Tim Burton (The man behind the films) Tim Burton’s uncommon insights into the tormented and troubled hearts of his characters make him a truly remarkable visionary. His films Sweeney Todd, Edward Scissorhands and his short debut film Vincent all incorporate a common theme; an outsider tormented by his surroundings and those who inhabit them is finally destroyed and or emotionally damaged by what their hearts yearned for. The trouble and tormenting the protagonists heart receives comes from many elements of life; alienation, love, deceit, longing to dream, suppression, entrapment and pure obsession.
Burton’s use of symbolic codes, lighting, colour, music teamed with his amazing directional skills maintains a simple expression of the story whilst also creating a truly amazing deeper message. Burton’s visionary excellence stems from his own experiences and familiarity with the subject matter. While his ideas come from this point, the way in which he creates and finally presents these themes is what makes him such a prominent director. Burton’s use of music to project a strong message enables the viewer to subconsciously feel somewhat associated with the protagonist in the film.
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By using instruments such as the organ and recorder in his film Vincent, Burton produces a lonely, eerie atmosphere around ‘Vincent Malloy’. By then instructing the musicians to play minor chords on these instruments he deepens the feelings and brings out the desired effect. In Edward Scissorhands Burton frequently uses Tom Jones’ songs as the accompanying music. Prominent songs such as ‘hands’ are played quietly and are barely recognisable under the films dialogue but are clearly associated with Edward and the constant presence of the abnormal scissor hands which make him so extraordinary.
In Sweeney Todd the music is the largest portion of dialogue, however the way in which Burton has directed the music to work hand in hand with the lighting, shots, movements and other sounds creates a visionary masterpiece. Through the music Burton encourages the viewer to collect all emotional experience and to feel the torment and suffering of Sweeney Todd. Burton’s use of music creates another layer of atmosphere associated with the characters and the overall plot line.
He indulges the observer of his films to feeling they are connecting with the torment, suffering and trouble the protagonists face. His remarkable use of this film technique is what enables the public to think of him as such an interesting director. Burton’s films posses a strong persistence of symbolic codes. The meanings behind these are always identifiable with some in depth examination in relation to the context. An example of such can be found in Edward Scissorhands there the double meanings associated with the simple objects placed within the scene is notable.
Edward’s topiary art highlights his imagination and completes a strong contrast between himself, man made, and his works, sculpted from the natural hedges. A prominent figure he sculpts is the teddy bear topiary which Jim in rage runs over with his van. This incident symbolises the end of the innocence of the neighbourhood. They no longer view Edward as ‘remarkable’ but as a dangerous ‘cripple’. The symbolic code associated with Edwards clothing is some what extraordinary for such a simple accessory. For it to posses so much meaning is exceptional.
The basic black outfit that Edward initially wears is covered by ‘normal’ everyday clothing this marks his joining of suburbia and in turn his suppression. As the film progresses they soon become ripped and eventually he is left wearing his original black outfit, he breaks free of the confinement of the saccharine sweet facade of the neighbourhood back to his previous lifestyle. Burton’s use of symbolic codes is the work of a true visionary and by using these symbols he reflects the mood of his characters and their tormented hearts. Burton as a child felt he was trapped and alienated by suburbia.
He believed it lacked all passion and was ‘a kind of colourless, flat landscape in which no one really knew anyone else beneath the facade of normality’. He is also described, in Edwin Page’s Gothic Fantasy-The films of Timothy Burton, as having an extremely imaginative mind. He was alienated by his own family and at one stage his mother blacked out his windows. By the age ten he was living with his mother. The strange relationships he faced as a child and his feelings of being suppressed and alienated give him experience in the fields his films explore.
The protagonists appear to have distinctive Burton characteristics such as his hair and past experience. With each film he has made he has gained familiarity with the subject matter and through this his films seem to grow. Burton projects his experience to give a larger persona to his characters and this only amplifies his character’s hearts in torment and shows us more of Burton’s visionary genius. Burton’s character’s pain and torment can be seen in Edward Scissorhands, Vincent and Sweeney Todd. Each protagonist from these films is sensitive but lacks the ability to see positive things.
They become so troubled that they lose their sanity, their rationality or even their will to live. Sweeney in Sweeney Todd is so infatuated with hate, resentment and revenge he becomes consumed by it. His initial goal becomes indistinct and he eventually loses sight of what is of true importance. He is so overwhelmed and torn with grief of his wife’s death and daughter’s entrapment that he loses his ability to think rationally and he commences killing all those who he doubts are worthy to be in this world.
In the closing stages he becomes the true judge of who should live and die. Vincent Malloy in Vincent is so restricted and entrapped by his suburban life he tries to imagine his life as someone else, this in time takes hold off him and he subsequently loses all control and grows insane. Burton enables his character’s emotion’s and stories to grow within the plots boundaries and this makes the films so attractive to the public. The colour and lighting techniques in Burton’s films is a large contributor to the overall effect on the observer.
This is recognized immediately in all three films. Each film’s colours are strong focal points which add a extra amounts of contrast and symbolism. Burton’s use of shadows, light shafts and high and low key lighting create moods and accentuate scenes. In Edward Scissorhands a major colour contrast to reflect different cultures can be observed in the low angle, long shot down the street to Edward’s castle. The Candy coloured neighbourhood homes with lush, green, neat hedges with mowed lawns and straight white regimental pathways.
At the end of the end of the street is a large hill with Edwards castle perched on top. The blackness of his hill and home along with the untidiness creates an immediate distinction between the two areas. Straight away Burton shows Edwards torment and trouble through being so alienated in a seemingly close knit community. The intentional use of a limited colour palette in Sweeney Todd is not only historically correct, London would have been very smoggy and dull in the 1800’s, but also allows emphasis to be placed dramatically on the strawberry topping like red blood.
The gloomy shades of greys, browns, blacks and the occasional white tinge combined with low key lighting in many of the scenes creates a sad and gloomy atmosphere showing the torment Sweeney faces. The starched like lighting used in the scene of Sweeney and his family is almost overly bright this is a beautifully stylised contrast to show the happiness and joy Sweeney experienced compared to the torment and hate he feels now. In Vincent the dominance of shadows and silhouette lighting creates an eerie feel whilst showing the entrapment Vincent feels in his own home.
Burton’s use of colour and lighting to mirror the protagonist’s feelings of alienation, suppression, torment and resent is beautifully stylised and the work of a remarkable director. Edward Scissorhands, Vincent and Sweeney Todd are all examples of a true visionary. Burton’s exceptional directional skills teamed with his incredible insights into the tormented and troubled hearts of his characters create extraordinary films which will capture the viewer’s imaginations, feelings and undivided attention.
His main characters are all so remarkable yet they all present common aspects of being in anguish due to their will to being freed, loved, treated fairly, accepted or to dream. He has developed and used technical and symbolic codes, music and his own experience to sculpt a true work of art. Through his noteworthy work he has become a significant director who has become extremely well respected. By Kathini Myers Bibliography Sweeney Todd Edward Scissorhands Vincent all by Tim Burton