Edward Scissorhands, featuring Johnny Depp (Sleepy Hollow, The Corpse Bride, Pirates of the Caribbean series, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), Winona Ryder (Beetlejuice), and directed by Tim Burton (The Corpse Bride, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Batman and Batman Returns, Sleepy Hollow, Beetlejuice), is a really descent film on depicting a sense of otherness, being different, but not as a detractable quality of the character, Edward (see Mashable‘s article, “‘Edward Scissorhands’ celebrated otherness 25 years before it was cool“). According to DazedDigital‘s article, “the secret history of edward scissorhands” on the production of the film:
Towards the end of Tim Burton’s 1990 film Edward Scissorhands, the leather-clad protagonist returns home after a suburb-wide, Gone Girl-style search fails to track him down. He walks through the door and Kim, played by Winona Ryder, gently places a hand on Edward’s shoulder. He slowly turns around. They share a hopeless silence, at a loss for words until Kim utters what we all wish to hear on the regular: “Hold me.” The music swells, and Edward attempts to wrap his garden-shear limbs around her shoulders, before finally conceding defeat, saying, “I can’t.”
It’s a crushing moment, emblematic of why Edward Scissorhands has endured long after its release 25 years ago this month. Of all the reasons that Burton’s gothic autobiography continues to connect with audiences worldwide – the pastel colour palette, the dark humour, the flat-out weirdness of a man with blades for hands – perhaps the most potent is that we can all relate to Edward.
“I think everybody feels like Edward sometimes – that they don’t belong,” says Caroline Thompson, who wrote the script for the film.
The film’s casting director, Victoria Thomas, agrees: “Everyone could be a version of Edward Scissorhands. You know, you’re the only ‘this’ in a sea of ‘that’. The idea that you can’t touch people without hurting them? I think that was a big (motif). Tim was talking about that a lot. I don’t know, can’t you relate to him?”
The question is rhetorical. Of course we can all relate. The pangs of being misunderstood or wrongly judged have been writ large in teen culture for decades. We’re all begging to be accepted for who we are. On a surface level, Edward’s ‘outsider’ appearance makes it impossible for him to modestly blend in. At one point, he wears a baseball cap and button-down shirt to disguise his looks in order to assist in a neighbourhood heist. It only serves to make his otherness stick out even more. Edward is, simply put, strange. Kim’s jock ex-boyfriend Jim even pleads, “He isn’t even human!” when she refuses to terminate their friendship. Everyone can relate mentally to that alienation.
“People are afraid of me because I am different.” A quote that is often attributed to Edward, although he never says it in the film: somehow, one gif of our forlorn-looking hero sat in the local diner subtitled with those pithy words has run laps around Tumblr. Is it simply an example of fans marrying their own interpretations of the film with its reverberating imagery? Maybe, but it could just as well have been a diary entry from a young Tim Burton himself.
Edward Scissorhands resonates with angsty teens because it was dreamt up by one. “Edward Scissorhands (…) began as a cry from the heart, a drawing from (Burton’s) teenage years that expressed the inner torment he felt at being unable to communicate with those around him, especially his family,” wrote Mark Salisbury in the book Burton on Burton.
“I think that Edward Scissorhands was sort of a veiled autobiography of Tim’s – that was always my take on it,” says the film’s art director, Tom Duffield. “Tim was the strange guy in America and I always had that vibe that it was autobiography.”
The story’s catalyst was, in fact, a drawing of Edward that Burton drew as a teenager. That’s all he gave to writer Caroline Thompson to work with, and she extracted this idea of an estranged boy with knives for hands who polarises a suburban community without the chemical aid of a single snort or toke.
“There’s a bar in Santa Monica called Bombay Bicycle Club,” recalls Thompson of her first meeting with Burton. “Tim told me about a character he had who had scissors instead of hands and I said, ‘Stop right there. I know exactly what to do with that,’ and went home. At that time, I was more of a prose writer than a screenwriter. I had published a novel that was this weird little suburban Frankenstein story and knew that (Edward Scissorhands) was my next weird suburban Frankenstein story. Some things come straight into your head and this one came straight into mine. Within three weeks, I had written a 70-plus page prose version for Tim to read.”
