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 fulfill the damsel conventions of gothic fiction.

The Film Sleepy Hollow, directed by Tim Burton, is another one of Burton’s dark stories. Constable Ichabod Crane is sent from his home, New Your City to a little settlement by the name of Sleepy Hollow to investigate the recent mysterious murders. When staying in sleepy hollow he learns the legend of the headless horseman but doesn’t believe it. Until one day, when Crane and one of the elders of the settlement get his head chopped off by the headless horseman right in front of his eyes. Crane now has to investigate how to get rid of the legend and why this is happening. Crane needs to figure out everything before its too late and there’s no one left in Sleepy Hollow. Another Film directed by Tim Burton is Sweeney Todd, it explores the story of Sweeney Todd and his thirst for revenge. A man by the name of Benjamin Barker was wrongly accused of something he didn’t do in his younger years, He was taken away from his beautiful wife and newborn baby. He now returns with a new identity of Sweeney Todd looking for the man that ruined his life, Judge turban and hopes to bring his family back together. Todd lets his revenge take over his whole body and takes things a little too far. Another movie directed by Tim Burton is Sleepy Hollow. As well as Sweeney Todd, this is another dark story. Constable Ichabod Crane is sent from his home, New Your City to a little settlement by the name of Sleepy Hollow to investigate the recent mysterious murders. When staying in sleepy hollow he learns the legend of the headless horseman but doesn’t believe it. Until one day, when Crane and one of the elders of the settlement get his head chopped off by the headless horseman right in front of his eyes. Crane now has to investigate how to get rid of the legend and why this is happening. Crane needs to figure out everything before its too late and there’s no one left in Sleepy Hollow. Throughout both films, there is a range of film techniques used in the same way. I will analyze how color, lighting, and symbolism are used to convey gothic conventions. Each of these techniques will be explained in both movies and where we see them. The technique color and lighting comes from German expressionist, which have been accepted as a theme in Gothic fiction.

The use of color is a visual technique used to make us aware of the setting which also gives us an insight into the sense of tone and mood. Within the film Sleepy Hollow, the use of color is used in a specific way. Sleepy Hollow uses a bunch of dull monochromatic colors through the majority of the film. Firstly we are shown a bunch of close up shots, starting with a panning shot through the fog until we see the setting of Sleepy Hollow. All we see is the use of black and grey used throughout the whole of the setting. The gloomy grey sky with the grey fog floating through the setting, we also see tall boring colorless buildings, not a single vibrant color is to be seen. As we progress through the film, we carry on seeing the same monochromatic coloring until we see a flash from the past. We as watchers are taken into the mind of Crane and into a flashback. The first thing we notice is the use of the vibrant color. Greens, pinks, purples, you get the idea. Crane is a little boy dressed in clothing that isn’t black, this is the first time we really see a pop of color. When I first saw this it made me happy, the whole of the film, up to this point had been boring and bland due to the coloring, but now we see the complete opposite. In the flashback his mother appears dressed in white, singing to a cheapy song. The use of color is also a reflection of what the mood of the characters is. As monochromatic colors are used, we see a dull personality from Crane but when we get a flashback, we see a different side of Crane, a happy side. The flashbacks are where the vibrant colors are used and I would say that Crane has a vibrant mood at that time. Monochromatic colors are used in the present while vibrant colors are used in the past, this signifies that Cranes mood has changed. He once was happy and vibrant but now has turned rather dark, as the colors do. Colour is also used in the same way for another one of Tim Burtons movies, Sweeney Todd. We see monochromatic colors throughput the majority of the movie just like in Sleepy Hollow. Our first encounter with these monochromatic colors is when we see more panning shots thought the setting showing the dull color pallet, we see tall back and grey buildings, grey cloudy sky and alleyways filled with rats. All these dark boring colors make us feel depressed or gloomy, negative feelings. Then, suddenly we are taken back into a flashback-filled with color. Todd is with his wife, who is dressed in white as well as his child, who is also dressed in white. This white color can be signified as perfection, which signifies that his life was once perfect.  There are all walking around a shop will with colorful flowers, everyone is smiling, filled with happiness.  When we see people happy, it makes us feel good inside and the color around is vibrant which also sets the happy scene. With big bright colors, we feel vibrant ourselves. As we can see color is used in the same way in both films. The color gives us either negative or positive feelings. With monochromatic color, we usually get negative feelings but as soon as vibrant colors are presented, we have a change in mood and suddenly feel happy. Colour also lets us see the mood of the characters. If they are surrounded by dark monochromatic colors, they are feeling dark themselves, but as soon as the bright colors come out, happiness is shown on their face. Tim Burton was trying to make us feel by using this color technique. He wanted us to feel gloomy, he wanted us to feel for the charter by using these dark color. When he used bright colors, he wanted us to see how good the life of the charter was in the past, he wanted to show us the world of the character in color. The color creates an impact on the audience by giving us the specific mood to have. I believe that the people in the society that we now live in are basically told what to feel. It’s like listening to a song if we are listening to an upbeat, happy song, we are going to jam out and rock to it, but if we are listening to a sad song, we are going to feel sad ourselves. This is the song telling us how to feel the way that the music is portrayed which is also what color does. On a gloomy, cloudy day, out moods are usually low, but if the sun is shining brightly and flowers are out and colourful, we are usually in a cheerful mood. Colour has a lot to do with the way we feel and Tim Burton is one to show us this.

