By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Photo by Michael Powers
Tim Burton of London, England, formerly of Burbank, shot Big Fish, a movie about a big fish, over a period of four consecutive months in downstate Alabama. During that time, Burton was one of a select few Alabama residents who was not crushed flat onto a two-lane highway outside Montgomery.
“It’s the most amazing roadkill state I’ve ever been in,” Burton tells me, some 2,140 miles west of the crime scene. “I don’t know what the hell they do, but it’s like Jackson Pollocks all over the road. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Not even. That’s the thing. You’d be driving down the road and . . . [craning neck left] Oh, jeez! [and right] Aw, fuck!! [and making a Large Marge face] Oh, GOD!! OH! MY! GHOD!!! WHAT WAS THAT??!! It was incredible. I don’t know what kind of vehicle you’d use to hit these things, to make them look like that, and the kind of speed, and then . . . I don’t know . . . go back for more?
“I’d drive by every day and see this little black kitty playing by the side of the road, and then, one night . . . there it was. Looked like the cat from Re-Animator. Like not only was it hit, but it died of fright and . . . it just looked horrible. Have you ever been there?”
“Alabama? No,” I admit. “I’m afraid of the South. When I was a kid, my dad used to drive us down into the Ozarks to torture us for summer vacation, and there’d be those . . .
“. . . ‘Squeal like little piggies’? . . .”
“. . . yeah, those Deliverance guys. They’d be hanging out on the front porch with rifles and sneers, and ‘Looky there — carload o’ Jooz in a Plymouth!’ — that was South enough for me.”
Burton and I sit in some kind of . . . I’m not sure what it is. A subterranean boardroom-adjacent minilounge, I suppose, in a beachfront Santa Monica hotel.
“Yeah,” Burton sighs. “You know, like anywhere you go, there’s great people, and then there’s people who completely freak you out. The amazing thing where we were is that they’re always talking about fishing, but I never saw one fucking fish the whole time I was there. Ever. Not one. I’m not sure there really are any.”
“‘Big Fish,’” I read out loud from the promo pack, “‘has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for a Fight Scene, Some Images of Nudity and a Suggestive Reference.’ Trying to figure out what that means. What is a ‘Suggestive Reference’?”
“Yeah — what the fuck does that mean?” says Burton. “You know what? I swear to God, I’ve never made a movie that’s as ‘safe’ as this one. I think that somewhere, way back, someone got in their mind that I was trying to be offensive to somebody, and now it’s just like, ‘Well, we’re not quite sure, but it’s probably offensive in some way or other.’”
“To the .0003 percent of the population who decides what’s offensive.”
“I swear to God, I couldn’t even guess what that is. I’ve never understood the ratings board, really.”
“I liked back when there was M. ‘M for Mature.’ And remember, for a little while, before there was PG, there was GP? But when you’re a kid, going to an M felt exciting. It felt . . . M.”
“It did feel exciting. And there was X, too. And not just porno.”
“Yeah, just a single X, like Midnight Cowboy.”
“X was kind of good. I liked when something was rated X.”
That reminds me. One of the characters in Big Fish is a carny named Amos Calloway, played by Danny DeVito. With a zany mustache, shoulder-length black hair and no clothes, DeVito looks remarkably (from the waist up) like porn star Ron Jeremy.
“Danny DeVito’s resemblance to Ron Jeremy: Intentional, or not?”
“Actually, I was thinking about that today! I swear to God! I’m not kidding you — I was thinking about how after you make a film, you flash upon different moments, and I was flashing upon how every day of shooting was like a different movie, and that day [naked DeVito day] was like a porno movie. The next day, that place was under 3 feet of water. It was tornado weather, and there’s all these people standing around, and there’s Danny, and he’s naked, and he looks just like Ron Jeremy. We didn’t plan beforehand for him to be Ron Jeremy–esque. It just sort of happened that way.”
“So now, Ron Jeremy will probably star in the porno version. But they’ll have a hard time trying to come up with one of those porno-movie zany-pun titles, since it’s already called Big Fish.”
“They don’t always come up with funny names, though. I mean, Edward Penishands isn’t a funny name. That’s just Edward Penishands."
“Edward Schlongdigits, most folks prefer.”
Burton’s currently preparing to shoot Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, based on Roald Dahl’s kick-ass children’s book (and not a sequel to 1971’s Willy Wonka), somewhere around London. Should be ready for consumption sometime in 2005, with the porno version following in early 2006. To make time pass more slowly while we wait, I spend five incredibly boring minutes rattling on about Joseph Schindelman’s illustrations in the paperback Charlie I read in fourth grade.
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