Friday, March 27, 2015
Big eyes may be Tim Burton's most conventional film yet, albeit one with the most extraordinary but true story. The film concerns Margaret and Walter Keane. In the 1950s Walter Keane became rich and famous for his 'big eye' paintings – pictures of young, waif-like girls with abnormally large eyes. Prints of the paintings were cheaply mass-produced and sold in their millions (similar to other 'kitsch' artists of the time, such as Vladimir Tretchikoff* and JR Lynch), making Walter a celebrity and household name. Only it wasn't Walter who painted the pictures – it was his oppressed wife, Margaret. She eventually left her husband and took him to court in 1970 – where the judge asked them both to paint a 'big eyes' painting in the courtroom. Walter could not – citing a shoulder injury; Margaret produced one in less than an hour.
(Obviously Walter taking credit – and money – for Margaret's work was wrong and he deserved to be punished, but there's a part of me feeling sorry for him. Up until his death – in 2000 – he insisted on his original story that he painted the big eyed pictures. As well as being a heavy drinker, he, unsurprisingly, suffered from delusional disorder. But the thing is, if it hadn't been for Walter's savvy marketing techniques, mousy Margaret would have no doubt remained languishing in obscurity.)
The story of Margaret and Walter reminded me vaguely of another film – the classic noir Scarlet Street (1945) directed by Fritz Lang, starring Edward G Robinson and Joan Bennett. Robinson plays a retired, unhappily married man and amateur painter. He falls in love with a beautiful blonde (Bennett). When Robinson's paintings start selling for large sums, Bennett's abusive boyfriend makes Bennett pose as the painter, selling them in her name. Anyway, a case of life imitating art.
* Have I mentioned my vision of a Technicolor film of Tretchikoff's life – filmed as a lush, lurid, kitsch MGM Vincente Minnelli musical-cum-thriller-cum-romance? I have? Okay.