Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

I have nothing but high praise for the movie Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The music, the imagery, and the acting all came together in a perfect culmination of horror and dark humor. Tim Burton was the right choice to create this piece of art. His is unrivaled in the fine art of cinematic imagery. Once again Johnny Depp delivered a spectacular performance... and who knew he could sing?

This was an adaptation of the play, of which I was fortunate enough to see. Not to belabor the differences of the two media, I would like to compare and contrast a few aspects worthy of note.

The play was an Operetta, so virtually all of the dialogue was sung rather than spoken. I was pleased to find that they kept the score written by Stephen Sondheim and minimized the spoken words. The sophisticated timings of his music create the perfect uneasy feeling necessary for this film. The irregular starts and stops envoke a suspenseful aura around the listener.

The only thing I missed from the origianl score from the play was the main Sweeney Todd them where the chorus chants "The tail is told of Sweeney Todd... the demon barber of fleet.... street." Again, it's all bout the timing.

The play got great acclaim for it's scenery. It was a breathtaking stylized view of old London with scenery wheeled on and off stage via mechanized tracks. This was extremely innovative and revolutionary at the time. Thankfully, Tim Burton stepped up to the challenge by recreating his own version of the dark, dank, smokey old world.

One small detail they skipped which which had a big impact at the end of the play was when the boy emerges from the sewer after seeing the most frightful things imaginable. In the play, he comes up with white hair... which I'm told is actually possible in extreme cases of fear. Burton didn't bother with this, and probably didn't need to... but I liked that touch in the play and I think it could have worked here as well.

It should be mentioned that the film is far more gory than the play. There may have been a spurt of blood at one time in the play, but mostly there was only a thrust of the arm w/ the razor in hand accompanied by dramatic lighting. In the film, there are fairly long shots of open throats with blood gushing from the wounds. Perhaps a bit gratuitous, but it works.

And finally, I want to mention Helena Bonham Carter who plays Mrs. Lovett. While last week I didn't know she existed, she has now officially caught my attention. Apparently I've seen her in many roles before, often playing creepy characters, many of which were in Tim Burton creations. She was the bride in the animated Burton film Corpse Bride, was in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Big Fish among others. But perhaps her most important role is the evil villainess, Bellatrix Lestrange, in the Harry Potter series.

Sweeny Todd rates high on the list of all time greatest movies. It stands on its own and also holds up proudly when compared to the original play.

2 comments:

Matt said...

I respectfully disagree.
You turned me onto Sweeny Todd after seeing it on B'way. I watched the airing on channel 13 with Angela Landbury and the other guy and was blown away.
While Burtons cinematography was excellent, and Johnny Depp is a great actor, I feel he was miscast in this.
He's too young and good looking and he really CAN'T sing. He has no power and while he delivers emotional content his voice is weak. Same goes for Helena...too good looking, too young, but she had a better voice.
Sasha Cohen deserves an award for his role as Sweeny's rival. He was amazing.
The casting really ruined this for me. I kept seeing Johnny Depp with a wig, which was too bad.

SciPunk said...

Fair enough. John Cullum played Sweeney Todd opposite Angela Landsbury. You may remember him from the commercials for Shenandoah.

"This farm don't beeee-long to Virginia...
My sons bleed, but not for the south..."

He's a magnificent singer, while Johnny Depp was adequate. I gave Depp credit for singing because he was better than I thought he would be.