Friday, January 27, 2017

That Time When Jack Sparrow and Marla Singer Ran a Pie Shop, or Thoughts on Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Essentially Tim Burton’s Les Mis, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) is technically a horror/grand guignol/penny dreadful musical, but without the modern/retro-cool sensibility of, say The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).  Based on the award winning musical by Broadway Living Legend Stephen Sondheim, Tim Burton’s adaptation stars (like you didn’t know) Johnny Depp as the titular homicidal barber, along with the director's then wife Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, singing in a Cockney accent and serving the worst pies in London.
And it is a lovely, painterly film, easily one of Tim Burton’s most spectacular productions in terms of set design, art direction and costumes.  Similar to Sleepy Hollow (1999), but on a much grander scale, Sweeney Todd has a superficial visual presence that is easy to mistake for substance.  For all its talent and undeniable star power, the movie is humorless, lacking in that signature Tim Burton whimsy and oddly passion-less.  Which is ironic, as everyone in the movie is singing.
No one has noticed that Johnny Depp is playing another barber, though this time he’s deliberately cutting people.  Alan Rickman portrays the decadently perverse Judge Turpin, while fellow Harry Potter alum Timothy Spall is the odious Beadle Bamford, Turpin’s henchman.  There’s also Sacha Baron Cohen as Adolfo Pirelli, a rival barber.  Everyone’s performance is adequate, professional, but there’s no soul to this movie, and it ends up being a paint by numbers production, reminiscent of The Phantom of the Opera (2004), which suffered from the same lack of passion.
Heck, even Madonna’s Evita (1996) fares better in comparison.  Johnny Depp talk/sings in Sweeney Todd, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; Rex Harrison did the same in My Fair Lady (1964) and Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen made brilliant careers out of that style. 

Like the modern western, musicals have struggled to find a contemporary audience.  We still love musicals, they’ve just split off into a separate genre and we now call them music videos.  But then again, Sweeney currently has a rating of 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, so clearly, everybody liked it except me.


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).