Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Sweeney Todd

This is the perfect time of year for the Missus and I to catch up on our movie-watching. With both of us on vacation, and with both of us having the unspoken desire to avoid working on cleaning out the basement, it’s Movie Week at Chez Elisson.

Yesterday, we caught director Tim Burton’s take on the infamous legend of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Having been longtime fans of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical version - we both saw it in 1979 during its original run at the Uris Theatre - we were not expecting excellence, but were simply hoping for Burton not to have made a ballocks of things. But we were pleasantly surprised. Burton, with the help of his longtime associate Johnny Depp, has created a dark, brooding masterpiece, painted in shades of black, ash grey, and blood scarlet.

I won’t synopsize the plot here for those unfamiliar with it...but I will tell you that this is not a happy little Christmas film for the kiddies. The Broadway production was exceptionally grim and violent; the film, far more so, since the scenes of barbershop throat-slashings are jacked up with cinematic special-effect realism.

It is a tale of fury, hate, and vengeance; it is a love story - no, several love stories; and it is a tragedy. Its doomed, damned protagonist performs the most horrific acts for the most understandable of reasons, and our empathy only serves to increase our sense of horror as events rush headlong to their conclusion.

Depp, in his first singing role, does justice to Sondheim’s eccentric, operatic score. More, he imbues each song with the emotional intensity it demands, a true feat of acting. It would be snarky and unfair to dismiss this movie as “Edward Razorhands”: Burton and Depp are perfectly suited to the material.

I was not as crazy about Helena Bonham Carter, whose voice does not appear to be quite the thing for her part. We were spoiled by having seen Angela Lansbury play Mrs. Lovett on Broadway, you see, and Lansbury owned the role.

Alan Rickman does a star turn as the evil and morally corrupt Judge Turpin; Timothy Spall is perfectly cast as his nasty associate, Beadle Bamford. [Along with Helena Bonham Carter, both Rickman and Spall are Harry Potter film alumni...a piece of Useless Trivia.]

Go see it...and order ketchup on your popcorn. You’ll be glad you did.

I’ll be interested to hear the Mistress of Sarcasm’s take on this movie. We had a copy of the 1982 second touring production on videocassette, taped from the PBS broadcast, and it became a great favorite of the Mistress when she was a toddler...with the violent and/or nasty parts excised, of course. To this day, she calls the show “Sweetie Pie.”

Which only makes sense. There were, after all, pies involved.

No comments: