“Big Eyes,” the movie about the artist Margaret Keane and her glory-seeking husband Walter, will now be directed by Tim Burton. As ARTINFO reported here, the film was originally to be co-directed by its writers, Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, but the Hollywood Reporter confirmed yesterday that the bankable Burton will direct as well as produce it.
Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Reynolds have dropped out of the project because “financing and scheduling never gelled,” says the Reporter. Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz are currently in negotiations to play the Keanes.
The couple’s 1965 divorce was followed by a 21-year legal struggle to determine if Margaret or Walter painted the images of the sad, saucer-eyed waifs that were the acme of 1960s living room kitsch. Walter claimed he was responsible for them, but a “paint-off” demanded by Margaret in federal court in 1986 established that she was the artist in the family.
It is logical that Burton, who collects Keane’s work, would choose to direct the film. Although Walter Keane’s evident domination and intellectual and artistic violation of his wife might have interested a woman director, the sinisterness of Margaret’s paintings are right up Burton’s pop-gothic alley. That the children in Margaret’s canvases became more cheerful after the divorce and her move to Hawaii suggests the grade-school depressives in her early pictures were the offspring of the marriage.
Burton’s own early paintings of children radiate melancholy and disturbance. His big-eyed characters Staring Girl and Stainboy strongly suggest Margaret Keane’s influence. Despite being 18, Christina Ricci’s Katrina Van Tassel in Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow” is a Keane child come to life, while the Winona Ryder of “Beetlejuice” and the Sally of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” are slightly older versions. Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp) is their older brother. “The Corpse Bride” pair and the “Frankenweenie” gang have Keane-size peepers, too.
With Burton at the helm, “Big Eyes” will extend one of the most consistent strains of authorship in current mainstream American cinema. He has made one great film (“Ed Wood”), good films (“Beetlejuice,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Alice in Wonderland”), and mistakes (“Mars Attacks!,” “Dark Shadows”), but his adherence to a nightmarish world peopled by troubled child-men and spooked child-women is in itself admirable. (Perhaps only David Cronenberg has plowed a crooked furrow so tenaciously.) The eyes have it.