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Tim Burton and German Expressionism

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Jinsoo Kim

on 20 November 2013

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Transcript of Tim Burton and German Expressionism

The Nightmare before Christmas
The movie is about a skeleton named Jack Skellington living in the Halloween town. He is also the Pumpkin King, who is in charge of celebration of Halloween every year. After years and years of celebrating the same thing, he found it boring and wanders off in lament. During his hike he finds Christmas town and decides to celebrate Christmas by taking over Christmas. Later, he realizes his mistake after ruining Christmas and make things right.
This film is a stop motion film, meaning that the film is made by taking pictures of one frame then arrange it for the next frame and taking another picture. It's a crude and tedious method, but we hardly notice it because of almost fluent movement of each characters.
Element of Cinematography and Editing
Mise-en-scene elements
In conclusion, I believe all of these elements show us that this movie is a mix between German Expressionism and Classical Hollywood style. From character movements to lighting, all of these showed signs of styles used during both of those era. Finally, as you saw all those videos, you would notice that this movie is a musical which was popular during Classical Hollywood era. It tells its story mostly though music created by Daniel Elfman.
I want to argue that "The Nightmare Before Christmas" was made from mix of both German Expressionism and Classical Hollywood style.
The characters use very exaggerated movements, meaning they use wide area of movements, which seems almost unnecessary or gratuitous. However, I think it's every important because the movie wants to express non-realism in the Halloween land.
A Clip from the movie
We can see that the obscure movement of characters shows sign of influence from German Expressionism. The same type of movement also gives off the effect of suture and draws our attention away from stop-motion filming technique, so the movie is trying to draw our attention to the story. We can see some traces of invisible style in this film, which was used on Classical Hollywood Era.
But why?
This story is a poem written by Tim Burton long before the film was made. Some of the artwork was already done by Tim Burton as well. The movie wanted to convey a story while showing off its German Expressionism, so I believe that some of the elements from Classical Hollywood era were used.
On the other hand, in Christmas town, the camera moves fast and has lots of cuts to depict Jack's curiosity and joy.
In the Halloween land, the camera movements were slow, so it could show its grim atmosphere. Sometimes, the camera would be tilted to further complement the abstract aspect of the Halloween land.
Overall, the camera stayed on eye-level (exception to some scenes) and there was plenty of editing to show continuity in the movie. The movie hardly broke the 180 degrees rule. These are all the techniques used during Classical Hollywood Era which further strengthens my point.
Christmas Town
The Christmas town also has twisted structures (not as twisted as Halloween land) and curved buildings, but it's very colorful to match the atmosphere.
This movie used miniature settings and puppets instead of computer generated graphics like today. Even though the set was smaller than real-world sets, the crew used full lighting to make this movie. The inanimate puppets and setting looked like it came to life because of the extensive lighting used during the making of this film.
Halloween Land
The Halloween land has twisted buildings and very un-even landscape
The Real World
In the real world, everything is rigid and symmetric. Much like the setting from "Edward, the Scissor Hand". All of these settings are unrealistic and shows sign of non-realism, which is much like the German Expressionism.
This video shows you how Tim Burton and his crew made the movie. (It has 3 parts)
The movie has various lighting used throughout the movie. It used high-contrast lighting and also low contrast lighting (Christmas town). The Oogie Boogie scene is one of the example of using high contrast lighting. However, the lighting still doesn't seem to draw attention to itself as it makes the inanimate puppet more life-like.
Full transcript