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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Bachelor machinery and BALLETs MÉCANIQUE: uncanny gender technologies in Tim Burton’s camp-surreal Kennedy, Dick


Tim Burton is steadfastly concerned with the visual imbrication of the patriarchal unconscious in the real. Insofar as he inscribes this problem into contemporary cinema in a programmatic way, surrealism (particularly its critique of representation) comes into razor-sharp focus as a point of reference for his films. Often advanced through allegorical appropriations, especially of media images, Burton's oeuvre recalls surrealism's historical critique because it likewise involves the unsettling of identity by sexuality, and the unsettling of reality by means of the simulacrum. Insofar as Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992), have to do with events in which repressed material returns in ways that play havoc with unitary identity, aesthetic norms, and social order, they resonate with Burton's penetrating comprehension of the historicity of the uncanny. In Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Burton's camp deployment of psychosexual disorder to disturb conventional pictorial space, object relations and (masculine) gender identity models the outmoded cultural artifact as an enigmatic vestige of a traumatic encounter or fantasy, equivocal in its restorative and incendiary effects. Setting the text's syntax of symbolic castration against the back projection of postmodern patriarchy's putative loss of a referent or an authentic domain of being, Edward Scissorhands brings into focus the ideological alignment of sexual and cultural disavowal. In Batman and Batman Returns, the makeover of traumatic scenes into artistic origin myths is campily performed. While surrealist fixations double as modernist tropes of setting up an origin in order to institute a self and/or a style, surrealist primal fantasies wreak havoc on such origins; the modernist search for roots produces rootless scenes. No doubt inheriting a few optical cataracts from surrealist sexual politics and insights into the hookups between psychic energy, landscape, architectural form, and social mythology, Burton undertakes an archaeology of patriarchal subjectivity as fossilized in (post)modern spaces. Unless our (de)realizing postmodern dreamscapes (i.e., landscapes, cityscapes, and cinemascapes) are considered a postmodern fulfillment of the surreal, Burton's camp-surreal is far from defunct.

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