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I am going to save you the trouble and skip the formalities that you have probably heard a million time and get right into it, auteur directors. What is an auteur? An auteur is an artist, usually a film director who has large influences in the final product of a film. These film directors use signifiers, such as shot selection, setting, colour or even actors. Timothy Walter burton is an American filmmaker, artist, writer and animator. He is known for his dark, gothic and eccentric horror and fantasy films.
You might recognise some of his work; Alice in wonderland, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and Charlie and the chocolate factory. He is classified as an auteur by multiple signifiers that are used throughout his work. His brand of cinema has been described as the equivalent of walking into an abandoned amusement park. It’s entertaining but it’s also extremely dark and deeply disturbing. Burton’s films tend to feature a protagonist know as a ‘heroic loner’.
In cinematic terms his work is often dark and nightmarish but strangely has innocents and childlike elements. He creates a dichotomy between the gothic and idyllic. The dark and the light. But since its Burton, the darks and lights are warped by the funhouse mirror of his creativity. His most common signifiers are gothic visuals, outcasts, themes, flashbacks, familiar faces and sounds.
Tim Burton is one of those directors who has an easily identifiable visual style. From the characters, the props, to the houses and cities where the films take place sculpted in an exaggerated cartoonish way to emphasize the ‘goth’ features.
Burton uses these features to make the main character feel secluded from the other characters. This supports the protagonist that’s known as a ‘heroic loner’. The character is depicted as an outcast because he doesn’t look like the others, this also makes the other characters look like the ‘good people’ when in reality they are not. When in reality it’s the loner who is the good guy. A famous example of this type of style is the costume and make up of Edward Scissorhands, who looks like he belongs in a creepy Goth rock band. I mean come on look at him, scary. But it’s not just the characters but also the housed they live in for example in Edward Scissorhands, he lives in an old gothic mansion. I personally wouldn’t want to live in there.
Edward Scissor hands is about an artificial man named Edward, an unfinished creation who has scissor blades instead of hands. The young man is taken in by a suburban family and falls in love with their teenage daughter Kim. He uses the gothic features to paint the picture of Edward the loner or bad guy and having the town being bright and colourful makes him standout even more. In the movies Beetlejuice similar visuals are used. Not only is the main character gothic looking but the entire film takes place in an old haunted Victorian home. The gothic plots also play a major role. In Beetlejuice, the plot revolves around a recently deceased young couple who become ghosts haunting their former home, and an obnoxious, devious poltergeist name Betelgeuse from the Netherworld who tries to scare away the new inhabitants.
As well as main characters and visual styles, burton loves repeating themes. The most obvious is his use of dark and light as contrast. The darkness fits perfectly with the gothic imagery but uses light to highlight certain aspects. This contrast is used similar to the characters. Having these houses darker to the rest of the town makes it standout or makes it the ‘outcast’ of the town. The dark house makes the town brighter but also draws attention away from the others in the town. In Edward Scissor hands the interior of Edward’s mansion is also devoid of light, unlike the outside world where the town is bright, colourful, and full of cheer. In Beetlejuice, when the house is shown in the daylight it is bright white and seems inviting. Inside though, it is dark and dingy. This makes the house look appealing on the outside to lure people in. its bright exterior convinces people that the house is completely normal but once entering the house they are wrong. The interior is dark and scary which represents what the house is really like and hides what is really coming on inside the house. This is used successfully to lure people into the house just to be haunted.
Now let’s talk about something different like shot selection, this is also a popular signifier for burton. The beginning tracking shot to be exact. The camera is often attached to a dolly, a crane and sometimes even a helicopter. Burton especially deploys the high-angled roaming camera in his opening credits sequences. This gives the audience an overview of the setting and makes them feel present in the movie. In Edward Scissorhands the beginning scene more gave you tracking images of the lab/house he was made in. Burton uses claustrophobic camera angles to communicate the concepts of isolation and self-discovery. Burton’s idea of suburbia is made immediately apparent through the opening point-of-view shot which sweeps over the suburbs, ending with a new point-of-view from the mansion looking down at the town this provide the audience with a sense of geography. however, in Beetlejuice the beginning is a birds-eye tracking shot if the town and nature surrounding. This shot really gives a sense of setting and gives the audience the sense of presents we were taking about earlier. The longer the shot goes for the more you see the pristine town fade away into the outskirts where the older, rustier houses are. This gives the town character and makes the audience really feel ‘at home’ with the town.
So, with all that being said I believe we can all come to the conclusion that if you’re watching a movie with these signifiers you can guess who it was made by? Cause I sure can. Once again, an auteur is an artist, usually a film director who has large influences in the final product of a film, from themes to costumes and even shot selection, that are always featured. Tim burton sure does signifiers that proves he is in fact an auteur director. Often these directors don’t even know that they are doing the same things till the editing or even final cut, this often happens subconsciously or just is natural. Thank you so much for watching.
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