Saturday, January 12, 2008

Shut it!

Went to see a preview screening of Sweeney Todd! at the NFT last night, which included a surprise Q&A with director Tim Burton. Burton explained how he'd cut the three-hour stage version down for the film, losing the big numbers and concentrating on Sweeney's story, at the expense of Judge Turpin and - to a lesser extent - Mrs Lovett.

It's a typically macabre imagining, the 18th century story told in a mythic, Victoriana London sometime after the completion of Tower Bridge (1894, fact fans). Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter are magnificently grotesque, Depp getting very little dialogue and so playing big, expressive eyes in the manner of Peter Lorre. Mrs Lovett is a fantastically devious character, whose dream of a beach holiday is one of the film's many highlights.

The supporting cast - Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen and a number of newcomers - are also really good. The Dr was especially excited by a duet between Rickman and Depp on the subject of pretty women. I suspect that song is still playing in her head.

Yes, this is a musical. The songs help elevate the arch gothery of the thing (though Burton said he's not even sure what goth means). The actors, not known for their singing, are surprisingly accomplished, and for such an over-the-top film, there's an added realism to the way they act the songs rather than project them. Still, for all Sondheim's talents, I can't now recall any of the melodies - not even the one about London being a shithole.

The design is absolutely brilliant, and with the skinny, gaunt figures with shadowed, haunted eyes it's probably the film to look most like Burton's own sketches. The NFT lobby includes some of these drawings, as well as Depp and Bonham-Carter's skinny costumes.

Some people have commented on the bloody violence - which is odd considering it's a film about cannibals. But the lurid scarlet juice that squirts from people's necks is oppulent, Hollywood stuff. Even the Dr managed to cope, and she can be girlishly squeamish. It reminded her of the Technicolor gore of the classic Hammer horrors. It reminded me more of the delimbing of the Black Knight in Mønti Pythøn ik den Hølie Gräilenn. The most shocking death is the one not to be done by the razor.

It's not a film to tell you anything profound or to change the way you see things. It's not a film with a happy ending (Burton doesn't show us what happens to characters we can presume made their escape). But it's sumptuous, funny and gloriously peculiar, and well worth going to see. Bloody good show!

1 comment:

leslie said...

One of my fav musicals. I enjoyed the film, parts were sensation overload, and the singing too of course. Fun for Gothic horror fans everywhere.