Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Legend of The Headless Tipping Point, or Thoughts on Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow

Tim Burton’s last great movie, Sleepy Hollow (1999), a stylish supernatural horror straight out of a 70’s Hammer Film production had the holy trinity of Tim Burton, Johnny Depp and Danny Elfman, though I suppose you could add Disney to that mix and make it a quartet.   Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, it’s arguably the most successful adaptation of a cartoon, largely because nobody remembers the 1949 Disney original animated film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mister Toad.
Johnny Depp, in a career-defining role that would lead directly to Jack Sparrow, portrays Ichabod Crane, updated from gentle country schoolteacher to gentle New York constable but also visionary detective employing the new science of deduction.  It’s a quirky yet confident performance full of nervous tics that has a certain level of maturity missing in his later works.  The same can be said for Tim Burton’s direction in this film.
And what a film, Tim Burton’s vision of a gothic 1799 New York full of powdered wigs and pirate shirts and his atmospheric Sleepy Hollow village is perfectly composed.  The cinematography is all cold blues and grays, punched up with subtle digital fog, an excellent use of a new technology without being overt and showing off.  There’s also a surprising amount of gore for Disney and a Tim Burton film, Sleepy Hollow doesn’t shy away from the decapitations.  Though to be fair, it is a movie about Ichabod Crane’s investigation of a series of murders by a headless horseman, whose favorite method of murder involves lopping off heads with a sword.
Christina Ricci, no stranger to the genre with her roles in Casper (1995), The Addams Family (1991), and as an adult in AfterLife (2009), The Gathering (2003) and Cursed (2005), portrays Katrina Van Tassell, the daughter of Baltus Van Tassel and the literal belle of the ball.
The movie is enhanced by the fantastic casting decisions, ranging from Michael Gambon, Dumbledore from that movie about wizards and schools, as Baltus Van Tassel to Casper Van Dien, who you might remember as Rico from Starship Troopers, as Brom Van Brunt.   Martin Landau appears as Peter Van Garrett, (there’s lots of Vans in this movie, like the song says, even old New York, was once New Amsterdam).
There’s also a Christopher Lee cameo as the stern Burgomaster who sends Ichabod Crane to Sleepy Hollow, and Lisa Marie appears as Lady Crane, Ichabod’s mother. Miranda Richardson, who will always be Queenie from Blackadder to me portrays the Lady Van Tassel while Jeffrey Jones, Charles Deetz from Beetlejuice (1988) appears as the Reverend Steenwyck.
Senator Palpatine also makes an appearance, with Ian McDiarmid as Thomas Lang while Richard Griffiths, Uncle Vernon from that show about wizard platforms and the film Withnail and I (1987) plays Magistrate Philipse.  The Hessian mercenary was portrayed by Christopher Walken, who you’ve probably forgotten was Max Schreck in Batman Returns (1992) while Ray Park did the sword fighting for the character, which rounds up all the Star Wars references.
The perfect, seamless production design won Oscars for Costume Design and Art Direction and long time collaborator and costume designer Colleen Atwood crafted Ichabod’s steampunk-y detective goggles, the look that launched a thousand cosplays.  Colleen Atwood has continued to work with Tim Burton, up to and including his most recent movie, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016).
1999 was a seminal year for movies, seeing the release of titles that would change the cinematic landscape including The Matrix, American Beauty, Fight Club, The Blair Witch Project, Star Wars: Episode 1, The Sixth Sense and Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut.  I still maintain that this was Johnny Depp’s and Tim Burton’s last great movie; Planet of the Apes would arrive in 2001 along with Pirates of the Caribbean in 2003.  Both movies would bring popular and commercial success, and send the two down a rosy, indulgent path leading to self-parody and repetitive irrelevance.




my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).