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Sweeney Scissorhands

December 24, 2007

More often than not, I await a particular movie, play, art exhibition, book etc. with great anticipation only to find myself disappointed by the experience. I wish I could distance myself from the hype, but it's difficult to do this when the media is constantly bombarding you with stuff about how great a work of art is going to be.

In an effort to maintain a bit of distance between myself and the spin-machine, I purposefully decided to ignore all reviews and other buzz surrounding Tim Burton's new film adaptation of Sweeney Todd starring Johnny Depp as the fabled "Demon Barber of Fleet Street." I love Sondheim's musical. I also hold Depp in high regard as an actor. I wanted to make sure that I didn't have the same experience as I did with the Burton/Depp Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sleepy Hollow, which both turned out to be less enjoyable than I'd hoped.

I think my decision was a good one, because I had a great time at Sweeney Todd. Once I'd gotten over the initial shock that comes with watching a musical (why are they singing? that's weird) and the auxilliary shock of hearing Deppn singing (he has quite a decent tenor) I got thoroughly stuck in. I dug the custard-like blood, