16th August 2018

Writing portfolio – Film study

“One person’s craziness is another person’s reality.” In all of Burton’s texts his main characters always have a goal or a purpose of which they are trying to accomplish, Even though it may seem far fetched or out of the standard social norm. For Todd he was driven by his goal of revenge which caused him to lose his sense of reality. Disillusioning himself as his need to kill and his need for revenge and grief became far more powerful than his love for his wife and daughter. His reality to us may seem crazy but he validated it as being hurt and vengeful. For Crane he was driven by his quest to have control and was forever limited by the grief he had over his dear mothers death. As to him how she died was a mystery, he was left with questions that never were answered. When he was in Sleepy Hollow his reality was to discover the truth no matter the cost, which could’ve been the loss of his own life. His reality was selfless, but driven selfish needs. Sweeney Todd the demon barber from Fleet street (Sweeney Todd) and Sleepy Hollow are both films directed by Tim Burton in the late 90s and early 2000s. The two films have been produced using very similar film techniques, that are commonly used by Tim Burton in all his films. The techniques that are portrayed in the most extreme levels are, the colour palette, the use of foreboding music and gothic setting. These in conjunction to each other provide a strong gothic undertone to Burton’s overall film style.

Tim Burton is an American film director who is known for his dark gothic films such as Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Sweeney Todd the demon barber of Fleet Street and Sleepy hollow. Burton has an easily identifiable artistic style, of which commonly intertwines aspects of animation into film, this technique was used in the intro to both films. The animation provides a sense of illusion and lack of reality, which confuses the audience. Burton is known for using a dark washed out colour palette. Typically in black, blue and grey monochromatic shades. One last film technique that Burton frequently uses is foreboding music. This technique is used to create a tone of discomfort and suspense in the audience.

Sleepy hollow begins with a long and drawn out opening sequence. This immediately provided the sense of suspense as the film took a long time, before even introducing any characters. During the opening sequence the setting of Sleepy Hollow was established. We were shown a dark figure travelling by horseback through a forest, with a grey lit sky behind them. This began to show us how isolated the minute township was from the rest of civilisation. Burton’s purpose of this was to make the audience feel captive in the town, as it was far away and help or freedom was almost impossibly out of reach. Once arrived in Sleepy Hollow, we are shown an establishing shot of the town entrance. We are shown a very grey and dimly lit settlement, of which gravestones and dense forest line the boundaries. The gravestones indicate to the audience that death has a strong presence in Sleepy Hollow, and it is inescapable as it is present everywhere. The trees increase the sense of isolation as they act symbolic as prison bars, that the citizens and Crane cannot escape. They are trapped within the confines of the forest walls. With grey skies that linger above slowly caving inwards. Creating a suffocating sense of claustrophobia as you cannot see beyond the town. Causing discomfort to build and tensions to rise. Burton has chosen to use a monochromatic colour palette to put an emphasis on the overbearing sense of grief that Sleepy hollow holds. The black and grey colour scale holds importance as black and grey colour tones are commonly associated with death, aggression and loss. This indicates that Sleepy hollow is a mysterious and death bearing settlement, that is overwhelmed by grief and despair. The final gothic element that Burton continuously intermingled into the film ‘Sleepy Hollow’ was his use of music. Burton chose to use suspenseful and foreboding music to foreshadow negative events that were to come. The musical instruments used were often held religious backgrounds. Most commonly the organ, a religious instrument which is found in most cathedrals and/or churches. Music is an element in film which alters the audience’s perspective on the scene. In gothic literature often builds suspense around the characters or events that we are to see, this is referred to as non diegetic sounds.

Sweeney Todd the demon barber from Fleet street (Sweeney Todd) is another one of Burton’s films that begins with a long and strenuous opening. This time animation was more heavily used. As the first couple minutes of the film were focussed on a trail of blood that was accompanied by thrilling music and fast paced camera shots. The audience’s attention was immediately directed towards the blood trail. But their perspective of it being menacing was based off of the music that was curated to play simultaneously. The music once again was a combination of harp, cello, organ and horn. In this instance the use of harp and organ shows significance. As a harp is typically associated with angelic or heavenly tones, but when we hear the harp we are seeing blood free flowing through gears and underground channels. Which is uncomfortable as the audience feel sickly towards the blood, but then are almost calmed by the harp. The organ once again is a religion associated instrument, which is commonly found in churches and cathedrals. The use of the instrument shows a sense of how the chaotic scenes we are witnessing and the multiple sounds we are hearing are almost in battle with the organ. Similar to at the time of enlightenment and gothic literature how religion was often in battle with science and other beliefs people held. Burton once again uses a monochromatic colour palette to represent the depression and grief held by Todd. An example of when music was used to create suspense was when Judge Turpin was in Todd’s shaving chair and Todd had the blade to his throat. The music filled the audience with anticipation as we awaited Turpins slaughter. But Anthony broke the chilling silence and Turpin left scene without a scratch. This technique shows how music really does control the audience’s perspective and emotions. The monochromatic colours suppress any glee and happiness that could be felt. Blacks and greys once again symbolise grief, aggression and loss which are all prominent aspects in the film. In the opening scenes the colour palette is gloomy and the underground is poorly lit. This causes the blood trail to stand out even more as it contrasts with the rest of the setting. Todd’s attic is the most used setting in the film. Todd’s attic is his own personal jail cell, where he is left to suffer in isolation and self retribution. He stares out of his barred windows to see grey looming skies, grey buildings and smoke. He watches everyone else’s lives move forward, but all he can do is watch as his past and grief hold him back from existing in the present and dreaming of a future. Todd’s attic is his asylum from the outer world that he doesn’t wish to be apart of. The elevation of his attic provides a godlike view as he watches the villagers from above, never taking action or being apart of the lives he sees, but always watching. His perspective is obscured by the smoke as everything is always just a little out of focus. The smoke and Todd’s drive for revenge both act as barriers between him and the truth of reality. If Todd had lost sight of his need for revenge at any time throughout the film, he would have realised that his wife and daughter were within arms reach all along.

