For this week’s film, I decided to watch Sleepy Hollow, directed by Tim Burton. This film contained many elements of cinematography that reinforced the dark, occult nature of the film. Perhaps the most notable uses of cinematography in the film included the lighting techniques, traveling matte techniques, the size of shot, and forced perspective.
The lighting techniques used in this film immediately alerted the viewer that something wasn’t quite right in the town of Sleepy Hollow. When Ichabod Crane arrived in the small town, the lighting in the town was gloomy, yet it was contrasted with a glowing white church. This conveyed a hauntingly mysterious tone for the film, and it worked well with the theme of religion vs. the occult vs. reason, which was a big part of the story.
In addition, most of the film was shot with very low-key lighting, especially in the scenes that took place inside of the various homes or out in the forest. In contrast, when Ichabod Crane was dreaming of his mother, the scenes were filled with high-key lighting that brought out rich colors. This also gave the viewer a glimpse of the major theme in the film: witchcraft and the occult, which was the method used to summon the Headless Horseman.
Furthermore, when Ichabod first met Katrina in the house, she was brightly illuminated (likely with high-key, three-point lighting). This made her stand out from the surrounding group. Johnny Depp (Ichabod Crane) also had shadows cast on his face in various scenes, which was likely the result of the low-key, three-point lighting.
Aside from lighting, traveling matte techniques were likely used in the scenes of the carriage rides and horseback riding. Throughout these scenes, movement in the background was likely pasted into the scene to make it appear as if they were really riding quickly. Another example of a matte technique was when Ichabod Crane was dreaming of his mother. In those scenes, his mother was floating in the air with dandelions and snow floating around her.
Besides the lighting, different sizes of shots were used to highlight different scenes in the film. Most of Ichabod’s conversations took place with medium shots. Long shots were used to show the eerie nature of the forest. Close-ups and extreme close-ups were used when the Headless Horseman finally retrieved his head, and it emphasized his jagged teeth and ghoulish face.
Finally, forced perspective techniques were used in this film to exaggerate the size or location of objects. The main example of forced perspective was the viewer’s perception of the windmill’s size. According to the website Nightmare by Design, the production designer “built a 60-foot-tall forced-perspective exterior (visible to highway travelers miles away), a base and rooftop set and a quarter-scale miniature.” This small-scale objected was filmed in a way so as to make it appear larger.
All of these cinematography elements came together to create a visually artistic film that explored the relationship between religion, science, and the occult. Overall, I found this to be an entertaining but slightly bizarre film, and it had many stylistic similarities with Burton’s other films, such as Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice.