Tim Burton has a very defined style as a director. Analyse how he uses visual and/or verbal features across at least two of his texts to fulfil the common conventions of gothic fiction.
“Pain makes people change” -Sweeney Todd. In the Visual Texts “Sweeney Todd” and “Sleepy Hollow” directed by Tim Burton we see similar film techniques used to show different elements of Gothic Fiction. In Sweeney Todd we follow an enraged barber fueled by revenge taking action on a man who did him wrong in the past. Where as in Sleepy Hollow a young detective investigating a series of murders unknowingly stumbles apron a supernatural being and is driven by curiosity to find the true reason of the murders. Tim Burton directs both of these these texts and shows by creating an uneasy feel in certain situation it attracts the audiences curiosity, Burton does this through the use of camera angles, flash backs and dialog.
Tim Burton uses and manipulates camera angles as being a strong indicator to show the audience the true meaning of certain scenes. This choice of camera angles in both text changes to show emotion, or to portray an element in the film in a specific way. In Sleepy Hollow when we first see the horseman we are in a low angle shot, the effect of this is that it makes the horseman look huge and powerful in comparison to anything else. A low angle shot also creates an uneasy mood, This scene shows the headless horseman being unstoppable and confirms the super natural folk-tails, but at this point the audience feel inspired by Cranes optimism and confidence, yet in this one scene it shows how Crane has no chance against this being. In this scene we see the horseman fly out of the tree followed by the low angle shot, then the shot pans to a wide angle to show the horseman side by side with Crane. The effect of this wide angle shot develops a the protagonist and antagonist relationship, as it is comparing the two characters. In Sweeney Todd there is also a scene which shows Todd having supernatural powers. This is when Pirelli challenges Todd to a contest for the best shave. Todd lets Pirelli, who is regarded as the best barber in London, have a head start, and we see Pirelli in a mid shot to show his actions. We then pan to a close up of Sweeney’s face as he finishes his shave in seconds, his facial expressions show Sweeney smiling showing confidence as we hear the the sound of the razor against skin. Every one is shocked, and this unbelievable talent foreshadows the idea of Sweeney’s obsession with razors. The close up shot of Sweeney’s face creates an uneasy mood as people aren’t usually as excited about shaving as Todd, and this creates the suspicion that he enjoys being able to hold someones life on the edge of his razors.
The flash backs are used a lot in both texts, and for similar effects. The effect of the flash back in Sweeney Todd is to show a direct contrast between past and present. This shows the development of Sweeney character and makes the audience question whether Sweeney will revert to his honest self, or if he will let the temptation of revenge consume his morels. We see the flashback in Sweeney Todd just after we first his character. We are met with Sweeney walking down a dark, wet street, with rats running down the drains, as he enters Mrs Lovett’s pie shop we see cockroaches running over the benches and sitting on the pastry. This shows this party of town as being miserable and gross. The pie shop is mostly black or covered with grime, the wallpaper is torn and the doors creek. It is here in the shop when we see the flashback. In the flashback we see Sweeney Todd with his wife, his face is full of color and smiling with bright teeth, his wife is dressed in white holding a child in a white dress. The surrounding area is fulled with bright colorful flowers. The music is upbeat and the lyric are describing the beauty of the people in the scene. When Sweeney is hit and taken away, to music changes to sadness. Then the music stops as the flashback ends and we see a close up of Sweeney’s dark face who’s emotion is filled with anger. The close up shot after the flashback shows us what Sweeney’s response is to the event, after the sad music we expect him to be sad, but the his anger is obvious. This is a clear example of foreshadowing, as this is the first time in the text that the past is shown, the the determination of anger shows the audience that Sweeney will stop at nothing to get revenge. This also sets an uneasy tone to the scene. It is unsettling when we are in a situation with someone who is extremely angry, this is because they become unpredictable and were not sure what they are capable of. In the text Sleepy Hollow Flashbacks are used as a way to further develop the plot, and to explain the past of Ichabod Crane. In the flashback of Sleepy Hollow we see a woman covered by flowers, spinning around and begin floating, The woman sees Crane as a young boy and plays with him in the field which suggests she is his mother. We then see a man drag the woman in front of a burning fire, and points to “Witch like symbols” which the mother has drawn. This shows that Crane has been involved with paranormal beings his whole life, as his mother is a witch. Ichabod’s father was clearly against Witches and refused to believe that his wife was one. This explains how surprised Crane was when he was confronted with the horse man, as his father would have convinced him that external beings dont exist. The flashback proves to the audience that paranormal beings are present in this film, this creates a sense of unease with the audience as no one can predict what they will do.
The dialog in these two texts are used in different ways but creates a similar effect. In the text Sleepy Hollow the optimism of Crane is used in a way that contrasts with the power of the horseman. At first the inspiring speech of Crane give the audience the idea that he is confident that he will solve the murders. “No, you must believe me. It was a horseman, a dead one. Headless.”-Ichabod Crane. Ichabod say’s this after his encounter with the horseman, he is in shock because everything he though and believed in was proven wrong. The townspeople in the room are telling Ichabod that they have told him all along but Crane is trying to convince them that is was a horseman. This is the turning point in the text where the audience start to see Ichabod Break down, nothing he says in this scene quite makes sense. The way Crane was talking makes the audience doubt him and changes the mood towards this character, as he is out of his depth. After this scene the audience isnt quite sure weather Crane will continue to defeat the horseman, but he becomes more determined than ever. The contrasting quality of the two characters (Ichabod and the Horseman) show a clear Gothic Protagonist and Antagonist that works against each other through out the text. In the text Sweeney Todd the dialog is used in a slightly different way, but creates similar effects. The dialog in Sleepy Hollow shows characters contrast with each other, where as the dialog in Sweeney Todd directly contrasts with the events in the text. When Todd begins murdering the towns people the music type changes. In previous scenes the music is used to create tension and suspense in the text, this is done with loud, deep sounds, but when Todd starts killing his customers, the music changes. As he cuts their throats, Todd is singing an upbeat tune about Joanna. “I want you beautiful and pale…And if your beautiful with yellow hair” -Sweeney Todd The words, and the upbeat tune of this scene has no relevance, or any similarities to what we are watching. If the audiences closes their eyes the words in this song makes them picture the beautiful Joanna, but as when they open them, they are met with a dark characters slitting the throats of towns people and dropping them into the dungeon below. The effect of this is it makes the audience extremely uncomfortable and makes this scene difficult to watch. This is because there are two juxtaposing ideas, the words “beautiful” and “pale” also contrasts what is happening in this scene. Because of these effects, it makes it hard for the audience to understand this scene and creates an uneasy tone. The fact that Todd is happily singing whilst committing these murders also makes makes for an uneasy feeling around this character as he is showing duel personalities and we don’t know what he is capable off. This mass killing also shows that Todd makes decisions based of his emotions.
In the two texts Sweeney Todd and Sleepy hollow we see film techniques used in a similar way to create Gothic elements. Burton uses the same techniques to show how the main character of both texts develops in different ways. With the use of Camera angles, Flashbacks and dialog he triggers the curiosity of the audiences by creating an uncomfortable feeling towards the scenes, and its through this progression Tim Burton portrays his ideas in an unusual, yet effective way.
Morgan Sarginson 🙂