Part 2: Writing Portfolio

The Film Task –

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. 

I will be writing a response about the use of different visual and verbal features that Tim Burton displayed over two of his texts, Sweeney Todd and Sleepy Hollow. Tim Burton displays common gothic conventions like foreshadowing, common tones and moods and the dark gothic settings by the use of colour, make up and music during his films.

The role of a movie director, like Tim Burton is to control the films ‘artistic and dramatic’ aspects. The director has the key role to choose the members of the cast, production design and the creative aspects in filmmaking. They visualise the screen play while guiding the crew and cast to fulfil the vision that we as an audience then get to experience. Burton says he has always been fascinated with the light and dark aspects of life, consistently arguing that one cannot exist without the other. He uses colour, makeup and music to present his films with a strong gothic feeling like know one else can. Almost all of Burton’s movies contain a dark horror element to them, this is why he could make gothic movies out of just about anything, he knows how to add that dark spooky layer into the stories using film. The way that he displays common gothic conventions comes though the film techniques that he uses.

In the film Sleepy hollow, Tim Burton uses the visual features of colour to fulfil the common conventions of gothic fiction. Although the movie was filmed in colour it displays monochromatic tones – a filtered effect that uses shades of black and white – which give us a feeling of uncertainty and discomfort. Using the tinted colour for this film it shows us the dark and damaged world of Sleepy Hollow, these colours help to display the common gothic setting that we see in most horror type films. Grey, dark colours dominate the screen throughout the movie, from the colours that the characters wear, the colour of the buildings and animals that contribute throughout the film, over all the atmosphere in this film is very dark. Although during parts of the film there are flashbacks showing the main protagonist Ichabod Crane’s (Johnny Depp) life before his mother died, in these flashbacks we see the movie in full colour, indicating that this was a happy time for Ichabod.

In Sweeney Todd, the use of colour is very similar. The opening scene is very dark as its night time, the characters look almost dead with no warmth or natural skin tones visible creating a dark gothic atmosphere, where Todd looks down the dark alleys and states, “In these once familiar streets I feel, shadowed.” At this point we think that the film is going to be in black and white until Todd steps into the golden glow of a street lamp and we see his past life in a flashback as Benjamin Barker, during this scene we see him and his family looking very happy with colourful flowers in the background. The scene has a yellow filter over it representing that this was a long time ago, but a happy, warm memory for Todd. Then we see Judge Turpin standing in the background, I notice that he is wearing a red jacket and the colour red becomes tied to Todd during the rest of the film, the judge is in-front of a very black background, showing that he isn’t going to be doing much good, almost foreshadowing that Judge Turpin is going to make Todd’s life dark and miserable.

I think that Burtons use of colour in the two films was used very well, because of the light and dark colours he used it creates a very depressing,  dark atmosphere, which is what gothic fiction is all about. The dark and light colours also make a great backdrop for the red that is used in both films. Because of the light and dark colours used it helps to further the story, if Burton used bright colours for these films it would be confusing and we wouldn’t no what to expect from the beginning. The common setting that is used in all gothic texts is very well defined by Burton, the colours that are used in the films make every scene seem dark and unsettling. I think he uses these colours to reflect what the characters are feeling, in both of the films the minds of the main characters – Todd and Crane – are both very unsettling, they are thinking about dark things and the colour of the skies and buildings reflect off them. Burton uses colour to “show the character’s journey”. In the flashbacks from both films Burton uses yellowy bright colours to show the audience that the characters were happy in these moments. Tone and mood in these films are developed by by the dark oculars that Burton uses, it makes the audience feel scared and shadowed because of the dark colours. When the film is dark it is hard to see everything in the shot and this makes us feel on edge as we are unsure of what could be around the corner. 

Make up is a big part of creating common gothic characters, in the films we have watched we see that the main characters have pale faces and dark eyes, which we are not used to seeing. During the film of Sleepy Hollow, Crane starts of with a pretty normal look that society is used to, although he has dark eyes at the beginning of the film indicating to me that he has maybe had a dark past and/or there is something in his past that haunts him. Crane has come from New York to investigate the murder in Sleepy Hollow and has not yet realised what he has got himself into. As the film goes on we see that Crane’s make up gets paler during almost every scene, indicating that the life is getting sucked out of him and he is so focused on finding out who the killer is.

