Tim Burton is known for his obscure and unconventional methods of film-making. His stylistic techniques, influenced by German Expressionism, are very unique. For this reason I have chosen to look at a short clip from Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. Batman Returns was produced in 1991 and released in 1992.
When Selina Kyle, the receptionist of Max Shreck, discovers some crooked business plans, she is thrown from the top of a building by her corrupt boss, provoking her transformation into the mysterious and mischievous character of ‘Catwoman’. The scene in which this happens is very significant to the overall narrative of the film and to the development of the character of Selina Kyle.
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As Selina lies in the snow after being thrown from a building, there is a cold and harsh atmosphere as many cats surround her and nibble on her hands. The bright red colour of her blood that Burton uses is a contrast to the colour of the rest of the scene, such as the grey buildings and white snow. It stands out very noticeably and is therefore more striking to the audience, creating an even greater sense of unease. As Selina enters her apartment it is clear to the audience that she is not in a sound state of mind. Selina starts to knock things over violently in her home and she starts to shred away any evidence of the woman she used to be. There is a clear sense of irony in terms of the mise-en-scène in this scene. All of the walls in her apartment are painted pink. This gives off a sense of girlishness and innocence. These are characteristics of Selina’s that will no longer be relevant to her personality. The grotesque walls and numerous stuffed toys are effective visual devices used by Tim Burton as a method of narrative. This particular use of mise-en-scène allows the audience to see Selina’s old personality and her naivety before it is all stripped away. The fact that Tim Burton chose to create a feminine and controlled setting for Selina’s apartment makes her deterioration a lot more effective. Her violent behaviour and the use of props, for example, when she dishevels her stuffed toys with a kitchen knife, is a premonition of her violent behaviour which is to come. The use of this prop makes the scene a lot more shocking. Cat imagery is very evident in this scene. Not only does Selina’s home become invaded by alley cats, but she also adopts the characteristics of a cat as she pours milk into her mouth carelessly and licks her lips in an animalistic manner. This truly shows her changing state of mind as the ‘old’ Selina would never behave in this way. The use of contrasting colours in this scene is also very evident. Burton chooses to contrast the girlishly pink walls with black paint which is frantically sprayed along them by a manic Selina. Through his use of visual styles and the new setting of Selina’s apartment, Tim Burton has created an evil, sinister and vengeful atmosphere which coincides with Selina’s creation of the evil, sinister and vengeful character, Catwoman.
The lighting at the beginning of this scene, as Selina lies in the snow, is low-key and Tim Burton creates a lot of shadows, which are very reflective of his expressionist influences. Like the beginning of the scene, the lighting is also low-key in Selina’s apartment. During some of the frames in this scene the lighting is placed beneath Selina’s face, creating shadows which give off a sense of insincerity. There are large shadows as she charges about her apartment trashing it piece by piece with exaggerated movements creating a frightening atmosphere. The low-key lighting in this scene is further emphasised when Selina breaks the light bulbs in her home. Here I think Tim Burton is extremely successful in portraying an evil and villainous atmosphere. As she smashes the light bulbs of her neon-lit sign she transforms it from a welcoming message which used to read “Hello There” to an uninviting and menacing message which now reads “Hell Here”. The lighting in this scene becomes even dimmer than before, signifying the completion of Selina’s transformation into Catwoman and unleashing an even more hellish setting.
The editing at the beginning of this scene is very slow paced. As Selina strolls into her apartment in a state of shock there is a continuous long shot. The camera pans and tracks across the apartment, following Selina around. The slow editing evokes a state of calm. As the scene progresses and Selina becomes more and more infuriated the editing becomes a lot more rapid. There are a lot more cuts and there is a greater variety of camera shots. The audience are presented with many unsettling shots from extreme close ups of Selina’s face as she licks her lips frantically to close ups of her stuffed toys in her kitchen sink being destroyed in an act of aggression. These shots are excellent in portraying a sense of panic among the audience. Burton uses point of view shots as Selina begins to construct her Catwoman attire. This makes the audience feel like they are a part of the action and is successful in provoking sympathy and empathy as the audience try to relate to the feelings that Selina is having.
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Much the same as the editing, the sound in the beginning of this scene is a lot more calm and slow paced until the scene reaches its climax and the music becomes a lot more frantic and loud. The use of strings is clear in this scene. The music is very low in volume to begin with and is very high pitched which gives a very eerie tone to it. There is a lot of suspense created and the whining sounds of the strings convey a feeling of tension. There is also diagetic sound in this scene such as the creaking of the door and the cat “meowing”. As Selina destroys her home the music becomes a lot louder and fast paced. The pitch of the music becomes low and threatening. This symbolises Selina’s new found control over her life and foresees the threat that she is about to bring onto the city of Gotham.
Tim Burton uses all elements of film language in this scene and throughout the film effectively to achieve his desired aims and emotions for the audience. In this scene he is very successful in showing a complete alteration from the quiet, reserved character of Selina Kyle to the dominant, sexual and ruthless character of Catwoman.
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