Sunday, December 30, 2007


"I've come home again."

Let me be clear. Tim Burton's film of SWEENEY TODD is magnificent. Funny, terrifying, deeply moving and deeply disgusting. I felt the way I felt when I saw RAN or TITUS or THE GODFATHER PART II or PSYCHO. I felt purged. I felt pity and terror. It is not everybody's cup of tea. It is the absolute cinematic embodiment of My Cup Of Tea. I love every single fucking frame of it.

I'd been dreading this film. I didn't know if Tim Burton had the real chops to make this film what it needs to be: a rip-snorting blood-gushing tear-wrenching High Musical Tragedy Slaughterhouse. Could Burton handle SWEENEY TODD, getting the right balance between Blood and Tears? His films tend to either really really work (EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, ED WOOD) or really really not work (BATMAN, MARS ATTACKS, PLANET OF THE APES) and sometimes both (BATMAN RETURNS, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, SLEEPY HOLLOW). SWEENEY TODD is his least compromised, most assured film to date. And it is also the single finest live action musical film made in, well, at least as long as I can remember.

Burton does what no other filmmaker of the current alleged Musical Renaissance has done: he has put the focus back on the characters, the story, and the songs. When Sweeney Todd sings the heart-rending ballad "My Friends" to his razors, Burton actually allows me to see Johnny Depp sing. And then he does something even more astonishing. He allows me to continue seeing Johnny Depp sing. And then, to cap it all off, he lets me see Johnny Depp sing with Helena Bonham Carter. Two people sing. At the same time. And you can see them both! Singing! Burton keeps the camera in tight, creating an intimacy that is quite simply lacking in the other recent musicals that have gotten so much attention. This is a film, after all, that is set in a series of small, cramped rooms: a barber shop, a pie shop, a basement bakehouse, an insane asylum rather than the series of showbiz stages, imaginary or otherwise, in CHICAGO, DREAMGIRLS, HAIRSPRAY, or PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.

Tim Burton is reminding the world of how to make a musical. There's none of the hyper-caffeinated gonzo MTVwannabe editing and incompetent framing that demolishes the sense and feeling of the songs in CHICAGO (really now, didn't that film look like the work of a blindfolded babboon?), or the fear of singing on display in DREAMGIRLS (where someone beginning to sing is a cue for a cut to a shot of the back of the singer's head) or PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (where the drapes get as much screen time as the actors), or the appalling miscasting that finally sinks HAIRSPRAY. Where these other films make the mistake of laying on the "cinematic" trappings of Attention Deficit Editing and Over-Ornate Camerawork, Burton strips it all down, creating a lean mean musical machine.

That isn't to say that the film is cinematically inert, though. There are plenty of fluorishes, including a wonderful opening credit sequence, a marvelous journey through nocturnal London, spectacularly gory throat slashings, etc. I mean, really, this is Tim Burton after all. Burton, however, knows when to go for broke, and when to back off and let me watch these people do their stuff. There are plenty of small spine-tingling pleasures, among them Sweeney's lovingly careful shaving of the area on Judge Turpin's throat that he is hoping to slash open. Just imagining what Rob Marshall would have done with a song like "Pretty Women" makes me nauseous.

Johnny Depp makes a splendid Sweeney Todd, the only actor I've seen apart from Len Cariou (the Broadway original) to capture the pain behind the rage. Helena Bonham Carter's Mrs. Lovett is a marvel, showing me a woman who grinds corpses into pie filling in one moment and whose eyes fill with tears over the fate of a young boy the very next. Alan Rickman's surprisingly dashing Judge Turpin and Timothy Spall's repellent Beadle Bamford work beautifully. Not the least of the performances comes from the young boy playing Toby, who delivers possibly the most moving "Not While I'm Around" I've ever heard. I hope this film banishes once and for all the complaint that Burton doesn't deal effectively with actors.

I could go on and on and on. I loved it. I'll leave it to you to discover the joys of the color scheme, the art direction and costume design, and all of the other elements I haven't got space to mention, because just when I get something down here a thousand other delights come flooding back to me. I can't wait to see it again. And again. And again.


Anonymous said...

Oh. I guess this means you're going to hate "No Country for Old Men" even more now.

And PLEASE stop using "Chicago" as a symbol of everything evil in the world of cinema: we got the point a long time ago. How many years do we have to hear you gripe that you hated every frame of it and believe the entire cast and crew deserve the death penalty (along with the guy with the buzzing headsets)?

Roscoe said...

