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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

Big Fish (2003)

I was dreading this one. I really was. Two days before watching, I listened to one of my new favorite podcasts, Why Are Dads (led by my cultural doppelganger, Sarah Marshall - putting it into the universe that you see this and we hang out and watch old Simpsons episodes together) and their episode on Big Fish. I wondered when it would come up in The Project and how I would deal. A few hours later, I poked my random number generator app and it spat out Big Fish's number. Go figure. Go fish.

It's not to say I don't love this movie. I do. It's the first of several Tim Burtons in my collection and after this viewing, I'm prepared to say it's my favorite Tim Burton. It's beautiful. The transitions between fable and life are incredible. Ewan McGregor is sublime. Billy Crudup gives a performance that I'm angry doesn't get more attention. The score is so perfect for the film and un-Danny Elfman-like, I just had to confirm he wrote it on IMDB. It's a cast that's largely Tim Burton's b-team and they're fantastic. Steve Buscemi, friends. Steve Buscemi. Helena Bonham Carter gets to be an effing solid actor without the trappings we've come to expect and accept with a little shrug. Mostly.

I struggle with this movie because it's a tidy little sunset-hued take on my relationship with my father. I know I'm not alone in this. It's a movie about dad issues. A few years ago my youngest brother acknowledged it's a tough movie for him to watch too.

My father pulls focus. If he's around, whatever is going on is about him. I invited him to see a show I designed and during a backstage tour he told every actor he met that actually he was the one responsible for the show with a wink and a Muttley-like laugh. (Go on. Take a moment to Google "Muttley." You're welcome.) He and my mother didn't come to my wedding because he said they "just wanted a chance to shine." There are thousands of stories like this of big and little moments so suffice to say that I struggle with this.

I hadn't watched the movie in maybe a decade. Too painful. But I kept it in my collection because it's beautiful and feels like catharsis I keep on hand to "break heart in case of emergency." I designed a production of the musical in 2016. My first musical. It was tough on so many levels but I think my ridiculous to do list kept me from wallowing too much. I was surprised on this viewing at how little I felt throughout. I wept a fit at the ending, of course, but I felt uncomfortably detached through the rest. I didn't remember so much of the movie being framed on the romance - partly because our Edward and Sandra in the musical (love you Hadens) took those roles and the love story and owned them so now my brain just goes to the song "Daffodils". My parents did not have that relationship. I think that's the difference between real life and fiction. But that's not my story to tell.

And that is what struck me in this viewing. My heart broke this time and I cried tears for me and my story, not my father's. The movie does a better job, I think, than the book or musical in weaving the mythology of Edward's stories together. Because it's so important how they fit in with each other - not just great deed upon great deed - they have to play off each other. There are throughlines and motifs. The faithful steed/red Charger, the gentle giant, the wayward poet... and I started to think about the throughlines of my own story. The narrative I tell both to cope with life and to desperately try and make others understand me. The lonely childhood, the overachieving student, the lost young adult, the sour marriage, the triumphant reinvention, the chafing at merely surviving. Not one of those pieces goes without the others. But how does the story end?

You become what you always were.

And for me that's a storyteller in my own right. A designer. I want to make the sad stories beautiful and funny.

And naturally because I chose to do costume renderings... I procrastinated. But they're done and done is better than perfect.

Watercolor, ink, and pencil.

ALL OF THESE DESIGNS ARE COLLEEN ATWOOD'S BRILLIANT WORK. I cannot stress that enough. I'm just rendering them as an exercise.


-I'm pretty pleased with these though I wish I would have started sooner. Ah well.

-One of my shortcomings in renderings is drawing really tall really skinny people so drawing different types of figures was a really great exercise.

-I am feeling waaaay more confident with watercolors than I used to. Who'd've thunk.

-I would not mind taking another run at designing Big Fish the Musical.

-I love and hate that Danny DeVito looks like Ron Jeremy in this movie.

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