Saturday, December 29, 2007

Blood, Glorious Blood!

The film version of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway classic, Sweeney Todd: The Demon of Fleet Street, opened this month to great reviews and sparse attendance. It is the sixth collaborative effort between director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp, both of whom tend to see the world from and a uniquely skewed perspective. (Their previous projects have included Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The Corpse Bride.)

Sweeney Todd is the fictional account of a barber (Johnny Depp) whose life is ruined by a conniving judge. The judge had designs on the barber’s wife and young daughter. He shipped the barber overseas to a penal colony for some undisclosed crime, but the ever-resilient barber made his way back to London, years later, as the film begins. There he sets about exacting his revenge by giving “the closest shave you ever had.” The barber very quickly forms a partnership with his downstairs neighbor, Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), a pie maker, and together they are able to create the tastiest meat pies in the city.

The 19th century London of Tim Burton is a visual feast of dark blues and grays liberally punctuated with brilliant blood red bouquets of arterial spray. It is alive with rats, cockroaches, and street urchins scurrying through the fog and hazy illumination of gas street lamps. It is the London of Charles Dickens, only more sinister and macabre.

Johnny Depp gives life to the title character with his usual brilliance, and, in the process, proves to be a surprisingly good singer. Helena Bonham Carter is as cheery and cunning as Depp is diabolical and tragic. Together they infuse dreary London with a twisted sense that any wrong can be set right with a sharp barber’s razor and a good meat grinder. And, if you can turn a nice profit along the way, well, that’s all the better!

Stephen Sondheim is a taste that I have never acquired, but it was well worth sitting through a Sondheim musical to watch Depp and Bonham Carter romp about Burton’s London. Serial killing and inadvertent cannibalism add such a nice touch to the holiday season! Now that the world knows Johnny Depp can sing, perhaps he and Tim Burton will resurrect some other old chestnut next year – Oklahoma!, anyone?

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