Tim Burton developed the genre of gothic fiction across both ‘Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘Sweeney Todd the demon barber of Fleet street’ by intertwining elements from the gothic era. The gothic era was at its most prominent stage during the 16th century. It was known for its barbaric and negative nature. Across both films the settings were developed through the use of gothic architecture. Gothic architecture consists of tall cathedral style buildings, constructed typically of stone with pillars and arched doorways. We saw these features in both the buildings in the skyline shots over London and from Todd’s attic window in ‘Sweeney Todd’. We also saw these features in ‘Sleepy Hollow’ in the town houses and buildings, especially the church. The gothic era, has a high focus on religion based activities and viewpoints. As the gothic era and the enlightenment era both occurred during the same time period. The enlightenment era focussed on the battle between science and religion as people began to question earth’s realities and how and why things were how they were. This was shown in both texts as both Crane and Todd had god complexes of wanting to gain control by watching over people. A common characteristic shown in most pieces of gothic literature is how storylines tend to end when the narrative has reached full intensity. This was shown in ‘Sweeney Todd’ as the film ended in a chaos and murder filled escalation of everything that had happened prior. The audience witnessed Todd brutally and recklessly murder Ms Lovett, his dear wife,  judge Turpin and almost kill his daughter. We then saw Todd surrender his life in the hands of the young boy who he’d taken care of, as he finally saw the woe of his ways. All of this happened in only a few minutes, and left the audience in an overwhelmed daze. Filled with discomfort and questions that will never be answers. Which is the purpose of gothic literature, to leave the audience perplexed and challenged by what they saw. This differs from Sleepy Hollow, as in Sleepy Hollow the climax of the narrative wasn’t the ending. The storyline continued to an almost fairytale like ending, where Crane, Katrina and the boy moved to the city and began their lives anew once the headless horseman disappeared. Which still left us wondering, and in a state of confusion over the scenes we had just witnessed. Which once again reiterated the point of gothic fiction. Of which is to perplex and overwhelm its audience. Across both films the genre of gothic fiction was developed in a series of ways including how both films used omens and flashbacks. Flashbacks were shown in Sweeney Todd as a positive memory of happier times from his past, techniques that were used to show flashbacks were through the use of colour. In Sweeney Todd the flashbacks used a warm and bright colour palette, as his wife and daughter were both dressed in white, the sun was shining and they were surrounded by dozens of different flowers in every colour. In Sleepy Hollow, flashbacks were used as Crane reminisced of his late mother and his childhood. His childhood was oversaturated by white light and his mother was continuously surrounded by plantlife and nature. Flowers were shown to be prominent in both films, as they both symbolised the brevity of life. Flashbacks were used to distinguish the contrast between the life both Crane and Todd had in comparison to the life they currently have. This caused the audience to feel a kind of remorse for the characters as they can see that their was clearly a life altering event of which occurred at some point in the characters past that changed their life forever, leading it into a pit of self tortuous darkness. Another technique that assisted in the portrayal of gothic fiction through flashbacks was the use of music. The music used in the flashbacks of both films was whimsical and harmonious, it showed that throughout these scenes the characters were at ease. Which clashed with the music used throughout the rest of the film, as it typically caused discomfort in the audience and forebode towards a negative event that was yet to come.

Although Tim Burton may have a bizarre and out of the ordinary view and artistic style, he was able to bring his craziness to life with a direct link to the genre of gothic fiction, throughout his films ‘Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘Sweeney Todd the demon barber from Fleet street’. Burton is known for his use of animation intertwined with film to create a false reality effect on the audience. Colour is a technique that causes the audience to form an immediate perspective based on the emotion the colour provokes. The colour pallete Burton most commonly uses monochromatic blacks-grey tones. This causes a depressive, grief stricken connotation, which causes the audience to be uncomfortable by the scenes in the film. Which is one of the key purposes of gothic fiction to cause an overwhelming sense of sadness and despair. Burton also used music to create a foreboding tone throughout both films, Gothic literature is known for its foreboding elements.

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Hi Ruby,

    Some good points are being made in this essay. I would like to see you:

    – Develop your analysis of the directors intentions and what impact this has on the audience.

    – Use more technical film language in your analysis.

    – Look to discuss how your techniques combine to bring us two films that we can recognise as gothic fiction.

    – Address the technical errors in your work.

    Mrs. P


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