Edward Scissorhands was dangerously close to being a precursor to Glee. Initially, Burton suggested the film be a musical, as he felt something this unorthodox could only be readily accepted by an audience if it were set to music. “In my prose treatment I wrote some really bad lyrics,” admits Thompson. That idea was quickly scrapped when Burton realised how it could easily devolve into kitsch.
All of the characters were based on people (or pets) Thompson knew. Peg, the Avon representative who brings Edward home to care for him, was inspired by her own mum. Alan Arkin’s offbeat father character, Bill, was Thompson’s dad. Winona’s waspy protagonist Kim was Thompson’s friend, Lori. Her sporty jerk boyfriend Jim originated with one of Lori’s deadbeat boyfriends. “(My friend Lori is) an amazing person but she had the most horrible boyfriend. He was a bully – he was just that guy.”
One change that Thompson proposed was for Edward’s name to be different. “My novel (First Born) that had come out a few years earlier had the husband’s name as Edward. I just thought there were too many Edwards in my life. I tried to get him to change it to Nathaniel.” As for who could play Edward, Burton didn’t always have Johnny Depp in mind. Jim Carrey, Tom Hanks and Michael Jackson all expressed interest in the part. Both Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr were seriously considered for the role. Cruise was interested, but his need-to-know curiosity ended up costing him the part. “(Cruise) wanted to know how Edward went to the bathroom,” says Thompson, “he was asking the kind of questions about the character that can’t be asked for this character! Part of the delicacy of the story was not answering questions like, ‘How does he go to the bathroom? How did he live without eating all those years?’ Tom Cruise was certainly unwilling to be in the movie without those questions being answered.” In the end it was Depp, looking to shake off the teen heartthrob image he had acquired through his starring role on cop show 21 Jump Street, who scored the lead.
Once Depp and Ryder, a real-life couple at the time, were slotted in the lead roles, the rest of the cast fell into place. Far-out seductress and ferociously nosy neighbour Joyce was next on casting director Victoria Thomas’ to-do list. Joyce puts Edward (“Eddie”) at ease, suggesting he give her a haircut and effectively normalising him and marketing his skills. Her scissor-baiting lures Edward to an empty parlour in the local strip mall, where she describes her plans to help him set up a salon called ‘Shear Heaven’. Joyce gets handsy, and attempts to lead him into the back storeroom for some hanky panky: “Back in here is what I really want to show you,” she coos.
Now, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Kathy Baker filling out Joyce’s shoes (or that seafoam green cutout dress). “There were some funny auditions for that role,” remembers Thomas. “I had to read for the actresses and Tim would be over in the corner laughing, getting seduced by these older women. There’s one actress who I probably shouldn’t name who kind of went overboard. Tim was having a good chuckle.”
That scribble handed to Caroline Thompson when Edward Scissorhands was still a twinkle in her eye, and the one Victoria Thomas used as a guide map for the cast list, was passed on to costume designer Colleen Atwood. That same drawing became the blueprint for Edward’s now-legendary costume.
The straps and buckles are Edward’s mobile prison, a visual manifestation that he is literally an assemblage of spare parts and throwaways put together by his creator, like Frankenstein’s monster. Gathered leather scraps and fastenings became the components from which the head-to-toe creation was born. “I’d seen the image and I knew what I wanted, but how I wanted it made was very (particular). I finally found this old guy that understood what I wanted.” At the time of its making, there weren’t as many tech fabrics that allowed for fluid movement, so Thompson “mounted the leather on a stress so it stayed really tight and skinny to Edward’s body.”
