got to the theater. Dad walked up to the ticket counter and asked, "Can we have four tickets to Johnny Scissorhands?"

Johnny meets Edward and makes a new friend.
Edward Scissorhands is a story about a man created by an old inventor (Vincent Price) who dies before completing his creation. Edward is left with sharp shears for hands. He lived alone in a mansion on a mountaintop overlooking the town of Suburbia. One day, the local Avon Lady, Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest) discovers him and brings him home to live with her family.

Tim Burton's Edward
©Tim Burton
Edward Scissorhands was written by Caroline Thompson, based on one of Tim's early drawings, and many say that the character is very close to Tim himself. (They do look alike, minus the scissors.) The story stemmed from his teenage feelings of isolation and misperception, a universal feeling that Johnny also connected to growing up and, more recently, when pushed into the TV spotlight surrounded by teenage mania.

"I read the screenplay to Edward Scissorhands and lost my mind," Johnny said in 2005. "It was one of the most beautiful things I ever read whether it was a book, a screenplay, poem--whatever. It was just a beautiful piece." After he read it, Johnny tried to cancel the meeting that his new agent, Tracey Jacobs, set up for him with the film's director. He figured everyone in Hollywood would want the part and assumed that he--mainly known as a TV actor and teen idol--would have no chance at the role. He wanted to avoid the rejection. Luckily, Tracey forced him to go! Not only did he get the part, but their 3-hour meeting over coffee and cigarettes was the start of a lifelong friendship and prolific working relationship that has led to 8 films so far. (They're working on their 9th collaboration right now!)

"After sharing approximately three to four pots of coffee together, stumbling our way through each other's unfinished sentences but somehow still understanding one another, we ended our meeting with a handshake and a 'nice to meet you,'" Johnny remembers in Burton on Burton by Mark Salisbury. "I left that coffee shop jacked up on caffeine, chewing insanely on my coffee spoon like a wild, rabid dog. I now officially felt even worse about things because of the honest connection I felt we had during the meeting. Mutually understanding the perverse beauty of a milkcow creamer, the bright-eyed fascination with resin grapes, the complexities and raw power that one can find in a velvet Elvis painting--seeing way beyond the novelty, the profound respect for 'those who are not others.' I was sure we could work well together, and I was positive, if given the chance, I could carry out his artistic vision for Edward Scissorhands. My chances were, at best, slim--if that."

It's true. All the big stars in Hollywood were fighting to play this part. People I can't imagine! William Hurt? Tom Hanks?? Tom Cruise???!!!

While Johnny waited for the phone to ring, he studied. After reading the script, his immediate impression of the character mirrored the unconditional love and innocence that newborn babies and animals possess. The character sparked memories of a pet dog he had growing up. He read child psychology books, children's books, fairy tales and whatever else he could get his hands on to prepare for the role.  "It was now not something I merely wanted to do, but something I had to do," he said. "Not for any ambitious, greedy, actory, box-office-draw reason, but because this story had now taken residence in the middle of my heart and refused to be evicted."

Johnny: "I am Edward Scissorhands!"
After weeks of waiting, he got the call. "When I met Johnny I knew right away that he was The One," Tim Burton said. "I had a feeling about it....He just had that quality. You could see it in his eyes."

How can you deny that face?
©20th Century Fox
I have to agree! Johnny has an amazing talent for saying volumes with a flicker of an eyeball. "It's a very tough thing to play somebody who is created--you know, other than the normal way," Vincent Price said of Johnny's performance. "What do you do? You're an unreal character, and yet he's in very real situations. And there are very few people with scissors for hands--fortunately!"

"I can remember when I finished Edward Scissorhands," Johnny said, "looking in the mirror as the girl was doing my make-up for the last time, and thinking, 'Wow, this is it. I'm saying goodbye to Edward Scissorhands.' It was kind of sad." Aside from all the critical acclaim--Edward Scissorhands still shows up on Most Memorable Movie Characters lists around the world--Johnny received his first of many Golden Globe nominations for his performance. He also won the 1990 ShoWest Award for Male Star of Tomorrow. (Yeah, he is!)

Most people I know find Tim Burton's work too dark or weird--or both--but I have always marveled at the worlds he creates. You know a Tim Burton movie when you see one. Edward's pale, scarred face, mangled hair, and scissorhands never frightened me. I don't remember even thinking that the idea of scissorhands was strange, but maybe I was just focused on Johnny's quiet, gentle performance. This movie does get dark. I find it hard to watch Edward Scissorhands in its entirety. If it's on TV, I often change the station before the neighbors start turning against Edward. No one should be mean to Edward.

This is sort of plopped in here, but I have to also mention the Edward Scissorhands soundtrack by the great Danny Elfman, Tim's frequent collaborator. (Didn't you already love him as the lead singer of Oingo Boingo in the '80s anyway?) The music is enchanting and timeless. It transports you to Christmas and gives you visions of snowflakes. Today, the themes are still copied and heard in other movies and TV commercials--everywhere. I'd yell at the thieves, but who can blame them?

How does Johnny Kitties Measure Up?
Of all the Johnny Kitties drawings so far, this one took me the longest--from coming up with an idea that would do such a special film justice to drawing what was in my head. I adore the first half of this movie, watching Edward experience Suburbia for the first time, meeting new people, and trying to fit in. There are so many memorable scenes--Edward trying to get dressed. Edward trying to eat his peas and carrots, Edward exploring Kim's room. (Kim is Peg's teenage daughter, played by Johnny's then-girlfriend Winona Ryder.)

There were too many moments and characters I wanted to capture in this drawing. Johnny worked with Vincent Price on his final film. Diane Weist, Alan Arkin, Kathy Baker--and everyone--made up a fantastic cast of extreme, yet believable Suburbia citizens. I couldn't make up my mind about any of it. Of course, Edward's world--the gothic mansion, the snow, the topiaries--was necessary, but all the other characters didn't live there. There's no way to mix them together on one sheet of paper. I feared that my Johnny Kitties project would end before it had hardly begun. While I was pondering how to avoid stalling Johnny Kitties indefinitely or creating some sort of Richard Scarry layout of Suburbia, Gordon busied himself by creating ice sculptures of some of our favorite moments. (He's so Method.) Problem solved!

Edward Scissorhands (January 14, 2011)

In our drawing for Edward Scissorhands, you'll find Edward in his mansion hard at work on one of his many ice sculptures. He's far away from his experience in Suburbia, but his memories are still clear:
  • Smiling for the first time as The Inventor (B.J.) reads him poetry. 
  • Meeting wonderful Peg Boggs (The Mother Kitty), who gave him a new set of clothes and introduced him to the rest of the world.  
  • Getting his first hug, from his true love Kim (Lily)
Suburbia's at the bottom of the hill, but really--who wants to live among those crazy neighbors?

What's Next?
Filmed in Florida, I don't know how Johnny survived making Edward Scissorhands dressed in that leather suit and massive wig with such heavy make-up on in 90-degree weather every day. What's a few cases of heat stroke for the sake of art? Well, now he leaves one hot climate for another.

Tune in next month, when Johnny hangs out with Faye Dunaway and Jerry Lewis in Arizona Dream

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