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The Gothic Elements In Tim Burtons Movies Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 2373 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Nowadays, film has been popular among people through the ages. There are kind of films that have been created up until now. For instance, films about criminal, romance, Sci-Fi, etc. Many film directors compete to make a good film. A film director is also called as an auteur if he or she is a complete film maker. He or she conceives the idea for the story, writes the script or the screenplay, and then carefully supervises every step in the film making process, from selecting the cast and finding a suitable setting down to editing the final cut. (Boggs and Petrie 308).

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The style or characteristic in a film are usually describing the director’s personality itself. In this paper, the writer will analyze about Tim Burton’s movies because she is interested with this director’s work in movie making. Almost all of his movies are containing with dark and horror or it can be called as gothic. He is also called an auteur because in some of his films, he does everything all by himself. The background of Tim Burton makes him into a creative director and creates some fascinating film with the darkness but also putting some dark comedy in his films.

Burton was born on August 25, 1958 in Burbank suburban. Tim Burton, as a child, enjoyed to watch horror and monster movies. His favourite actor was Vincent Price. He was the protagonist in many horror movies such as “The House of Wax” (1975). Furthermore, Tim loved horror movies based on Edgar Alan Poe’s poems like the film “Raven”. He was seeing his self in those films and on the face of the actor Vincent Price, because of his isolation as a child. Tim Burton himself, states that horror movies especially the ones starring Vincent Price, spoke to him. (WordPress, 2012)

He was worked in Disney as an animator. Then, he was recruited by Paul Reubens and made a hit movie Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985). After that, he made another movie Beetlejuice which also became hit at that time.

There are many more film that have been directed by Burton such as “Batman” (1989), “Edward Scissorhands” (1990), “The Nightmare before Christmas” (1993), Sleepy Hollow (1999), “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Sweeney Todd” (2007), and such as “Dark Shadows” (2012).” (Andec)

As a director who is identical with gothic, Tim Burton is very professional. He is very serious in directing the process of the film making, and also he is very creative because in most of his films, he likes to make the properties of the film handmade by himself. Even though there is another professional person who can make it, but Burton wants to do it by himself. He always makes everything with his own imagination and it is like he creates himself.  It’s noticeable in almost all his movies that the characters have dark and sunken eyes like Edward in “Edward Scissorhands”, said his wife Helena Bonham Carter who was also an actress in most of Tim’s movies.

“Tim always wanted a sort of, like, silent-movie-star for both of us (she and actor Johnny Depp, they both starred in “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd).” So we have both got very, very pale skin and then rather dark, sunken eyes. A bit like how Tim looks. You know, his usual sort of aesthetic. He loves pale, dark, sunken eyes and because he’s an insomniac. I think that’s where it comes from. There’s a lot of autobiography in there. But even. It’s completely unconscious. He is so not a narcissist. But it always ends up, being, somehow, a version of himself.” (WordPress, 2012)

From all of Burton’s movies, the writer chooses two films between them, “Edward Scissorhands” (1990) and “Sleepy Hollow” (1999). These two movies are contained of many gothic elements. The story of Edward Scissorhands was made by Burton himself which reflected his characters which often outsiders, misunderstood, and misperceived, and in many ways he embodies his characters into his film. (Mark Salisbury 18) Besides, the movie of Sleepy Hollow directed by Tim Burton is an adaptation from the short story of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving (1817) written while he was living in Birmingham, England, and first published in 1820. “It was based on the German folktale, the story is set in the Dutch culture of Post-Revolutionary War in New York State. “The lines of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” are influences of late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century European cultural movements”. (Gale, 2006). This short story has been made into film for several times, such as “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad” (1949), and the following “The Hollow” (2004) and “Headless Horseman” (2007). The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is the closest American literature that has come to produce a classic ghost story.

Therefore, based on the explanations above, the writer would like to analyze the gothic elements throughout the cinematic aspect of Tim Burton’s films “Edward Scissorhands” and “Sleepy Hollow”.


The field of this study will be focused on literature, especially film.


This research is based on literature especially Film Studies. The writer chooses cinematic aspect to find out the gothic elements which occur in Tim Burton’s movies “Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow”.


This research questions can be formulated as follows:

What are the cinematic aspects found in the Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow movie?

How do the gothic elements contribute to the success of the cinematic aspect?


The objectives of this study can be stated as follows:

Explaining the cinematic aspects in the movies of Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow.

Finding the gothic elements that contribute the success of the cinematic aspect.


This study will help the students, especially in the literature aspect, to understand more about cinematic aspect and gothic literature.


Below are the terms that will be used by the writer to analyze about the cinematic aspect and the gothic elements in Tim Burton’s movies Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow:

Cinematography: “Art and technology of motion-picture photography. It involves the composition of a scene, lighting of the set and actors, choice of cameras, camera angle, and integration of special effects to achieve the photography images desired by the director.” (Merriam Webster)

Gothic Fiction: “a genre of literature that combines both horror and romance or a scholarly article which states the earthly laws of conventional reality and the possibilities of the supernatural emphasizing the difference between horror and romance as genres which reflecting on the common ground that has been christened Gothic.” (Jerrold Hogle)

Horror: a genre of literature that is identical with the darkness, and associated with fear, mystery, and supernatural to be able to scare its readers.


