Describe how camera techniques are used to communicate ideas in Tim Burton’s ‘Edward Scissorhands’
Burton uses inventive and often claustrophobic camera angles to communicate the central concepts of isolation and self-discovery, as well as enhancing the underlying themes of societal uniformity and prejudice, to the audience. Burton’s demonization of suburbia is made immediately apparent through the opening point-of-view shot which pans from the grandmother’s house and sweeps over the ‘cookie cutter’ suburbs, ending with a new point-of-view from the mansion looking down at the town. Not only does this provide the audience with a sense of geography, the juxtaposition of the pastel colours of suburbia and Edward’s dark and gothic mansion serves to accentuate the sterility of American society and their inability to accept difference and non-conformity. This very notion is implied throughout the film through Burton’s deliberate combination of high-angle panoramic shots of the uniform town and frequent long-shots of the dark mansion.
Burton quickly establishes the disconnection between Edward and apparent ‘normality’ when Peg Boggs views the castle through her car side mirror; the long-shot also emphasises the sense of unreality and illusion. The camera angle changes when she reaches the mansion as the long wide-angled shot conveys the relative size of character and setting which suggests Peg’s vulnerability in the strange environment. Conversely, Edward is presented to the audience in a long-shot which quickly shifts to a medium close-up of his pale, scarred face; his shock of black hair, accompanying black clothing and ‘scissor’ hands are fully in view and thus he is immediately cast as a ‘conventional’ monster. Interestingly, Burton immediately forces the audience to challenge this stereotype through the combination of Edward’s gentle voice and the close-up of his sad eyes.
This scene provides the foundation of the plot, as the often low-angle mid-shot employed by Burton suggests parallelism and equality between Edward and Peg. Both characters share the same importance in this shot as they are placed in the centre of the moderately loose frame; the intimacy of the space they share, enhanced by close-up shots, suggest Peg is somehow different to suburbia and naively wants to help Edward conform to ‘normality’ – this ‘happier’ direction is reinforced by Burton’s decision to use open forms from this point forward, suggesting hope that people’s minds may also open when accepting difference.
Despite this, the final long-shot of Edward alone in the colourful gardens of his castle, surrounded by nature and creativity, reinforces Burton’s central message that society seeks to normalise difference in order to make it inconsequential; it forces them to reassess their own humanity by generalising that society is too sterile and narrow-minded to cope with one who does not conform.
Sound is one production element of ‘Edward Scissorhands’ which works to not only establish the character of Edward, but also defines the relationships he has with those who come to surround him.
Scored by composer Danny Elfman, his often tender, pensive and romantic soundtrack highlights Edward’s emotions as he tries to assimilate into suburbia. The seemingly cheerful music which plays during the film’s opening scene initially makes the audience feels as though the neighbourhood is ‘perfect’; however, the sense of a darker underbelly is suggested when the music suddenly becomes ‘eerie’ as Peg looks up at Edward’s dark castle – completely disconnected from the pastel suburb – and decides to visit in an attempt to sell him Avon products. This works to establish not only Edward’s literal and metaphorical distance from ‘normality’, but presents him as something different and menacing.
This is entirely different from the operatic choruses and plucky strings adopted later in the film when Edward is seemingly accepted by the unforgiving town. This upbeat score is designed to elicit happiness from the audience which is reflective of Edward’s acceptance and the positive relationships he has built; this is combined with the slashing sound of Edward’s scissors which is particularly obvious when he is sculpting hedges or cutting the women’s hair.
The sound of Edward’s scissors later instigates fear in the scene when he cuts Kevin after pushing him out of the van. This fear is overwhelmed by sadness as through the long and deep musical notes, it is clear that Edward’s relationships in the town have declined. This is reinforced through Edward’s inability to cope in a corrupt society; the ironic background music of ‘With these Hands’ highlights his lack of understanding when an older woman tries to seduce him, thus the audience’s sympathy for the naïve Edward is compounded by the juxtaposition of his fear and society’s immorality.
Danny Elfman’s score has the ability to reveal Burton’s story without the visuals; through masterful precision, the soundtrack embodies the heart-wrenching emotions of Edward’s discoveries as well as his downfall through unrestrained thematic and choral elements. In fact, the tragedy of the tale is examplified by Edward’s distinct lack of dialogue; his ironic humanity is highlighted against the meddling, prejudiced masses through the use of silence – Edward only speaks 169 words throughout the film which suggests his innate and unique understanding of the importance of this virtue.
Mise en Scene & Sound
Explain how at least two of the following production elements were used to develop a character, or the relationship between characters: lighting, editing, mise en scene (visual composition) and sound.
Mise en scene is utilised in ‘Edward Scissorhands’ to exemplify Burton’s complex commentary on the world and the fragility of relationships. The colourful settings and often dark lighting, particularly apparent the shadows of the ruined attic to the elongated staircases, also reflects not only Edward’s isolation, but also Burton’s admonishment of a prejudiced society.