“Once I got over that hump, the rest of costume was great. I had a great time finding all the elements for it in food markets. Back then there was a leather district in New York where I got a lot of scraps of leather, and then all the details and stitching I did samples of and showed the guy how I wanted it. It was a journey, it was really homemade in a lot of ways, which is good for the story.”
Baking in the hot south Florida sun, Depp had to sit for hours on end while a team applied his make-up and wig. To complete the look, he slipped into that famous leather ensemble. “God bless Johnny, it was so hot and he had that on,” says Atwood. “I felt so sorry for him. But he was a trooper.”
Looming large over the pastel-coloured tract homes is Edward’s gothic mansion – a singed peak out of a 30s B-movie horror. Little wonder it was once occupied by Edward’s creator, played by that eternal fixture of early horror films, Vincent Price. It creates a severe friction with the spectacular prism of the suburban houses, and a symbolic reminder of just how much Edward stands out. He makes aPleasantville transition from the monochrome loneliness of his past into the world of shocking colourwhen Peg adopts him into the family.
The pastel palette was actually inspired by American sweets – Necco wafers, to be exact. “That is where we got the basis for the colours for the houses,” says Tom Duffield. “We wanted to make it a totally controlled neighbourhood. Everything was totally controlled: the colours, the look. That’s one of the great things about working for Tim, because he lets you have total control.” To achieve the effect of a timeless suburban housing development, Duffield and production designer Bo Welch imagined what it would look like “if Leningrad had an American type housing complex”.
Their uncanny concept required a blank canvas, so they settled on Florida and found a virgin suburb in Carpenters Run, about five miles north of Tampa on Route 41. All but two of the 52 houses were occupied. The residents were paid in kind for permission to redecorate their houses for the duration of the shoot, but some proved a bit harder to persuade. “We had a couple of people that were holding out, saying, ‘I want more money!’ so right up to the last day there were a couple of houses that didn’t go along with the plan. One or two days before, the two houses figured they weren’t getting any money, so they (caved) and we had to rush out and paint the houses and put in the bushes.”
Twenty five years later, the film holds up as a visual achievement from a time when CG stood only for centre of gravity. And it still possesses many secrets: Edward’s newfound skill as the neighbourhood topiarist meant a trip to the toy store for fun shapes; the castle was a scale model filmed on the heaping edge of a landfill to make it appear gargantuan in hill-deprived Florida; when Dianne Wiest’s character, Peg, sees Edward’s hillside hideout in her car’s side mirror, she’s really looking at a miniature prop balanced on top of a rubbish bin. For eagle-eyed viewers, try and spot the single house in the neighbourhood covered in an orange-and-green striped termite bag. That was perhaps the onlyplan that backfired.
Somehow, free creative reign for Burton’s team reaped one hell of a testament to teen angst, backdropped in pastels and laced with the melancholy sounds of composer Danny Elfman. Sadly, this kind of free-for-all of freaks labouring on a project that reflects their sensibilities without being strong-armed by a Hollywood studio is becoming increasingly rare. It would be next to impossible for a film likeEdward Scissorhands to be made today. “It would be made differently today, I guarantee,” muses Duffield. “We probably wouldn’t have taken a whole neighbourhood and done it, we probably would have just done a few houses and everything else would have been CG-ed. We used to do it all, you know? We figured out ways to do it all.”
The visuals, the story, the cast – all came together to write a love letter to the outsider. On loan from isolation, Edward Scissorhands manages to leave his mark in a town full of busybodies that can’t decide whether or not it wants to give him a shot, let alone room to figure himself out. Walking around under the plain guise of being a reject, Scissorhands manages to find both love and companionship against the odds. Through it all, he is the embodiment of that crippling feeling of being a loner, and that is why he’s such a magnetic figure – and one who has received the ultimate stamp of cultural clout: a Halloween costume.
More importantly, Edward Scissorhands is an uncompromising bastion of individuality. Bound in leather and electric tape and wearing his scars like a badge, he celebrates the uniqueness of being misunderstood while owning his individuality. There may not be a social message coded into the pastel surface of this suburban legend, but all these years later, Edward Scissorhands remains a cinematic plea, reaching out to those who have yet to find their way, quietly whispering to outsiders everywhere, “Hold me.”
