Taking the blood out of the barbershop

After last week’s instalment turned out quite a bit longer than expected (a bit like the wait for Max Payne 3, in fact), here is a shorter tidbit – which, apparently, should be spelled “titbit”, but that sounds too much like a snack or breakfast cereal for sex-obsessed psychopaths to me. I’ll be on holiday next week, so I’ve got a good excuse for the next post to be a couple of weeks away, but in the meantime…

I used to consider myself a Tim Burton fan. Around the time when the man made Edward Scissorhands and Batman Returns, his goth-romantic style clicked with me, so much so that I considered his second Batman instalment one of my favourite films. (I still have a great fondness for the movie, but I’m more aware of its flaws at this point.) Then came Mars Attacks!, a perfectly okay half-hour comedy stretched into a feature film, and Sleepy Hollow, which looked like the most gorgeous Tim Burton film ever but felt, well, hollow. Planet of the Apes didn’t have much going for it beyond the make-up and Big Fish angers me with its twee, needy sentimentalism that would give Steven Spielberg a toothache.

Fast-forward to Sweeney Todd. I am not all that much into musicals and had heard of Sondheim but didn’t know him at all. The trailer and stills for Sweeney Todd looked like Sleepy Hollow all over – more so, in fact, with the film’s production design being so Tim Burton, it felt like someone had taken his earlier films, boiled them into a thick, black ooze and used this to paint the sets. When I saw the film at the cinema, mostly for old time’s sake, I was surprised that despite the ultra-Burton look the direction felt… more adult, I’d have to call it. Less of the cartoon exaggeration that Burton had fallen to (and would return to in later films). Even Johnny Depp looked like he was acting rather than simply doing his Depp/Burton spiel.

I’ve just recently rewatched Sweeney Todd, after catching it on stage at the Edinburgh Fringe, and I still consider it to be one of the better of Burton’s recent films, perhaps even the best – yet it is held back by the director’s visual style. Sondheim’s play, for want of a better word, has a certain meatiness. There is a charnelhouse vitality to it, yet in spite of the gallons of gore Burton’s visuals are bloodless. They are designed within an inch of their life. More than that, they make Todd and his accomplice-paramour Mrs. Lovett one of a kind, a sort of Goth His’n’Hers, which hurts especially the pie maker’s characterisation. It’s a shame, really: while I think that Sweeney Todd is proof that Burton still has talent and doesn’t just imitate himself, he also keeps the film from being as good as it could be. And, frankly, while I used to love the typical Burton look, by now it feels less like a style and more like a brand. Predictable, safe, and not a little boring.

P.S.: You know who’d make a very effective Sweeney Todd? Mark Strong. Unfortunately the poor man is typecast and only plays sweet, loveable good guys.

P.P.S.: YouTube is acting up, so instead I went to Vimeo, not expecting to find anything much… except it looks like someone uploaded the entirety of Tim Burton’s film, with Spanish subtitles. Weird, huh? And probably more than just a little legally iffy… Still, while it’s up it’s up, eh?

http://vimeo.com/26811104

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