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.
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
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.
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.
Genre & Audience Expectations
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.
Narrative Structure in Edward Scissorhands:
Narrative progression entails the opening, development and closure of a film. Opening sequences or ‘set-ups’ provide a platform for the narrative to launch off. Often characters and settings are established. The opening begins the process of posing several narrative possibilities to the audience. Throughout the middle of the narrative the characters, storylines and themes are developed. This involves changes in character relationships or the introduction of new characters. The closing sequence then brings the narrative to its conclusion, often through climax and invites the audience to reflect.
In Edward Scissorhands director Tim Burton shows an old grandma and her granddaughter who wishes to hear a story, indicating to the audience the narrative of the film was set in a past time. By introducing Edward early on, the audience is opened up to array of narrative possibilities as he is brought down into society. The introduction of Kim during the development of the narrative establishes the possibility for romance between her and Edward as well as the conflict between Edward and Jim. The narrative closes with the budding romance complete yet an exile back to his castle which is rounded off by Burton revealing that the grandmother in the opening sequence is Kim.
Multiple storylines are common in narrative films such as having backstories or complementary stories running concurrently with the film’s main plot. Often storylines are linked without the characters knowing.
Both the blossoming romance between Edward and Kim and his search for identity in society is contrasted to create the narrative in Edward Scissorhands. These two main storylines are contrasted with other complementary sub-plots such as the exploration of Edward’s past life with The Inventor.
Narrative possibilities are potential possible events within the narrative. All possibilities take the characters and the film in a different direction. Often possibilities are dependent on genre and audience expectation. Possibilities intrigue the audience and make them curious about how the narrative will unfold. Possibilities can further be used to shock the audience by leading them down a different path.
When Edward is brought down from his castle in Edward Scissorhands many potential narrative possibilities are formed as he attempts to assimilate into society. Potential for romance and for conflict is introduced when Kim and Jim enter the narrative as the audience wonders whether Jim and Kim will break up or whether Edward will fall in love with Kim and vice versa.
Structuring of time is the way codes and conventions are used to overcome limitations of real time. Audiences accept the convention that films compress time so that events occur within a shorter time frame. Directors can also use flashbacks/flash-forwards and dreams to manipulate time.
Edward Scissorhands uses a circular narrative structure as the Kim as the grandmother both opens and closes the film as she details the action as a bed-time story to her granddaughter. Furthermore Burton uses flashbacks to Edward’s past to manipulate time and reveal parts of his earlier life.
Character Development in Edward Scissorhands:
Character development is the revelation of a character’s personality, beliefs, strengths, weaknesses and emotions to the audience. It also examines the way in which characters relate to each other. The audience is introduced to the protagonist early on who then develops through the film. Often a film can track a whole characters life and maturation or can use flashback to reveal key developments.
In Edward Scissorhands the development of the main character Edward occurs firstly through flashbacks to the inventor in which reveals his upbringing and how he was created. In the present with introduction of more characters like Joyce, Kim and Jim the audience sees Edward’s character grow and then ultimately come to an end due to his futile attempts to be a good citizen.
Cause and effect is the narrative device that allows the understanding of character motivations and decisions. Narrative relies on characters and their changing circumstances. Cause and effect can consist of character motivations/decisions happening outside of their control. Often action triggers other action.
In Edward Scissorhands when Edward is framed for robbing Jim’s house this leads to him being arrested and slowly beginning his decline. Society then views him as a dangerous outsider who can’t be trusted.
Setting in Edward Scissorhands:
Setting is the location and historical period in which the story takes place. The setting allows the audience to place it within the context of its genre. Setting can also help further character development.
Edward Scissorhands is set in an unnamed American town and also the castle which sit on top of the hill adjacent. The small town encourages conformity so when Edward comes down to live with the Boggs’ he is met with intrigue yet fails to fit into society and at the end of the film, flees back to his castle.
Point of View
Point of View (P.O.V) in Edward Scissorhands:
Point of view is from whom the story will be told in the film. In a conventional narrative structure the story is told from the protagonist however sometimes it can be told by multiple characters.
Due to the opening and closing scenes we see in Edward Scissorhands that the story is being told by Kim. The story is centred around the protagonist Edward and his venture into society yet it is still told from the point of view of Kim.
Production Elements in Edward Scissorhands:
Film format affects both the mood and the look of the film. Film originated with a black-and-white format running at twenty-four frames a second. Today options include 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, black-and-white, colour or digital animation. The film format reflects the genre as in film noir.
A 35mm and 70mm format is used in Edward Scissorhands as the film is shot in colour in order to convey the varying tones and shades in the film.
Camera techniques is a broad element that details all angles, movements, lens’ and shot types a camera can attribute to. Firstly, the camera angle can create the mood of a scene, with the use of high camera angles painting characters as vulnerable. Secondly, camera movement involves panning, zooming, tilting and tracking as a means to create emotion and draw an audience’s attention. Camera lens’ can range from wide-angle to telephoto and contributes appropriately to the style of the film. Lastly, camera shot types can include LS, ELS, CU, ECU and POV, and establish the context of the characters in their surroundings during that point in the narrative.
Tim Burton in Edward Scissorhands uses a range of camera angles to view Edward as a vulnerable such as POV shots at the dinner table enhancing the alienation he feels to the rest of society. The use of extreme close up shots of Edward further signifies his innocence as shown by his white face.
Lighting while often taken for granted is a key element in creating a realistic view of reality. Lighting allows objects and actors to be seen. Lighting however can be used creatively, by evoking a certain mood in the audience. Soft lighting can be used for romance while harsh lighting can provide contrast. Lighting also establishes relationships between characters. Light is either hard (direct) or soft (diffused). Hard light is typical of film noir.
Tim Burton uses soft lighting in Edward Scissorhands when portraying romantic scenes between Kim and Edward. The light is diffused before hitting the actors creating a dreamy and almost spiritual scene as she dances under the snow.
Sound falls into two categories: Diegetic and non-diegetic. Diegetic sound is that which is in the world of the narrative, which characters are aware of. Non-diegetic is outside the world of the narrative such as the films music. Sound also encompasses dialogue, voice-over, music and sound effects.
Eerie music is used in Edward Scissorhands in scenes at his castle to establish a sense of unease in the reader. Further use of non-diegetic music is used in the title sequence which leads to creating a dark and ominous tone.
Editing is the process of placing sounds and images in an order that establishes story and evokes emotion in an audience. Editing functions to establish setting, develop characters and express point of view. A main type of editing is transitions.
The editing in Edward Scissorhands creates romance in the scene where Kim is dancing under the ice. The use of slow-motion and romantic music and a low-angle camera shot finally achieves the romance that Kim and Edward have been looking for.
Mise En Scene is the collaboration of many elements to create the visual composition of a shot. Visual composition can create meaning and a desired emotional response. Motifs can also be used throughout films.
The castle in Edward Scissorhands is composed using a range of elements. Low-key volumetric lighting along with eerie silence and long camera shots help to establish the darkness and isolation of the character Edward who resides there.
Acting is the most obvious production element as it is how the actor brings their character to life. The actors do this through body actions, posture and delivery of lines.
Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Edward in Edward Scissorhands is brought to life through his delivery of lines in a soft dulcet tone. This portrays the innocence of the character.