2nd July 2018

Tim Burton Film Study

Aspect Visual Techniques Verbal Techniques
Tone and Mood -Monochromatic colour palette: grey, white and black

-Tone: There is a supernatural tone to how Sweeney cuts hair, the only supernatural element in the film.

Sound effects of the sloppy pies squishing are unnerving.
Character – Lovett Submissive, powerless over Sweeney, high camera angle during her discussions with Sweeney. Tone: There is a cheerful tone to her singing as the darker and intense tone of the music plays.
Character -Pirelli
The Gothic Antagonist -Judge Turbin Makeup: Dark circles under his eyes showing a sinister and uninviting dark side to his character. Tone and Pace: Alan Rickman speaks with a particular
Character – Johanna Bird in the cage in Johanna’s room symbolises entrapment, the cage door being a similar shape to her window. There is a direct comparison between her and the blackbird, her observing the window whilst Antony observes her. Her voice is very high and chirpy like a bird exaggerating the symbolism.
Foreshadowing Dead flowers foreshadow a happier time for Sweeney but that this happiness and romance would slowly die.
Setting -High Key lighting in flashback, colourful and cheerful because it was a more positive and happy time for Sweeney, he was a happy man, though still dressed in dark colours (possible foreshadowing)

-Tracking/Point of view of a rat sequence to set up the unnerving and dark setting

Gothic architecture – foreboding, unnerving and daunting, supernatural and mysterious buildings in which gothic novels typically take place

Red lighting at the masquerade to signify danger or threat.

The apartment is discovered as abandoned, creaky floors, torn wallpaper, furniture covered, rotten, indicating that his old happy barber days were long dead.

The Gothic Protagonist -Distinct Contrasting Qualities
The Gothic Protagonist- Controlled by strong emotion rather than logic or reason (revenge) -Symbolism: Sweeney is fixated on his silver barber appliances, the colour silver symbolising mourning, repentance and destruction. Reflects the negative energy back at him.

-Close up: Angry facial expression, pale makeup, dark eye contour

-Pace and tone: Sweeney has an angry and sinister tone of his voice, he has a fast pace with his singing.
The Gothic Protagonist- Has a need to know
The Gothic Protagonist- Has an air of mystery -Low Key lighting: There are billowing dark clouds establishes gloomy mood, Sweeney’s face is only half lighted up or in view and Antony’s face is in full view, showing the air of mystery and anonymity in his character. Later when he obtains his barber knife we can now see his whole face, revealing the mystery surrounding him as he feels more complete. -Music: Cheerful when Antony sings whilst it is angry, abrupt and fast when Sweeney sings. Sorrowful instrumental. Whilst Sweeney pauses as he sees Lovett’s building, the music slows down and intensifies indicating that he has past experiences revolved around this building and he came for a reason.

Make a list of expressionist filmmaking techniques that have become linked with gothic horror.

Expressionist techniques seek to convey emotional and psychological states in the viewer rather than displaying a realistic interpretation. Examples are exaggerated and distorted camera angles and movement, heightened speech and intensely oversaturation of the dark coloured setting. Expressionist often dramatizes the spiritual awakening and sufferings of their protagonists. Early expressionism, in particular, testified to the failure of social values with a predilection for ecstasy and despair and hence a tendency towards the inflated and the grotesque; a mystical, even a religious element with frequent apocalyptic overtones; an urgent sense of the here and now.

One particular technique, chiaroscuro (the contrast between light and dark) is particularly memorable in Sweeney Todd’s attic room. What are the key features of this setting that develop chiaroscuro?

The window is a key feature of the attic setting to establish chiaroscuro, being the only source of light and view of the outside world, therefore contrasting with the dark, gloomy and abandoned apartment with its rotten, worn out black wallpaper. Low key lighting and a monochromatic colour palette are utilised by Burton for a shadowy and mysterious effect on the room, this darkening effect contrasting with both Sweeney and Lovett’s pale white faces as they are singing, drawing attention on their exaggerated facial expression and actions. 

Think about the same technique, chiaroscuro, and its presence in Sleepy Hollow. Can you describe a setting that utilises the technique? Is it similar or different to Todd’s attic?

