It’s hard for me to realize that Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands is 23 years old. It’s harder still to realize that it’s been just about that long since I’ve seen it on the big screen — maybe because I saw it numerous times when it was first released, having immediately fallen in love with it. It was what completely sold me on the idea that Burton was one of the best filmmakers we had. I’d followed his career from the first (Burton is perhaps unique as a filmmaker whose works I encountered in the order they were released) with great interest — originally because of Danny Elfman. I’d become a fan of Elfman as the guiding force behind the band Oingo Boingo in the mid-1980s. In fact, I’d met Elfman after a concert in 1985 (at which time he was in talks to score Anthony Perkins’ Psycho III — a gig that ultimately went to Carter Burwell). It was the fact that he scored Pee-wee’s Big Adventure that same year that caused me to see it.
It was Edward Scissorhands, though, that set me on the path that would lead me to write a book about Burton and his films in 1998. (Sobering to consider that he’s subsequently made more films than were covered in that book.) The film was — and is — something so completely different that it was startling. Oh, it fit in with Burton’s earlier films, but it took everything to new heights and was so completely personal that it took us all by surprise — especially since it came out at a time when personal films were not the norm in Hollywood. For that matter, the very fact that anyone could get away with making a movie about an artificially created man, Edward (Johnny Depp in the role that made him a movie star), that was inexplicably crafted from a heart-shaped cookie was hard to imagine. It was a flight of fantasy that was amazingly just allowed to be.
The last time I wrote about the film I said (in part): Gloriously romantic and endlessly inventive, the film presented one of the most on-target depictions of childhood and adolescence ever committed to film, and a uniquely perceptive portrait of suburbia as a place at once absurd and strangely appealing. Looked at dispassionately today, it’s easy to see certain weaknesses in the approach that might not have been obvious in 1990. Burton’s depiction of the homecoming-queen cheerleader (Ryder) as a person who’d dump her jock boyfriend — if only she saw how sensitive and fine the lonely outsider geek is — seems a little too much like facile, wish-fulfillment fantasy. But the overall film is so charming, unique and unabashedly romantic that it seems pointless to quibble. Anyone who can resist Ryder’s “Ice Dance” or the film’s final scenes must be made of stone.
That’s still pretty much where I am on Edward Scissorhands, but I’ve come to realize how much of the film resonates with me in ways that go beyond that. Lines like Edward’s simple, uncomprehending, “He didn’t get up,” in reference to his creator (Vincent Price in perhaps his best performance) are hard to forget. The moment where Kim (Winona Ryder) asks him to hold her and Edward — realizing how dangerous his hands are — says, “I can’t” is even more indelible. Somehow Burton tapped into something that was at once personal and yet completely universal in a way that he’d never quite equal (though he’s come close). Edward Scissorhands may not be the best film he’s made, but it’s the most special. It’s unique — and no one can be more jazzed about seeing it once more on the Big Screen than I am.
The Asheville Film Society’s Big Screen Budget Series will show Edward Scissorhands Wed., Oct. 23, at 7:30 p.m. in one of the downstairs theaters at The Carolina Asheville. Admission is $5 for AFS members and $7 for the general public.