In Sweeney Todd the use of make up is also very similar, in the first scene of the movie we see Todd – in a close up – standing on the boat. During this scene we get right into his personal space and see his pale face, he almost looks like a ghost and the make up around his eyes is so dark that we can hardly see his eyes themselfs. Eyes are like the window to our soul and the feature of dark eyes tell me that the characters are in there own world, where no one around them can influence what they are planning to do, almost as if they are looking down a tunnel. The dark eyes of Todd and miss Lovett show that something in there past has unsettled and scarred them and that they are so focused on what they are doing, like how Todd is so fixated with killing the Judge that he doesn’t care what happens to anyone else standing in his way.

Make up is a big part of how we take in the characters feeling and when Burton creates characters with dark eyes and pale faces, like we are not use to seeing, it makes us feel un easy and almost sick about how they look. Burton I think uses dark eyes to express the common gothic tone, because of the dark eye the audience feel as if they cannot trust the character so it creates a tone of uncertainty and fear. The pale faces foreshadow that the characters are falling deeper into insanity, due to them getting paler faces during almost every scene we know that the character had done no good and/or are getting driven deeper into there emotions and blocking out everyone from around them. Because Burton uses pale faces it makes us think that the characters are not from our world, we are used to seeing bright people in films and because of the pale faces in these film we as an audience cannot relate to what the characters are going though. The pale faces also indicate that the characters are sick and having been in the sun, therefore like looking down there own tunnel, how Todd won’t stop killing until he gets revenge and how Crane will go to all lengths to look for the headless horseman. 

Tim Burton also uses the verbal feature of music to display the gothic conventions of foreshadowing and unease. In Sleepy Hollow the music creates an atmosphere of mystery and suspense, throughout the film we hear organ music which is commonly used in gothic films. There is also howling wind sound effects that foreshadow that the headless horseman is coming. The music needs to be scary for this film because of the level of violence that it holds, there are common horror sounds that we hear, frightening us and forcing the audience to cover their ears. In horror films you often see people covering their face with a pillow but by doing this you cannot escape the noise that makes our heart rate jump up. When the headless horse man is being explained to Crane we hear organ music that is soft and gentle but the music soon gets louder and faster making our heart rate increase and forcing us to look away from the screen even though nothing is happening.

Music in Sweeney Todd has similar techniques to Sleepy Hollow but also a very different style than what we are used to in gothic fiction. Sweeney Todd is a musical and so the use of vocals play a big part in the way we take in the music. In the opening scene Todd is singing to the young boy about london, the song starts of nice as the boy is singing but then Todd starts to sing, the music gets darker and he sings about what we think is his previous experience in London. Todd is trying to scare the young boy about the future, singing about how life has been kind to the boy but he will learn and fall into the great black pit of the world. During the film we often hear happy music but they are singing about gruesome and horrible things, like they think it is ok to do what they are doing to these people. The songs start of clam and cheerful but they speed up and become unsettling and make us feel on edge and our hearts race. In the scene where the judge is killed, it starts of with gentle music that comes on and off, we heard non diegetic sounds of the music going high like they have thought of something and Todd looks at the knife, then the song resumes and he goes back to shaving him.

Tim Burton uses music to create common gothic tones and moods, when the music gets faster it creates a scary tone and we tend to look away. The music also foreshadows what high happen like when the music goes high for a moment and Todd looks at his knife we know that he is going to kill someone. I think Burton made Sweeney Todd as a musical so we could listen to the lyrics that they sing to add an extra layer of discomfort into the film. The music plays a big part on how we approach the thoughts in the movie, if we hear happy cheerful tunes we are not scared but the dark organ music in these films make us feel tense and uneasy. 

Tim Burton’s use of colour, make up and music displayed over two of his texts, Sweeney Todd and Sleepy Hollow display the common gothic conventions of foreshadowing, tones and moods and the dark gothic settings. I thing Burtons choice of using these techniques have really helped to create two great gothic films, the use of the techniques that Burton displays influence the audience by unsettling them and making them on edge just like a gothic film should.

One Comment

  1. Hi Molly,

    Great start!

    • You have a good understanding of how the techniques are used and now need to look to develop your analysis of the directors purpose, the impact on the audience and our ability to recognise the gothic genre in the visual texts. Rather than just stating that because a specific technique is used, there is a connection to the genre, explain how that technique establishes the genre conventions and look at why the director might do this.
    • Edit your work for grammar and punctuation errors.

    Mrs. P


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