Additionally, according to Huffington Post‘s article, “Why ‘Edward Scissorhands’ Would Never Get Made Today“:
“Edward Scissorhands” is one of those rare movies that sucks you in any time it’s on TV. It only takes a few minutes to get wrapped up in its titular character’s gothic origins, the pastel uniformity of suburbia and the love story that envelops the film’s third act. That’s partly because “Scissorhands” is what crystallized Tim Burton’s aesthetic. The director was coming off the success of “Beetlejuice” and “Batman” when Fox fast-tracked the movie, which became a critical and commercial success, cemented Johnny Depp’s fame and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Makeup.
Twenty-five years later, “Edward Scissorhands” is being re-released via restored, special-edition Blu-ray. To mark the occasion, The Huffington Post hopped on the phone with screenwriter Caroline Thompson and production designer Bo Welch to reflect on how the story came to life. Below are highlights from the conversations, including how Edward’s topiaries were created and why the movie couldn’t have been made today.
On crafting the story:
Thompson: “Tim had just done ‘Pee-wee’s Big Adventure’ and I had written a novel that was sort of an angrier, more adolescent precursor — a ‘Frankenstein’-style story — to ‘Edward Scissorhands,’ and we were represented by the same agency. The agents didn’t know what to do with him and they didn’t know what to do with me, so they introduced us. We had lunch together and we immediately felt a bond and became very good friends. Tim told me about a drawing he had made in high school of a character who had scissors instead of hands and I said, ‘Stop right now. I kind of know exactly what to do with that.’ And three weeks later, I gave him a 70-page prose treatment version of what actually was very close to the movie that we made.”
Welch: “The thing that guided me the most was wanting to see the suburban neighborhood and the other visuals within that world as if you’re looking through Edward’s eyes. Everything had to be slightly tweaked in order to fulfill that, so through his eyes this looks ironic, but it’s also weirdly beautiful and appealing for a guy who lives in the attic of a castle with a hole in the roof and he’s tucked into the fireplace. The colors and the activity and the warmth of this neighborhood is appealing to him. We recognized it as a suburban icon.”
On adding to Tim Burton’s aesthetic:
Thompson: “The neighborhood was based on a neighborhood I wished I had lived in when I was a young teenager in Maryland, which is to say that my friend lived in a neighborhood where all the houses were in a brand-new development and there was very little vegetation. Mine had all old people and no kids, and she lived in this neighborhood where everybody turned up in the streets after school to play football and all the parents came out and put out chairs and watched. She grew up in this community and I grew up in this cocktail-hour joint. The trajectory of the story is that [Edward] goes to this neighborhood that, to him, is just beautiful and enchanting and delicious. They adore him at first and then when he isn’t exactly who they want him to be, as none of us is, they turn on him. So I wanted to base his neighborhood on as delightful a neighborhood as I could possibly evoke, and that was the delightful one in my life. That being said, Tim has a beautiful eye and Bo Welch’s contribution and [costume designer Colleen Atwood’s] contribution and the whole art department — what was amazing about the making of that movie was that we were all making the same movie, and I don’t know if you know how rare that is, but it is ridiculously rare.”
Welch: “I had done ‘Beetlejuice’ with Tim, which was a learning experience for me, so by the time I did ‘Edward Scissorhands’ with Tim, I totally got his aesthetic. I’m there basically to serve his vision of the film. Tim draws very well, so mainly he’d draw characters. I remember, early on, looking at the drawing of Edward Scissorhands that he had done, and like all of his drawings, it ended up looking just like the character looks in the film, more or less. I looked at those as my cue on where to go design-wise, but in reading the script, I’d read about where Edward lives and where he comes from and his adjacency to a model suburban neighborhood. And I asked, ‘So these two things that are so different are going to coexist in the same film?’ And Tim goes, ‘Yes!’ First I designed where Edward lives, and then we scouted neighborhoods, by photographs, all over the U.S. looking for new suburbs. We landed on Florida because it just looked more graphic and it had interesting skies. Those two elements, I think, create kind of a friction next to one another. That’s the magic of that.”
