"Have you ever seen Dante's 'Inferno?'" he shot back.
Actually, he said, the monotonous suburb was a boon to a kid with a fertile imagination: "It had no weather, no seasons, no culture. You had to make it up."
What he made up is an astonishing body of work: Edward Scissorhands, Beetljuice, Mars Attacks!, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Ed Wood, Sweeney Todd, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and, soon, the much anticipated Alice in Wonderland with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.
Burton fans, then, will be in their glory this fall when MOMA launches the first major retrospective of Burton’s work--more than 700 drawings, paintings, storyboards, puppets, costumes, and cinematic ephemera. Some 550 pieces are from his own private collection, and thus have never been seen before.
The show will include screenings of film snippets, some from Burton’s years as an amateur--like the weird (OK, a redundant word when discussing Burton’s work) Doctor of Doom, a spoof of old time horror movies, featuring Burton himself in a starring role.
The show opens November 22 and runs through April 26, 2010. The museum will also screen Burton’s entire cinematic oeuvre--14 feature films--during the course of the show. Additionally, MOMA will feature a series of films that inspired Burton, grouped under the title "The Lurid Beauty of Monsters." They include Frankenstien, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Pit and the Pendulum, and Nosferatu.
Burton seemed a little awe-struck to be the center of attention in such an arty august venue, particularly given his background. "I didn’t grow up in a museum culture," he said. "The Hollywood Wax Museum was my first exposure to a museum."
All the more surreal, then, was MOMA director Glenn Lowry’s introduction, in which he called Burton "among the foremost auteur voices of his time," and compared his body of work to Andy Warhol's.
I asked Burton: What would your mother make of such a comparison? "She’d say, 'Who was Warhol?'"