In this chapter, the writer would like to explain the theories in order to support her analysis. The first theory is about film studies.

“Film studies is an interdisciplinary program that focuses on the history, theory, and criticism of cinema and other moving image media.” (Yale)

There is another definition of film studies by Richard from The Oxford Guide to Film Studies (p.3) who stated that “film studies is based upon the science and techniques of film, its physics and chemistry, the practices and possibilities of the camera and the other apparatuses of filmmaking”.

According to Boggs and Petrie “The art of Watching Film” (pp. 124) film studies has a cinematic aspect which will be used by the writer to help her analysis process.

In Film studies there are two aspects, the literary aspect and the cinematic aspect. Because the writer would only use the cinematic aspect, so here is the explanation about the cinematic aspect of film.

The Cinematic Aspects of Film

According to Susan “Against Interpretation and Other Essays” that like novel, the cinema presents us with a view of the action which is absolutely under the control of the director (writer) at every moment. Our attention cannot wander about the screen, as it does about the stage. When the camera moves we move, when it remains still we are still. In a similar way the novel presents a selection of the thoughts and descriptions which are relevant to the writer’s conception, and we must follow these serially, as the author leads us, they are not spread out, as a background, for us to contemplate in the order we choose, as in painting or the theater.

Dudley on his book The Major of Film Theories: An Introduction (7) has noted that every question about film falls under at least one of the following headings: raw material, methods and techniques, forms and shapes, purpose or value. These categories, adapted from Aristotle, (Physics, section.3) divide the phenomenon of film into the aspects which make it up and which can be interrogated.

The raw material includes questions about the medium, such as those which seek its relation to reality, photography, and illusion, or those which follow out its use of time and space, or even those which aim at such processes as color, sound, and the make-up of the movie theater. Anything which is seen to exist as a given state of affairs with which the cinematic process begins belongs to the category of “raw material”.

The methods and techniques of cinema comprises all questions about the creative process which shapes or treats the raw material, from discussions of technological developments (like the zoom shot) to the psychology of the filmmaker or even the economics of film production.

The forms and shapes of film is the category containing questions about the kinds of film which have been or could be made. Questions about cinema’s ability to adapt other artworks lie here, as do questions about genre and audience expectation or effect. Here we are looking at films from the standpoint of a completed process in which the raw material has already been shaped by various creative methods.

The purpose and value of cinema is the category which interfaces with the larger aspects of life, for here fall all questions which seek the goal of cinema in man’s universe.

In accordance to Boggs & Petrie (112-124) identify the cinematic film like:

Cinematic point of view

Four points of view are employed in motion pictures, such as objective (camera as sideline observer), subjective (camera as participant in the action), indirect-subjective and director’s interpretive.

Elements of cinematic composition

“Focusing attention on the most significant object, such as, size and closeness of the object, sharpness of focus, movement, extreme close-up, arrangement of people and objects, foreground framing, and lighting and color.” (Boggs&Petrie, p. 122)

Techniques for specialized visual effects

Camera Angles

Color, Diffusion, and Soft Focus

Special Lenses

Slow Motion

Fast Motion

The freeze frame, the Thawed Frame, and Stills

Special Lighting Effects

Gothic Literature

The second theory for the analysis is about the gothic literature. There are some aspects of Gothic literature more than terror. These are the elements of gothic based on the novel by Horace Walpole The Castle of Otranto (1764) and it contains essentially all the elements that constitute the genre and this novel by Walpole has influenced not only for the gothic novel, but also the film making up until now:


A part of the storytelling that helps to create the Gothic atmosphere such as burial vaults, flickering candles, evil potion, etc. (buzzle)

Environment and Setting

A setting that used for the storytelling in Gothic novels to shows the horror image like the stormy weather, dark place (forest, big castle). (buzzle)


The fear experienced by the characters in the novel. (buzzle)

Omens and Curses

An ancient curse to make the character becomes more miserable. (buzzle)

Decline and Decay

A process when the character reflected their behavior or their characters. (buzzle)

Supernatural Events

To make the story more dramatic. (buzzle)

Damsel in Distress

The character is usually suffering and loneliness. (buzzle)


“This character is usually cunning and shifty in their behavior.” (buzzle)


“The gothic heroes, usually they are burdened by the sorrow.” (buzzle)


Usually the romance part will have the tragedy and sorrow line. (buzzle)


J.1 . Method of Data Collection

The writer would use the Library research: books and internet.

J.2. Data Analysis

Watching the movie, then searching the cinematic aspects of the film, and also searching the gothic elements from the films using the cinematic aspect.

J.3. Time Schedule

































Revision RM 1 and make a proposal

Revision for proposal

Examination of Thesis Proposal


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