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Danny Elfman Looks Back at Tim Burton’s Cinematic Adventures in Melody

“I wouldn’t have a career were it not for Tim and ‘Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,’” says composer Danny Elfman of his 30-year collaboration with director Tim Burton, who will have his hands and feet immortalized in cement Sept. 8 at the Chinese Theatre. “I went from zero to 90 the day ‘Pee-wee’ was released.”

They have done 16 films together, including the mega-hits “Batman,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Alice in Wonderland,” and the cult favorites “Beetlejuice,” “Edward Scissorhands” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Elfman earned a Grammy for “Batman” and an Oscar nomination for Burton’s “Big Fish.”

“From ‘Pee-wee’ through ‘Nightmare Before Christmas,’ every one of those first six films opened up a new door, artistically and commercially,” Elfman says. “I went from the comedy guy (‘Pee-wee’) to the oddball quirky guy (‘Beetlejuice’) to the big dark film guy (‘Batman’) to the melodic romantic guy (‘Scissorhands’). They were critical doors to walk through.”

Elfman is up for an Emmy for music direction on the PBS telecast of “Danny Elfman’s Music From the Films of Tim Burton,” a two-hour “Live From Lincoln Center” concert that features a 90-piece orchestra and 50-voice choir performing suites and themes from many of the films.

“I went from the comedy guy (‘Pee-wee’) to the oddball quirky guy (‘Beetlejuice’) to the big dark film guy (‘Batman’) to the melodic romantic guy (‘Scissorhands’).”
Danny elfman

The show has played more than 50 venues from London to Tokyo to Paris over the past three years, combining imagery from the films, Burton’s original drawings, and Elfman’s alternately touching and manic music. Elfman himself performed in more than 30 of the concerts, including London, New York, L.A., and Tokyo.

The concert showcases the wide range of music in Burton’s films, from the wacky “Mars Attacks!” to the wildly percussive “Planet of the Apes,” the eerie Gothic quality of “Sleepy Hollow” and the warmth and emotion of “Frankenweenie.”

“The thing that I like most about working with Tim is that all of his responses to my music are visceral,” notes Elfman. “He either feels it or he doesn’t. But he’s never going to hit me with ‘logic.’ If there’s one thing that’s a music destroyer, it’s logic: too thought-out, too intellectual, about what it should or shouldn’t be doing.”

Tip Sheet
What: Tim Burton Imprint ceremony
When: 4 p.m., Sept. 8
Where: TCL Chinese Theatre
Web: tclchinesetheatres.com

“It’s a certain fit of sensibilities,” Burton told Variety about Elfman in 2006. “It’s the way you feel about certain people, people you just relate to. We like a lot of the same things. He’s always been a kind of guidepost, to try and help set the tone of the movie, capture the spirit of it.”

Nowhere was this clearer than in their early work, especially “Batman” with its dark and driving theme for the Dark Knight and its bizarre waltz for the mad Joker, and “Edward Scissorhands” — perhaps his most popular work — with its celeste-and-choir fairy-tale ambiance and heartrending, soulful finale. Renowned

English choreographer Matthew Bourne found “Scissorhands” so moving he created a ballet based on the score in 2005.
As Johnny Depp (star of seven Elfman-scored films including “Scissorhands” and “Alice”) says of Elfman’s music: “In a very strange way, it’s the sound of Tim.”

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