On the complications of shooting in a real neighborhood:
Welch: “We went door-to-door and got them all to agree to allowing us to cut out all of their shrubs and paint their houses. In some places, we’d put up false fronts to make windows smaller and to make them more uniform. The people were paid money for the use of their yard, and if they wanted to be put up in Disney World or something they could do that during the shoot. It’s quite an achievement in terms of location management to do that. It was about 20 houses and we had every one except one house in the center, and they were holding out for more money. They said, ‘Nope, can’t do ours.’ We didn’t know what to do, so we basically said, ‘Let’s just go ahead and do it and we’ll shoot around it, even though it’s dead center in the neighborhood.’ We treated all the houses, painted all of them, did the shrubs and the topiary to every house but theirs, and they eventually realized that we’re just going to do it regardless, so they caved in, too. Thank God they did because then we would have been hamstrung by that one odd man out in the center of the neighborhood.”
On writing Edward:
Thompson: “I based the character of Edward Scissorhands on a combination of my dog and Tim. It was a love letter to Tim, really. The character was based on a dog that I had who was so ridiculously present that if she had had the physiological ability I swear she could have talked. And if you examine Edward, that’s what he’s like. He’s this dog that’s like, ‘What do you need? Here I am.’ Somebody once counted the number of words that he says in the script and I can’t recall it precisely, but I think it’s something south of 150 words. He’s basically a nonverbal character. He’s a beautiful, wild-eyed dog. Johnny nailed my dog.”
On Edward’s shrubbery creations:
Welch: “We designed them in the art department. We said, ‘Okay, how about one is a dinosaur and one is a tutle and whatever?’ They tended to be fantastical animals. We designed them and then had them manufactured. They’re light-weight steel armitures wrapped with chicken wire and stuffed with artificial greens. They were light enough to move around.”
On why the movie wouldn’t be made today:
Thompson: “Here’s the amazing thing about the deal that we made: Scott Rudin was the head of Fox at the time, which was in the mid-‘80s. He recognized in Tim a talent unlike any other talent and basically I think he would have made the phone book if Tim had wanted to make the phone book. So Tim said, ‘Here’s the deal: no notes, no meetings, no nothing. We turn it in on a Friday, you tell us on a Monday if you’re making it.’ That’s literally the only way this movie could have been made then and it never would have been made now. It just doesn’t stand up to the kind of micromanagement scrutiny that executives bring to bear on every script they get their hands on. You couldn’t have answered the question ‘How did Edward go to the bathroom?’ for example. It’s just not a question to be asked or answered, but they would have put a nail gun to my head to get an answer. But when people want to make a contribution to something, mostly they bring logic to it, and that’s their job. So our agents said, ‘Let’s just not have that job exist.’ I wrote the script in ’86 and Tim, in the meantime, was working on ‘Beetlejuice.’ The whole business is so much more corporate now. I would hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think you could ever make a deal that says ‘no notes, no meetings’ today.”
Finally, according to Digital Spy‘s article, “25 amazing Edward Scissorhands facts on the film’s 25th birthday“:
It’s been 25 years since Edward Scissorhands first shuffled across our screens. 25 years since it broke our little hearts. 25 years since we wondered why everyone went about ignoring the haunted house at the end of the pastel street.
To celebrate one of Johnny Depp’s finest performances (how we yearn for those days), here are 25 facts you probably never knew about the movie:
1. Soft spoken Edward says only 169 words throughout the entire film.
2. The Cure’s Robert Smith was not only Edward’s hair inspiration but was also invited to create the soundtrack. He was busy recording his 1989 album Disintegration at the time, so the job went to Danny Elfman, who has since scored all but two of Burton’s studio films (that’s Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd, by the way).