Symbolism is the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities. In the film, Sleepy Hollow there is a defined idea throughout the whole film defined by symbolism. This idea is Isolation. This can be shown by the shape of the windows. They are arched windows with bars which can represent cages. With the windows looking like cages, it can be thought that anyone on the inside is caged in, being trapped. This is where the idea of isolation comes into play.  There is also another symbol that represents this and that is the wee picture of a bird on one said and an empty cage on the other. When it is twisted by whoever is holding it, the bird magically appears in the cage, this is an optical illusion. This illusion has been passed along through the characters. Firstly starting as the mother of Crane bird. This can represent how the mother was trapped. She was in control by her husband, and every time she twisted the bird, it was inside the cage, trapped, just like she was. It was then passed down to Crane. In the film, this represents how Crane is trapped by his past. The passed of his mother haunts him and creates isolation within Crane. This is all represented when the bird is passed from his mother to Crane. She is passing him the trapped feeling that she was once in. Both of these symbols represent isolation, whether its internal isolation or external. The same symbols are used in Tim Burton’s second film, Sleepy Hollow. They are also used in the same way to represent the same thing. Firstly we start with the shape of the windows. We first notice the cages shaped windows at joannas room. Her window is a big arched window, with bars over it, in the shape of a cage. This all showing that Joanna is trapped. We learn that she is actually trapped, as her caregiver locks her in her room and doesn’t let her out. The representation is just the start of the isolation idea. Also sitting inside of joannas room is a bird in a cage. This bird is a representation of Joanna, Joanna is the bird. The Fact that the sound of joannas voice is very chirpy as a bird also gets us to the point that Joanna is the bird. Leading to the fact that as a bird is stuck inside of a cage, Joanna is the representation of the bird stuck in a cage, creating the symbol of isolation. From our point of view, we can put Joanna as the damsel in distress. This is also defined by the use of camera shots. There a range of close up shots showing expressions of Joanna’s face, showing her worry. You can almost see the trapped feeling in her eyes. The feeling of being trapped comes with negative connotations. Being trapped is a not a good thing and no one would ever want to be or feel trapped. The feeling of ourselves being trapped puts us at unease, creating a sense of uncomfortableness which is the gothic convention of tone and mood. While watching these films we are able to identify the symbol of isolation as it is quite clear with the bird in the cage. Seeing the symbol of isolation/trapped makes the audience feel a little unsettled. I believe when we watch something that we can relate to, it makes it more real for ourselves. The idea of being trapped is simple, we can put ourselves in that situation and know that it’s not a good feeling. I believe that we have all know of someone who has bee trapped behind someone. In the society we live in there are a lot of people who have gone through horrific experiences of one of their parents being abused by the power of their other parent, or people being put down for being themselves. These are both signs of isolation. There are people who believe that have a lot of power and use it in the wrong way, to put people down. I believe that this is what we can relate to the idea of isolation too.

Chiaroscuro is a German expressionist lighting technique. It means the contrast between light and dark lighting, as well as the effect of shadows. Chiaroscuro is used in both films to create and sense of unease. I will start with the Film Sleepy Hollow. Chiaroscuro is used throughout the setting of the forest as the trees let in a bit of light but not a lot creating the contrast between light and dark. A forest creates the feeling of discomfort as nothing good ever happens in a forest. There is no light and things can pop out from behind trees any time they like. The forest of sleepy hollow is where the headless horseman is from, he comes from a darkly shaded tree in the middle of the forest. The tree is dead which makes it its dark brown color. There are trees circling around the big dead tree, but none towering above the tree. This lets the light from the sky highlight the dead tree, the same way that the window highlighted the chair in Sweeney Todd. With the light coming from the sky we are able to see the whole of the tree in light while everything surrounding is dark. Burton used this chiaroscuro here to draw our attention to the most uncomfortable thing there. We find out that the tree is made out of the heads of the people that he has killed which makes us more and more uncomfortable. This big tree highlighted by the light is the one thing we want to avoid but can’t. Again this technique is drawing our attention to the most uncomfortable thing to look at making us feel uncomfortable as well. The technique of chiaroscuro is also used n the film of Sweeney Todd. As we know, Todd spends most of his time up his the attic and this is where we see chiaroscuro used the most. The key feature of this setting is the big window that sits above the chair in the middle of the room. Through this window, very little light is let in, but the light that is let in only focuses on the seat. The rest of the room is left very dark. This creates the contrast between light and dark lighting. The seat is a very important part of the film which is why it is highlighted by the light. Everything else in the room is irrelevant which is why it is all dark. When it is dark we are not drawn to anything there as we can barely see it. The light creates a perfect circle around the seat which draws us to look at it. This is what burton wants we know because of the way that he highlights it with the light. The seat is the place where the killings happen which is an uncomfortable action to watch. We don’t want to see people being killed but because it is highlighted by the light it is the only thing that we can look at because everything else in the room is dark. Using this technique is great to highlight areas that you want to highlight such as the chair. It draws us to look at them and only them.  this technique impacts the audience as it gives us the uncomfortable feeling. When we watch scary movies, we are usually set back by the darkness. It makes us feel uneasy and frightened but as soon as light appears, these feelings begin to disappear. Most horror movies are set in the dark, we are never too frightened when the movie turns to daytime, but as soon as night comes back around, our pulse begins to rise and we feel uncomfortable which is what the light does to us.

Tim Burton is one to not shy away from anything that would make us uncomfortable, which is what we see in both of these films, Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd. Burton uses multiple techniques to convey the idea of gothic fiction, and in the above passages, I have analyzed the use of Colour, Symbolism, and lighting. Though the way that these techniques are displayed (visually) we see a connection. The techniques all make us feel a specific way, they give a tone and mood. The way it makes us feel is usually felt with negative connotations. The reoccurring tone and mood that is presented through these techniques are uncomfortable and the feeling of unease. With gothic Fiction, these feelings are normal and are what Tim Burton wants us to feel. He used these techniques to set us back and really make us think about how we actually feel about what is going on. Overall I believe that Tim Burton has done a good job of using a variety of techniques to create the gothic convention of tone and mood. 

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Hi Jess,

    – Think about some of your vocab choices. At times, your ideas seem clumsy as you have some grammar/vocab errors.

    – Think about your structure. The task asks you to analyse the same techniques across the two films. Are you organising this in the best, most effective way?

    – Also, remember to discuss, explicitly, the directors purpose and the impact that the techniques have on the way the audience views the film.

    Mrs. P


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