23rd August 2018


The film “Sweeny Todd” is about a man who was taken from his wife and daughter and is now looking for revenge.  It is a gothic fiction film directed by Tim Burton, showing how Sweeny Todd drives himself further and further into his revenge plan. Eventually, his intentions consume him. Tim Burton also directed the film “Sleepy Hollow”. This film was based on the legend of ‘the headless horseman’, a man who decapitates his victims. Ichabod Crane came into the town and made it his mission to stop ‘the headless horseman’. Tim Burton uses multiple techniques throughout his films, including monochromatic colours, the use of caged windows and music. All of these techniques develop ideas and moods across both of the films.

Many film techniques were used in the film “Sweeny Todd”, including monochromatic colour, the symbol of a cage and the use of music. I will be demonstrating the use of these techniques within one scene of which Todd is in the attic, shaving The Judge’s face. In this scene, the viewers are shown Todd’s skill with shaving and develop an understanding of how The Judge puts himself in such a vulnerable position. One of the most obvious techniques used during this scene was the use of monochromatic colour. From the attic, the view from the window is very dull. At no point is there a clear, blue sky or the sunshine, the weather is always cloudy. Also, there is no colour in the room, nor do the characters’ ever wear colourful clothing. Often colours are associated with happiness and energy, whereas the darker shades of grey and black give people the feeling of danger or negativity. Todd always wears black, suggesting that Mary Shelley intended to show that he has lost all happiness in his life and the revenge of his family, his darker side, is overpowering. The only link to society the attic contains is the window that looks out to the sky. This window has horizontal and vertical bars that run across it, leaving even less area to see out of. By being located close to the barber chair, Todd usually stands close to the window. The bars of the window symbolises the fact that Todd is trapped. Todd is losing control of his actions. The director does this because it proves to the viewer that Todd can no longer help but act out on The Judge, meaning Todd’s revenge is overpowering human morals.  Music is another technique that Tim Burton uses a lot throughout the film to give emphasis on ideas. The music was most noticeable in this scene when Todd was shaving The Judge’s face. It started off cheerful and higher pitched, this was because Todd was happy about the fact that he had The Judge, the man he was after, sitting right at his fingertips. The audience became worried because we knew Todd’s desires, they were aggressive and dangerous, yet Todd felt joyful. As the scene went on, the tension between Todd and The Judge grew and this was developed through the music. The music became louder and more suspenseful, growing the fear we have for what will happen next.

In the film “Sleepy Hollow”, there was a scene when Crane took the daughter out to the woods to look at carvings in a rock. During this time, the weather was very dull, clouds layered on top of one another so there was nothing else to be seen. The atmosphere was dark and gloomy, the sky let no light in and the plants were all dying out. There were no colours of the flowers, animals or even their clothes, everything was monochromatic. Mary Shelley purposely used monochromatic colours because it makes us feel empty inside and we believe that there was nothing exciting occurring for the characters. Grey is the only colour in the scene, which makes the viewer realise that something has taken the joy and personality away from Crane. Crane lost his mother, a family member, a piece of himself that he will never get back. Out in nature, you are expected to be free, it is meant to be an escape from your problems and worries. However, we can see that this is not the case for Crane, his problems are inescapable. Mary Shelley expressed this through the technique of cages. At the rock, Crane stood by a broken window frame which covered his face. This symbolises the fact that Crane was imprisoned, no matter where he went. The way the cages block out Crane’s face makes the viewer realise how stuck he feels, making us develop a need to help him. During this scene in the woods, the music started off by sounding very peaceful and romantic, however, there were moments that the tone of the music would change. These were moments when the girl reminded Crane of his mother, memories were brought up that made Crane feel emotional. Crane loved his mother but was also reminded of her death, this is why the music was pleasant, yet had negative undertones to it. Whenever the viewer heard a slight drop in tone, it was clear that Crane was thinking about his past.

Both films had very similar ideas and techniques that Tim Burton developed, these techniques created the gothic conventions across the two films. One of the biggest gothic fiction conventions in these films is tone and mood. Tone and mood were created by the techniques of music and the monochromatic colours. The mood is the atmosphere which determines how the audience feels while viewing the film, in gothic fiction, this mood is often an unsettling feeling. The monochromatic colours that Mary Shelley has used make the viewers feel dull and worry that there is no positivity in the characters lives. When people wake up in the morning and see that the weather is dark grey and cloudy, we are often disappointed and unmotivated to go outside to enjoy the day. In “Sweeny Todd” and “Sleepy Hollow”, the weather is continuously like this, making the viewer feel bad for the characters. Todd and Crane have the feeling of entrapment. Their minds get trapped by the past, they are unable to move past what had happened. Being trapped by your past is common for a gothic protagonist, it makes the viewer realise the effect it has had on the character. As the viewer, we feel sorry for the protagonist, sorry that they have had emotional trauma and are struggling to move on. This becomes relatable, therefore it creates a connection between the audience and the characters. However, as both “Sweeny Todd” and “Sleepy Hollow” progress, the viewers see that Todd and Crane dealt with their past in a bad way. For Todd, this was through his aggressive actions on anybody who got in the way of his revenge. Crane attempted to explain why his mother died and all of the science behind it, facts that most people would not research. Usually, people try and accept that a loved one has passed away, eventually allowing them to move on. Therefore it makes the viewer uncomfortable that Crane cannot do this.

Film techniques are very important because they develop the ideas throughout the films. The techniques of monochromatic colour, music and symbols are used to show the same ideas in both “Sweeny Todd” and “Sleepy Hollow”. These ideas are that the main characters, Todd and Crane are dwelling on their past. The monochromatic colour shows that they cannot feel vibrant inside until they finish their mission. The choice of music shows the viewer the suspense in the situation, which also suggests how important the scene is to the character. The symbol of the caged bars represents the fact that Crane and Todd were trapped, their quests had consumed them. From these films, the viewers are taught not to let the past dictate your life and that you will be much happier if you keep moving forward. 

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Hi Kate,

    You are making some very vaild points. Well done.

    I want to see you think about the following things over the coming periods:

    – Develop your analysis of the directors intentions and what impact this has on the audience in each paragraph.
    – Continue to develop your discussion about how your techniques combine to bring us two films that we can recognise as gothic fiction.
    – Address the technical errors in your work.

    Mrs. P

  2. Kate,

    – Address your technical errors- read your work out loud to catch these.
    – Develop your description of some of your techniques and comment more on WHY the director uses them and HOW they impact the audience.

    Mrs. P


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