3. Director Tim Burton’s hero Vincent Price was intended to have a bigger role asThe Inventor, but his emphysema and Parkinson’s meant that the part had to be cut significantly.
He would make only one more on-screen appearance, playing opposite Eric Stoltz, Jennifer Connelly and Dermot Mulroney in the 1992 TV movie The Heart of Justice.
4. In the scene where The Inventor is reading an unfinished Edward an excerpt from the poetry book, the page he reads off of clearly had no text written or printed on it.
5. Burton credits Dianne Wiest (who played Kim’s mother, Peg) with getting the film moving after giving it “her stamp of approval” by being the first actor to sign up to the project.
6. The boy jumping onto the Slip & Slide as Edward and Peg Boggs drive through town early in the film was Nick Carter of Backstreet Boys fame.
7. Gary Oldman, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey, William Hurt and Robert Downey Jr were all considered for the film. Cruise was a favourite of the studio, but didn’t like the bittersweet ending. Writer Caroline Thompson wanted John Cusack for the role.
8. Michael Jackson repeatedly lobbied for the starring role, but Burton ignored his calls. We’re ok with that.
9. Drew Barrymore was considered for the role of Kim Boggs, and Thompson was keen for Laura Dern to take the role.
10. The first draft of the Edward Scissorhands script was written as a musical.
11. Winona Ryder dropped out of The Godfather: Part III to appear in the film, paving the way for Sofia Coppola’s “memorable” performance as Ryder’s replacement.
12. Edward’s character (and name) originated with a drawing Burton did as a disaffected teenager in Burbank, although when Thompson came to flesh out the idea, she took inspiration from an amiable dog she had once owned. She has a thing for animals, and went on to write the scripts for Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey and Black Beauty.
13. Thompson also credits her mother for inspiring Peg Boggs. “I don’t think the story would have had the shape it did if my mother hadn’t been prone to bringing strangers home to live with us,” she told Buzzfeed. “It didn’t seem unusual to me that [Peg] would say, ‘I’m taking you home!’ That’s exactly what my mother would have done.”
14. The film’s iconic topiary weren’t real. They were made from welded steel armature wrapped with chicken wire and artificial greens, which were light enough to pick up and move around.
15. As fanatical Christian neighbour Esmerelda, actress O-Lan Jones not only played the organ on-screen herself, but also arranged the music.
16. According to Burton, Johnny Depp’s costume was made from latex, leather, tape and bits of an old sofa. The actor refused any cooling agent, despite the Florida sun, and during the scene when Edward runs back to his home he collapsed from heat exhaustion.
17. The town of Lutz, east of Tampa, Florida, was chosen as a stand-in for Burton’s hometown of Burbank. Edward Scissorhands was shot in a real neighbourhood, with 50 houses rented and painted while the residents were temporarily relocated to a nearby motel.
18. After twenty or so takes of the scene in which the Boggs’ neighbours feed Edward giant spoons of their home cooking, Depp was violently sick.
19. The Edward Scissorhands look was a real commitment for Depp. For four months he spent two hours in make-up, 45 minutes being sewn into his costume and a further hour with the hairdresser every day.
20. Depp was able to take his scissor hands home to practice with ahead of shooting. Those hands were created by make-up/effects man Stan Winston of The Thing, Jurassic Park and Batman Returns fame.
21. Burton told Conan O’Brien that he finally knew he had “made it” as a director when he heard about Edward Penishands, the porn spoof of Edward Scissorhands. That said, he was disappointed each hand in said film featured only one penis and not five.
22. This was Depp and Burton’s first collaboration. 2012’s Dark Shadows is their latest, the eighth so far.
23. Edward Scissorhands only came about because Burton and Thompson were both represented by the same agency, and no one knew what to do with them.
24. Thompson dated “a very famous mime in Washington” (her words) who her friends and family wrongly assumed was the inspiration for Edward.