Colour is used to immediately signify the distinction between good and evil; the kitsch 1950s palette of the Florida community is presented in very bright colours which suggest safety and normalcy. This is juxtaposed to Edward’s dark, twisting mansion but ironically, Burton later presents the local community as far uglier and frightening than the ghostly Edward; his haunting appearance and sinister castle belies his child-like innocence and enormous heart. Despite this, the vast contrast between the ‘harmless’ pastels of the neighbourhood and the darkness associated with Edward distances him and thus initially presents him as an outsider.
The early scene in which the two worlds collide – when Peg meets Edward – is shot in a basic tone of black, much like Edward’s clothing. This symbolises the way in which Edward is perceived by the judgmental society, as the first impression of him is designed to be evil and menacing. It later becomes clear that his black clothing also signifies his loneliness and the monotony of his life, but as Peg enters the shadows dressed in a light pink suit, there is hope that she will bring ‘colour’ into Edward’s life; the warmth of the pink in such close proximity to the darkness of Edward’s vulnerability symbolises the first relationship that he develops. This notion is explored again towards the end of the film as Kim and Edward share the same colourings as Kim is now dressed entirely in white; this reflects not only her innocence but also the bond they share as she is the only one who still believes that Edward is essentially ‘good’.
There are also several exaggerated gothic elements in the film which represent Burton’s satire on American suburbia; the contrast between the gothic and modern architecture allows the message of tolerance, or lack thereof, to become apparent. The grotesque settings and twisted plot is inspired by Edward Scissorhands himself as he is not ‘normal’, but invented which inspires sinister connotations of Frankenstein. This is represented not only in Edward’s image but also in his gothic home which is typically ‘Burton-esque’ in art design and architecture. In doing so, Burton heightens the dissimilarity of the two contrasting worlds and the individuality, yet sad isolation, experienced by Edward.
The skyward towers dominate over a fearful Peg Boggs as she approaches the castle, and the elimination of colourful decoration accentuates the gloom overwhelming the deteriorating mansion. In contrast, the beauty and creativity of the gardens surprise Peg which foreshadows the response of the other townsfolk who are yet to experience original thought; in fact, Burton deliberately contrasts this to the ‘sameness’ of life in the suburbs which in its uniformity lacks creativity and diversity, and thus acceptance of difference.
This idea is strengthened as Edward’s introduction into their world later threatens the safety of suburbia, and in their ignorance they force him and his independence out of society forever. Despite this, they are made to face their intolerance every year as Edward’s influence on the suburb remains in the form of the snow he creates with his scissors. Thus, the visual composition of ‘Edward Scissorhands’ enhances both the narrative and characterisation by promoting Burton’s condemnation of the social rejection of outsiders. Through colour and architecture, the audience – unlike the suburbanites – can recognise the beauty of abstract forms and appreciate the irony inherent in rejecting a constructed being as Burton suggests we are all controlled and manipulated in order to be accepted into society.
Genre is a major source of audience expectations. In a romantic comedy, for example, the audience expects that the narrative will have a happy ending. Explain how ‘Edward Scissorhands’ features production and/or story elements typical of its genre.
Although initially presented as a horror film, Tim Burton manipulates this genre in ‘Edward Scissorhands’ by inverting audience expectations and presenting a tale of horror, satirical comedy and romance.
There are many production and story elements employed by Burton which are typical of the horror genre; ‘Edward Scissorhands’ is a variation of the dark classic Frankenstein as both are presented as ‘monsters’ that disturb the peace and calm of an unsuspecting society. The opening credits, presented in scissor-shaped black and white graphics, roll over eerie music typical of the horror genre; visually, the audience are then presented with images of a stereotypical haunted house with a dark exterior, a large door closing and the existence of ever-present cobwebs. Although there is an abundance of imagery associated with horror, ‘Edward Scissorhands’ also conforms to the genre of romance; in fact, the tranquil motif of falling snow contrasts to the darkness of typical horror conventions.
The film explores these romantic themes with more subtlety; it begins with an unsuspecting anti-hero who later faces a conflict which ultimately requires a resolution. After initially being accepted into the community, Edward is later rejected and forced back to his own environment but this is not the resolution for which the audience had hoped; this romantic culmination arises when Edward is given the opportunity to show his love for Kim and is able to exact revenge on the antagonist, Jim. The fact that Edward’s legacy has a lasting effect on the town, symbolised by the snow that falls annually, and that he is kept alive in Kim’s memory is proof that the film also conforms to the ‘happy ending’ expected of romantic films; this is exacerbated by Kim’s very character – the beautiful, virginal daughter who appreciates the hero’s underlying goodness rather than his superficial oddities.
Whilst ‘Edward Scissorhands’ is true to the genre of romance, it certainly inverts the more usual horror conventions which forces the audience to reassess their expectations. Ironically, the romantic aspects of Edward’s story portrays the suburb as immoral and decadent, and thus the ‘monster’ is essentially more human and natural that that of the ‘normal’ characters. In this way, Burton has both satisfied the genres he adopts, but has concurrently circumvented them.