Episode 55. Strange and Unusual: Beetlejuice (1988)

Ghosts, possession, autonomous sculptures and that’s just scratching the surface of Tim Burton’s genre-bending cult classic, Beetlejuice. In this episode, Andrea and Alex manage to avoid saying his name three times while diving into the aesthetics, capitalist virtues and bureaucracy of the afterlife that surrounds everyone’s favourite bio-exorcist.

REQUIRED READING

Beetlejuice. Dir. Tim Burton, 1988.

EXTRA CREDIT

The Imagination of Tim Burton – An overview of Burton’s career through an aesthetic lens.

Michael Keaton on Creating Beetlejuice – The ghost with the most talks transformation.

Michael Keaton Beetlejuice Introduction – Keaton talks all things Beetlejuice before a screening.
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5 thoughts on “Episode 55. Strange and Unusual: Beetlejuice (1988)

  1. David Thiel says:

    Glad to hear you say that Tim Burton was better when he was constrained. That’s long been my own take.

    I recall hearing that there was a lot of studio interference on the first Batman, but that Burton was given freer rein on the sequel. I know that there are people who believe Batman Returns is the superior film, but it’s just such a hot mess: too many villains, subplots upon subplots, and whatever the fuck was going on with Danny DeVito’s Penguin. (Raised by penguins? A penguin funeral?)

    For my money, the last truly great Burton film was Ed Wood. (I hear that Big Fish is very good, but I haven’t seen it.)

  2. Sean Kelly says:

    It’s kind of funny that the auteur theory is mentioned in this episode, since I wrote an essay in university about Tim Burton’s status of an auteur.

    I’m actually a big fan of Burton and there are very few of his films (if any) I don’t like. Ironically, Beetlejuice is one of the few Tim Burton films I don’t yet own on DVD.

  3. Glen Cullen says:

    This was an interesting and fun choice. It’s a film I’d certainly never thought to consider critically. It was just a really fun movie from when I was a kid. Something quotable with memorable moments/imagery.

    But that is exactly what I really love about this podcast and the whole idea of horror scholarship, or really any pop culture scholarship–taking works that were not made to be ‘read’ and still finding, perhaps unplanned but still very well developed meaning in them.

    Listening to the episode, I kept coming back to the idea of space. Being ghosts, they are stuck in a space–this house. The Maitlands are and will forever remain as they were at the moment of their deaths and at first, their haunting ground–the home–is as well. It reflects them. It sustains their remembered world.

    And then interlopers arrive and the space necessarily and drastically changes. The house is not suspended in amber. It moves forward in time and changes with the new inhabitants. This begins the process of tearing them away from their world. (in a way, death in slow motion)

    And this is where I think Burton does something interesting. Because we have thus far been with the Maitlands, we generally identify with and support them. They seem like a nice enough couple and we feel the violation of their space under the influence of the Deetzes.

    And yet, as I think came up in the episode, the way the Deetzes alter the home–the space under contention, is fun. It’s cool. It’s part of what I remember from having watched the film as a kid. The colors, the sculptures, all of it. I don’t think it’s a stretch to presume that the “new aesthetic” is probably more pleasing to the eye of a potential fan of this film than the “old aesthetic” which the Maitlands would have preferred. I think it, along with the representations of the underworld are where Burton really showed off his style–a style which viewers have really responded to.

    What this accomplishes, I think, is an interesting trick of identification. We support the Maitlands and want them to preserve the sanctity of their space and yet perhaps we can, in some way, also identify with the Deetzes. Even if we don’t like them as people, the viewer can still subconsciously support the idea of the “new” and the conviction that the “living” having the right to exist and impose their will upon the world. This comes out in the form of aesthetic choices made with this space.

    Ultimately, the story becomes more about saving Lydia (and everyone really) from the utterly chaotic threat of Beetlejuice (for whom the space itself is, I think completely unimportant. He just wants out.) In this, the conflict between the old and new is forgotten, or at least set aside, as is the valuing of the space itself. In fact, the fact that Barbara rides the sandworm through the house in order to eat Beetlejuice demonstrates that the space itself is no longer the real focus as it can be sacrificed to save Lydia.

    Anyway, it was fun to spend time thinking about something that I had previously only ever enjoyed. Thanks!

  4. Hammycatra says:

    I can’t type as much as I’d like as I am working but I wanted to thank you for all your intelligent analyses. I find myself relistening to old episodes rather then listening to other pod casts because I don’t get the same amount of intellectual input on a subject (horror movies) I am very passionate about, especially from the female prospective. Your pod cast has given me new insight into females roles in film as well as feminism in general. While I don’t always entirely agree with every analysis, I appreciate your taking the time and putting the heart into this pod cast. I have not come across anything else like it.

  5. Christine says:

    Another great episode, but I will stop suggesting a Repo! analysis. Perhaps one day Alex will discover the beauty that are musicals. In the meantime, I will have to checkout Phantom of the Paradise. You once briefly mentioned Pin in an assessment episode, and I watched it. That movie is amazing, and I love introducing and talking about it to people. The entire thing is on YouTube.

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