Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

26 December 2007

Demon Barbers and Little Liars

Brittney and Wahima and I went, the other day, to see Tim Burton's film of Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It's a good Tim Burton film, too, but I don't think much of it as a production of Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim's play. See, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, good actors though they are, just cannot sing the roles for which they are cast.
The result of this lack of singing ability is that the film never really gets off the ground. The really emotional songs seem flat or American Idol-esque in style. The funny songs seem far too serious, and the stuff that's truly insane seems explainable. My favorite song "Epiphany" is almost completely lacking in power.
It's an odd mix. Burton's technique is excellent and his ways of making the play more cinematic sometimes work well. At other times, though, he can't quite imagine directing a musical, and the film gets stuck in that barber shop. Burton has, for instance, cut all of the crowd sequences: "More Hot Pies," the crowd sequence with Pirelli, and my personal favorite, the madhouse stuff where all the inmates sing "rats in the streets" or whatever that song is. I can imagine a couple of very clever ways of doing each of those sequences that film would facilitate rather than hinder, but Burton has decided to cut them out completely. Because of this, the film (paradoxically) seems smaller than stage show, as though London were a city inhabited by only ten or twelve people.
A couple of things work very well, though. Tobias has been recast as a younger boy, about twelve or thirteen, and this choice is great. The young man is instantly loveable and it allows a real relationship to develop between him and Mrs. Lovett. I also really liked the second "Johanna" number, which is one of my favorite songs in the show. The camera follows Antony as he searches for Johanna in the streets, and then cuts back and forth between Sweeney in the barbershop and the beggar woman below. I liked the film alright, I guess, but I would never listen to the soundtrack. Thankfully I can listen to Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury when I get back home.

Today I saw Joe Wright's Atonement and I'm moving it to the top of my list. It's epic, romantic, and powerful. I think it's a good film about the ravages of war, but the romantic plot is an incredibly moving saga. I cannot tell you how many times I cried watching this film, and I know when I see it again I'll probably cry even more. Wright's Pride & Prejudice was a great movie, and it was in my top ten a couple years ago, but Atonement is superb. His skill as a filmmaker should, by now, be evident to everyone. Atonement is subtle, slick and builds slowly and comically, with a sweet, romantic tension. And then the movie shifts and becomes a powerful epic about trying to make a life together amid tragedy. I loved it. Go see it. Bring a handkerchief.