25. Winona Ryder did not relate to her blonde cheerleader character Kim at all, which Burton found hilarious. “I used to laugh every day when I saw her walk on the set wearing this little cheerleader outfit and a Hayley Mills-type blonde wig,” he said in Burton on Burton. “She looked like Bambi.” What a nice man.
According to the Rolling Stone review:
Director Tim Burton’s richly entertaining update of the Frankenstein story is the year’s most comic, romantic and haunting film fantasy. The title character, played with touching gravity by Johnny Depp, is the handiwork of an aging inventor — Vincent Price, in a lovely cameo — who lives in a dark, musty mansion overlooking a small town of pastel-colored tract houses (exteriors were shot in Florida). Engaged in fanciful cooking experiments, the lonely inventor turns one of his cookie-cutting machines into a boy, a companion to chat with and instruct in the wonders of art, poetry and etiquette. But just before he can provide Edward with hands instead of shears, the inventor dies, leaving his synthetic son alone in a world he knows only from the old magazine clippings he keeps near his bed of straw.
Enter Avon lady Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest, using her sunny squint to fine advantage), who has wandered off her usual route. Peg is alarmed at first by the flash of Edward’s lethal blades. But her maternal instincts are soon aroused. Edward is a hazard, slicing gashes in his chalky face every time he wipes away a stray hair. This benign Freddy Krueger (ironically, Depp appeared as a victim in Nightmare on Elm Street) presents a make-over challenge even for Avon. Peg does more than suggest a good astringent; she takes him home to her husband, Bill (a marvelously wry Alan Arkin), and their children, Kevin (Robert Oliveri) and Kim (Winona Ryder). Edward is struck by the family photographs, especially of blond cheerleader Kim. With scant dialogue, Depp artfully expresses the fierce longing in gentle Edward; it’s a terrific performance.
r a while Burton and screenwriter Caroline Thompson have fun showing Edward’s struggles to get dressed, use silverware and sleep in a water bed without wreaking havoc. Production designer Bo Welch has fashioned sets that look like a garish John Waters nightmare of Fifties suburbia with a Nineties twist. It’s Edward who eradicates the blandness by sculpting the town’s hedges into exotic topiaries of animals and people. He gives elaborate haircuts to the neighborhood dogs and then moves on to their owners. Edward is a sensation.
As in Burton’s other films (Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice and Batman), the outsider soon becomes the outcast, and the laughs are soon tinged with melancholy. Burton, a misfit kid from California who took solace in drawing cartoons and watching Vincent Price horror movies, clearly relates personally to Edward’s situation. Burton shows how the townspeople’s curiosity about Edward turns to suspicion and hostility (not unlike Hollywood’s reaction to an innovative mind). Edward is denounced as a freak, a fake, a demon. An oversexed housewife (a ripely funny Kathy Baker) tries to seduce him. A hissable teen bully (Anthony Michael Hall) forces him into crime and violence. And when Edward tries to comfort those he loves, his touch draws blood.
Burton’s flamboyant style courts disaster and sometimes achieves it. A few scenes are clumsily staged; a few others are fussy beyond endurance. But Burton is a true movie visionary with uncommon insights into hearts in torment. Kim is initially disgusted at the notion of holding Edward’s hand. “Picture the damage he could do other places,” says one of her friends. But Kim comes to cherish Edward for his imagination and devotion. He creates ice sculptures while she dances in the flakes to Danny Elfman’s engulfing score. It’s a cathartic moment — the artist sharing his feelings through his art. Depp and Ryder, a gifted actress, give the potentially sappy scene a potent intimacy. Later, when Kim reaches out to Edward, he pulls back his sharp, cold hands in despair until she tenderly wraps her arms around his chest. The memory of that moment suffuses the film even at the somber climax, which recalls Batman’s poignant solitude atop that Gotham City tower. Edward Scissorhands isn’t perfect. It’s something better: pure magic.