Film Essay

Tim Burton, the director of the two films that we have been studying in class (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Sleepy Hollow), is renowned for his gothic fiction movies. He also likes to connect his movies together, with classic gothic fiction conventions and features such as the settings he creates, the music he uses and the color that we see in the film as well. Burton likes to make his audience captivated by his work, whether it be making them on edge, or leaving them in shock, with the aspects that Burton uses in both films. Like a child with candy, we just get enough of Burton’s films and after we watch one of his films, all we want is to watch more.

Firstly the setting of the films. The settings in both films both quite gloomy and dark and isolated. Sleepy Hollow is surrounded by woods, and when we first see it when Ichabod Crane (played by Johnny Depp), walks into town from New York to solve a murder in Sleepy Hollow, we see that the town is very gloomy and spooky. Burton makes the town look like that with the way he uses chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro is a German Expressionism lighting feature, Burton and many other directors use chiaroscuro in their work to make a lot of shadows, therefore, making the setting gloomy and dark. Burton also uses commonly used gothic features in his settings, like the sheep, the white pointed fences, the church etc. In Sweeney Todd, his attic where he murders people, is quite dark and there is a heavy use of chiaroscuro. The attic that Sweeny Todd lives has a very simple layout, there isn’t much in the room, just the cair, the mirror, and the fire/stove where he makes his tea. In this room, there is a lot of dark and light contrast, which is a commonly used feature in gothic fiction and German Expressionism. These features help to develop the gothic conventions like tone and mood in both films, therefore, making the mood of the films very uneasy and mythical and make the supernatural element seem more ‘scary’. I think what Burton’s intentions were to,  make the settings uneasy and gloomy, therefore, foreshadowing that something bad was going to happen and made sure the audience knew that something initially ‘off’.  Burton uses these features well to create an uneasy, suspenseful, dark setting, while using all the commonly used ways to make us on edged.

Secondly, the music. The music in both films are very similar, the music when something bad is going to happen is very intense and suspenseful and dramatic, for example, when the credits are appearing on screen is suspenseful and dramatic. The music in the films is also used to build the suspense when the audience thinks something bad is going to happen, for example, when Sweeney Todd is shaving the Judges face it is very suspenseful, and the audience thinks that something is going to happen. The music in Sweeney Todd is very contrasting since Sweeney Todd is a musical therefore is dialogue. Most of the time the dialogue doesn’t sound like the music for example, when Mrs. Lovette and Sweeney Todd are singing about cannibalism the music is very happy, which makes the audience very uncomfortable because, it’s such a dark topic but the sing it in such a happy and enthusiastic way. Like in Sweeney Todd, Sleepy Hollow has a very contrasting music in it. Even though Sleepy Hollow isn’t a musical, there is this one song/chant that Katrina Vangarat is singing when Ichabod Crane first comes into the artificially colored hall. Katrina is singing about the ‘pickity witch’, she sings “the pickety witch, the pickety witch, who’s got a kiss for the pickety witch” in a very scratchy and witch-like way, but the music in that is going on in the film at the time is a very happy song that’s playing on the fiddle. What I think that Burton was trying to do was to make the audience uneasy, and confused.

Lastly the color throughout the films. The color throughout both films is very monochromatic, except for some key moments of the films. A very centralized color that they use in both films is the color red. Most of the color in the films is very dark but when we start to see the red, symbolizing blood, and it ends up being very bright and vibrant. I think what Burton was trying to make the color red more vibrant,  to make the movement they were doing more dramatic, whether it be slicing someone’s throat like Sweeney Todd does, or haking at a tree that’s sap is the blood of the Headless horseman’s victims. Secondly, Burton uses color when he is showing flashbacks. In the present time of the movie it is all dark, but when Todd is talking about his wife and child and the audience sees his memory, the color is vibrant and more yellow, which we associate with happiness, unlike black and dark colors which we associate with sadness or bad things. Another thing that is very vibrant in color is the hall the Crane first enters when he comes to the town to find Mr. Vangarat. The outside of the hall and its surroundings are very dark and there isn’t much color, but when he goes into the hall, the hall is very artificially colored. I think Burton was trying to portray, that there was something that the higher archy of the town ( like the paster, Mr. Vangart etc), were trying to keeps something hidden from the rest of the town, we know this because, they have had a number amount of murders in the town, and yet they are having a party, seems a bit odd doesn’t it? At the end of both films, the color in the films fades or appear more. At the end of Sweeney Todd, we see that Todd has been consumed by revenge for his wife, that the ‘color from his life goes’, we see this when he looks back at a picture of his wife and his daughter and it’s black and white instead of colored. At the end of Sleepy Hollows, after they have defeated the headless horseman and the ‘darkness and evil has left the town’, all the color comes back to the town, meaning the gloomy clouds go away and lets light come into the town again, everything begins to grow and look pretty again, as Crane, Katerina, and Young Masbeth leave Sleepy Hollow.

In conclusion, Tim Burton is an amazing director, and his films are outstanding. Burton mostly uses gothic fiction features because gothic fiction is intriguing and mysterious. When we are watching these films we are always on edge because the scenes and sound that we hear and watch keep toying with the emotions, we are always thinking whats going to happen next, that is why gothic fiction is so good to watch. I personally think that is Burton’s purpose, is to make sure that us as the audience keeps watching, is surprising the audience, he keeps his ending surprising throughout his films until the end. For example in Sleepy Hollow Burton tried to make the Katerina look like the one who was summoning the headless horseman and making her the center of attention, but in the end, it was the stepmother who was mentioned much until the end. He likes to sidetrack his audience, so we don’t see the actual ending. In these two films, Burton uses commonly used conventions and features because, these common convention and features are what we expect, but when Burton puts his own twist on the films we get that sort of unexpectedly so we have to keep watching because we don’t know what expect anymore. That is what Burton is trying to do, he is trying to make the unknown, known.


  1. Hi Ayla,

    – Take a little more ‘time’ in your essay to describe your setting and how that setting is communicated to the audience (what techniques enhance our ability to understand the setting). You can refer to the exemplar on how to do this as the candidate describes the train setting effectively by using the technical terms to enhance their description.

    – Read your work back to yourself. There are syntax and grammar errors throughout this piece. Reading it out loud will help you to see where to add or remove punctuation, alter your vocabulary choices etc.

    Mrs. P


  2. Hi Ayla,

    The above advice still stands. Re-read it then read your essay with the feedback in mind.

    Also look to comment more on the connection to the genre of gothic fiction. Burton uses the techniques to align his films with the genre and you need to comment on these connections.

    Mrs. P


  3. Hi Ayla,

    Don’t forget to comment on how these techniques combine in both films to develop the gothic genre.

    Also, you need to explicitly analyse the directors purpose and the impact that it has on the audience. What reaction are we manipulated into and why do you think Burton is looking for that particular response.

    Mrs. P


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