Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sweeney Todd

by Janine Ashbless

You might have thought that a musical about a 19th Century serial-killer could not be sufficiently sexy to warrant a mention in Lust Bites. But hold on; Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a movie that stars Johnny Depp and Alan Rickman! It's based on a stage musical by Stephen Sondheim! It's directed by Tim Burton! Honestly, I'm coming right now.

Okay, so Sondheim's work tends to be at the highbrow end of musical theatre, but Sweeney Todd is definitely one of his more accessible pieces. Welcome to filthy, dark, vicious London...

There's a hole in the world like a great black pit,
And it's filled with people who are filled with shit,
And the vermin of the world inhabit it...

Depp plays the eponymous barber who was Transported for Life on a trumped-up charge so that the evil Judge Turpin could have his wicked way with the innocent barber's wife. (The rape scene is implied, not depicted.) He sneaks back to London under a false name and sets out to revenge himself on those who destroyed his family. But so twisted is he by despair and pain that this soon turns into a quest to eliminate the entire male population ... one by one.

They all deserve to die
Tell you why, Mrs. Lovett, tell you why
Because in all of the whole human race Mrs. Lovett,
There are two kinds of men and only two:
There's the one staying put in his proper place
And one with his foot in the other one's face.
Look at me, Mrs Lovett! Look at you!
No, we all deserve to die.
Even you, Mrs Lovett!
Even I!

This is Edward Scissorhands Gone Bad.

Having cut his victims' throats in the barber chair, Sweeney and Mrs Lovett dispose of the bodies by baking them into pies for her shop. Mrs Lovett's wares go from being the Worst Pies in London (cockroach seems to be a significant ingredient) to an overnight culinary sensation (allowing us vegetarians to smirk smugly). But Sweeney's thirst for vengeance is so strong he's even prepared to sacrifice his surviving daughter, and finally it destroys him.

This is of course a gleefully grisly film - though nothing like as grotesque as I was expecting from various snippets of pre-release footage. There are plenty of (not particularly realistic) throat-cutting scenes in the second half of the film, but audience sympathy is pinned firmly to the damaged, broken-hearted Sweeney.

Complaints? Only that the Chorus from the stage version of the musical has been eliminated, so there is a slight feeling of Things Missing if you know the original version - and the most memorable song has gone altogether. You'll just have to put up with me singing it from memory:

Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd:
He served a dark and awful God.
So what if none of their souls were saved? –
They went to their Maker impeccably shaved.


Janine Ashbless


Melissa Heywood said...

Ah! This is a film where Johnny Depp is in his prime. He looks so evily sexy in it and he's not a bad singer either (He's kept his Capt Jack voice *Swoon*).

The joy that is Alan Rickman is also a nice bit of eye candy too!

Madeline Moore said...

Johnny Depp can cut my ... hair any day.

Olivia Knight said...

(The rape scene is implied, not depicted.)

In accordance with Black Lace guidelines, naturally...

I can't wait to see this. Did you know Tim Burton is married to Helena Bonham Carter (who's been my heroine since I was about 12 and she appeared in Lady Jane, so all you who only discovered her in Fight Club back off)? I think I'd sell my soul for an invitation to a dinner party. And they have a house just down the river, too; I could punt my way there. Imagine it, Tim, Helena, Johnny, and me lingering around the table, opening another bottle of red wine... No, I haven't written Vanessa out the scene, she's been relegated to checking on the children; and yes, this is the sort of sycophancy for which any right-thinking person should shoot me. I'm off to bang my head on the wall and repeat one hundred times "I will not gormlessly drool over celebrities".

(Actually, my real fantasy? Johnny Depp writes a fan letter to me. I pride myself on being stupefyingly arrogant.)

Olivia Knight said...

P.S. Helena - I'd be even happier with a fan letter from you.
P.P.S. Everyone else - I've admired Johnny since Twenty-one Jumpstreet so I got in there first, too. First come, first serve, right?

I sound like one those band-fan groups where everyone sits around arguing over who's the sincerest/longest-running fan and says stuff like "When this band had ONE fan, man, I was that fan!"

Now, deeply ashamed of my callow self, I shall slink off to the kitchen and nibble oatcakes remorsefully.

Beautiful post, Janine. Thx!

Anonymous said...

I don't even like Johnny Depp paticularly, he's too kind of fey for me - (I don't know if this means Olivia will stop hitting me or start hitting me) - but I just love the look of this film.

And I love filthy stinking London. Oh yes...

Olivia Knight said...

Tilly, Tilly, Tilly, how can you be so shallow? His looks have no bearing on my profound and sincere admiration...

Janine Ashbless said...

I came out of the cinema with a big evil grin on my face! And I'm off to watch a local production of the stageplay next week. I really like musicals, which is a bit naff - I guess the melodrama appeals. (Evita ...Caberet ... Phantom of the Opera ...) Nobody ever accused me of liking my drama understated.

Janine Ashbless said...

Olivia, I agree about Helena Bonham Carter. She soooo cute and has such a wonderful, unique face!

Madeline Moore said...

HBC in Fight Club - 'I haven't fucked like that since Grade school'

Mat - if you like filthy London, you'd love 'The Scarlet Petal and the White'

Anne Tourney said...

I guess it goes along with my nerd fetish that my favorite Johnny Depp movie is Gilbert Grape. He hasn't really done the moody outcast thing in awhile, has he?

This take on Sweeney looks delicious, though. Your review reminds me of a forgotten love of dark musicals, Janine.

angell said...

Haven't seen it yet, but rest assured it is on my list of things that must be done as soon as buckage permits (damn xmas bills :S)

Sexy as hell in the trailers tho - they should call them teasers cuz it sure did that to my hormones.

Dayle A. Dermatis said...

Mmmm...Johnny Depp, Alan Rickman, and Helena Bonham Carter! All that and music and buckets of blood, too!

Amusing trivia: HBC was pregnant during the filming, but because her scenes were filmed out of order, her breasts get smaller throughout the movie...

Kate Pearce said...

Too much blood for me!!

Deanna Ashford said...

Janine I'm a sucker for musicals too. Usually I prefer a stage production to a movie, the atmosphere is so great.However this looks too good to miss. Johnny Depp singing - I have to see it.

By the way if anyone wants to see a musical with sex then go to Avenue Q. Nakedness and sex! Admittedly the sex is between two puppets but it is very entertaining. I love the songs "Everyone's a Little bit Racist" and "The Internet is for Porn".

Janine Ashbless said...

God I want to see Avenue Q - ever since I saw "The Internet is for Porn" done as a World of Warcraft video...