We tried to see NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN twice and it was sold out both times.

Well the point I was making was best illustrated by comparing Burton's masterwork with that other film that may now no longer be named. Sorry, but when it comes to sheer cinematic ineptitude, CHICAGO is the standard against which all films must now be measured. I'll try not to bring it up so often.

Pooji said...

Yeah, it may be great, but it's not BLUEBEARD!

Anonymous said...

Pooji, are you telling us you're a closeted Claudette Colbert fan?

Stephen said...

I think your comments are dead-on correct!

I've noticed on YouTude, someone excerpted all the musical numbers from the PBS performance from what '82 with George Hearn and Angela Lansbury. And of course, comparasions with the original show are going to be inevitable. As much I love Angela, I truly believe Helena's performance was a masterpiece. Angela played Mrs. Lovett as a kind of demented Lucille Ball/Raggedy Ann mugging it up all over the place. (I realize that's what actors often do on stage.) Helena manages to be both stalwart and heart-breakingly fragile at the same time. And I agree with you, I never liked "Not While I'm Around"-- especially with La Babs serenading La Babs Jr.- Jason- to it- eck! But the version in the film broke me in two. If any one person deserves to be singled out for an Academy Award, it's H B-C just for the look on her face while the song is being sung.

My only complaint with M. Depp's performance (and really with the film itself) is that he played Sweeney a little too one note(bad pun #1). Hearn played up the black humor beautifully.

Still, it is an amazing feat after 40, 50, 60 years of Hollywood-produced- bloated-excessive-let's-hit-them-over-the-head musicals, to see a director actually trimming the fat (bad pun #2)and thus creating possibly the most haunting musical film EVER made. Okay, well, there's still UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG.

And I walked out of the theater BOTH times thinking that Burton, Depp & Co didn't give a flying, singing fuck whether masses will even go see this movie, let alone love it. Will it win Academy Awards, who knows? My fantasy is of course that it will win Best Picture. Think of the irony-think of what won BP exactly forty years ago!

Still if by some miracle S T does manage to win, what will Hollywood do---- find the another Sondheim piece to film, and of course, fuck it up completely. I can just hear it now in some producer's office:, "Why don't we get Zac Efron and Lindsey Lohan to do 'A Little Night Music', or an all hip-hop version of 'Passion' with Jennifer Hudson and Lud'a'cris. "They all deserve to die, Mrs. Lovett!"

Pooji said...

Pooji, are you telling us you're a closeted Claudette Colbert fan?

No. BLUEBEARD is a cinematic masterpiece staring Richard Burton and Joey Heatherton. Sybil Danning and Raquel Welch also have bit parts in the film.

Roscoe and I first saw it many years ago (it was "Mourning in America"--the Reagan years) on television. Roscoe once gave me the soundtrack album, and I have (naturally) purchased the DVD of the film.

The soundtrack is odd--it sounds like Ennio Morricone was experimenting with duck calls (I kid you not). I need to get a USB turntable so I can get it on my iPod.

To get back to your actual question, I am a fan of Claudette Colbert, but I must admit that I have only seen one performance of hers--IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT. I really should see some of other other films.

Anonymous said...

Pooji: What's all this "Roscoe, Roscoe, Roscoe?" What are you two, lovers?

I was referring to La Colbert in "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" (Lubitsch/1938).

I just got the DVD of her underrated performance in "So Proudly We Hail!" where she comes up against a smokin' Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake in an about-turn role as a suicidal WAC. And, well, OK: I have to admit it: I'm queer for Sonny Tufts.

Pooji said...

Yes, anonymous, I was pretty sure you were referring to some Claudette Colbert film I had never seen, as opposed to the Joey Heatherton masterpiece. SO PROUDLY WE HAIL! sounds interesting; I will have to check it out.

As for me and Roscoe, no we are not lovers, despite having known each other for over 24 years.

And, happy blogging, Roscoe! This topic now has more comments than BIBLEMAN. Am I forgiven for sending you that abomination?

Anonymous said...

Don't get huffy, Pooji: I was riffing on Margo Channing's "Zanuck, Zanuck, Zanuck: what are you two, lovers?" Please tell me you don't need to be told the source of that!

Pooji said...

Hey, anonymous, sorry I missed your last comment. I don't know if you'll ever read this, but here goes....

No problem. I was not getting huffy and apologize if I came off that way. Yes, know who Margo Channing is, and I have seen ALL ABOUT EVE (in a movie theater, no less), but I missed the reference.

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