Chiaroscuro is used effectively in the scene where the headless horseman very brutally and tragically murders the Killian family and the young boy hides beneath the house. Chiaroscuro is used to unsettle the viewer, playing with the contrast between the lightning’s short bursts of light and shadowy darkness which conceals the boy. Low key lighting and a monochromatic colour palette are used in the dim and shadowy house, just like in Sweeney’s attic, the grey stone walls and darkened brick walls and wooden flooring contrasting with the light established by such features as the fire, lightning and rotating laser cut shadow lamp. This contrast is very unsettling, as each lightning flash reveals the boy to the horseman and disrupts the darkness from concealing him. The effect of the rotating laser cut shadow lamp is to play with the contrast of the moving shadowy animal figures which circle the ashed leaden wooden walls of the log cabin, using this chiaroscuro technique to create a sense of entrapment, as the animals surround the frightened boy and his mother.

Expressionist filmmaking also favours colour to develop an idea. How is the colour used in both S.T and S.H.? Pay particular attention to the connection between past and present.

Colour in flashbacks is bright and colourful whilst in the present, it is gloomy and monochromatic. The colour is used to emphasise the contrast of the protagonist’s past and present. In S.T Lovett’s fantasy is also in bright and cheerful colours, showing that she is optimistic and hopeful for a brighter future away from the dark and sufferings of the present. This contrasts with Sweeney, who can only focus on vengeance on Turbin in the present, the colourful flashbacks of his old life as Benjamin Barker being shown to represent that he can’t move on from the past and must have his revenge in order to have this same happiness he experienced in the past.  Towards the end of S.H, the colour returns to colourful, signifying a happy ending and resolution to the story. However, in S.T there is an unpleasant ending for all characters, therefore there is no colourful change in colour after such a grim and dingy film.

A feature of Gothic horror is the claustrophobia fear that there is no escape. Consider techniques that are present in both films that develop this fear.

An example of a feature which develops this fear in Sweeney Todd is the use of low angle shots, creating a daunting and fear-evoking effect from dominant and powerful characters such as Sweeney and Judge Turbin. During scenes in which Sweeney is feeling murderous and a potentially dangerous threat of another, more inferior character such as his victims or Lovett, this low angle shot to understand that he induces fear in others and that there is no escaping death from his barbershop. Another example is during the court scene, in which Turbin prosecutes a young boy for petty crimes that he likely never committed, the low angle shot is used to show the power and dominance that he holds over the boy and the fear and entrapment that the boy is experiencing.

As explained previously, chiaroscuro is used by Burton to implicate a sense of entrapment, as the Killian family is murdered at the hand of the headless horseman. Chiaroscuro is effectively used with the animal shadows cast on the wall by the laser cut shadow lamp, these shadows circling the mother and child, creating this sense of entrapment and fear from knowing that there is no escape from death.

What is the “Hammer Horror” style? Describe its defining features and explain what influences and explain what influences you can see in the two films.

Hammer productions is a British film company, known for famous monster films as the Curse of Frankenstein, The Mummy and Dracula. They create this typical ‘monster’ troupe and exaggerate the induced fear from others and the power and murderous intentions of the monster, using makeup and costume to form these horrid and iconic characters. 

Burton adopts this style, gaining influence from these monsters to apply to both the headless horseman and Sweeney, the primary monsters of the two films. They both have a hedonistic pride in killing the innocent, Sweeney being easily compared to Dracula due to his lust and happiness of slicing the throats of his victims without hesitation or empathy. Another common horror troupe utilised in Hammer productions is the lightning flashing as the monster appears, this same effect being used in both of Burton’s films for a dramatic effect.

The red blood is a distinct feature of both films. What is its purpose?

Its purpose is to evoke an unsettling sensation in the viewer, the slow-running blood and splattering being displeasing to the eye. Both films utilise a lot of blood to overexaggerate the murders. In addition, the blood is used in both title sequences, in S.H there is red wax which is mistaken for blood by the viewer as it drips on a letter and in S.T the blood is oozing through the cogs and gears throughout Sweeney’s barber shop and into the basement where they make the pies.

Tim Burton Film Techniques to establish the gothic element

Colour: Monochromatic colour palette; black, white and grey. Flashbacks are in full vibrant colour, representing a happier future/ past/ makebelieve moment in a character’s life. Examples include Lovett’s fantasy, Sweeney’s past as Benjamin Barker, Crane’s mother memories and the happy ending of Sleepy Hollow, as they are no longer trapped.

Red Blood: A very stand out motif which unnerves the viewer due to the connotation of danger, near death and pain associated with blood. Examples are the title sequence, blood splattering when Sweeney slits the throats of his victims and when Crane is axing the tree full of heads.

Music: Often contrasts with what we are seeing, builds tension and leads up to or foreshadows something negative which is soon to occur. Examples include the cheerful and bouncy music whilst Sweeney is about to kill his victim, representing his happiness he experiences whilst fulfilling his revenge warpath fantasy, this music contrasting with what the viewer feels and sees, knowing that someone is about to be violently murdered. The music grows more sharper, more intense and louder as Todd is seemingly about to issue the final blow on Turbin. An example of the juxtaposition of music and colour with dialogue is the colourful and oversaturated imagery and initially happy music in Sweeney’s flashback of his past suburban happy family life contrasting with the dialogue. However due to the sorrowful past tense dialogue and the music building up to something sinister the viewer feels that this happiness and colour will be taken away quickly.

Symbolism: There are multiple symbols in both of Burton’s films. Bird in the cage is a prominent symbol, appearing in both films, this symbol representing a character being trapped or unable to break out of a mental or physical cage. In S.T Johanna is portrayed as the damsel in distress for the hero of the film, Anthony to save, this bird in the cage symbol being notable as she sings to the bird in a cage as if she was the bird.

Windows represent a blur between the outside world and the outcast observer. In S.T, both Johanna and Sweeney are separated from the external world, trapped behind windows to observe.

Mirror: The mirror symbol is overly dramatised (German expressionism), especially in the scene where Todd peers into the cracked mirror. The mirror represents his fractured personality due to his need for revenge and past tragedies. When Todd looks into the mirror as he is seemingly about to murder Turbin, the viewer notices that the reflection is whole. This is because he feels complete, about to fulfil his revenge fantasy.

Diagetic and Non-Diegetic Sound: Diagetic sound builds tension, the scraping of Todd’s shaver against Turbin’s face being amplified to unnerve the viewer and making the suspicion of Turbin about to be killed more certain.

There is a discrete close-up shot of Todd behind cage-like bars whilst sinister music plays showing that he is trapped by his need for revenge.

Stormy weather indicates an internal conflict or brewing anger in the protagonist Todd.
Makeup: Todd’s eyes grow increasingly darker and he grows paler showing that his soul has become more and more evil, him being consumed by his lust for barbaric acts such as slaughtering innocent lives and helping operate a cannibalism encouraging pie shop. This deeper descent into darkness due to his need for revenge is even more evident when he doesn’t recognize anyone, everything else but revenge on Turbin becoming a blind spot to him.
Sleepy Hollow’s opening sequence features the same techniques such as close up shots and amplified diabetic sound as ST. The red wax is immediately thought to be blood, having the same vivid colour and movement. The red wax behaves and sounds very similar to the blood in the ST opening. The sinister and intense musical undertones give an early foreboding sense, the viewer preparing for murder and violence. After the opening sequence, both films use a monochromatic color palette on the first scene.
The music whilst Crane enters SH is very sinister indicating that this place holds something dark.
Gothic architecture is very heavy in both films, the church and stony village buildings ( deer statues at entrance to SH) in SH having a similar appearance as buildings of London such as Turbin’s Courtroom in ST (gargoyle statues) As Crane draws closer to arriving at SH, the trees appear increasingly more decayed and green, the most grows thicker and the sense of isolation sets in to the viewer. The mist adds an element of mystery and fear of the unknown, the heavy mist distorting and exaggerating the supernatural aspect of the setting.
When Crane enters the bar, the atmosphere seems very artificial, with pumpkin heads and oversaturated colour covering something sinister beneath, the viewer knowing that village men have just been murdered.
The flashback experienced by Crane is initially very vibrant and colourful, filled with flowers and angelic and mystical music, this contrasting with the rest of the film. However, the music grows more sinister and colour becomes drained as the imagery becomes darker. The fireplace, white church with a red door, his dad’s face and the frequent witchcraft motifs create an initially peaceful dream into a nightmare, the sudden change in music and colour indicating this. The tree of the headless horsemen is very overly exaggerated (German expressionism), the surrounding nature being repulsed by its fantastically peculiar shape. As Crane and company approach the tree the music builds and is very foreboding, building up a crescendo. As Crane is axing the tree and blood is splattering, cross-cutting and amplified diabetic sound is utilized to omit discomfort in the viewer just as Crane feels.
The cheerful and bouncy music and vividly bright colour juxtapose with the scratchy, ugly and out of place chanting of the film’s heroin about a witch.

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Lucas,

    A good start. You have identified some of the key aspects of each scene.

    I would like to see you develop the “why is this important” or “what ideas is this technique developing” a little more in some of your answers.

    In particular, your answer about the use of colour is brief. What is significant about the colour throughout the film? What does it represent for each character? It is more than just the endings of each film.

    Mrs. P


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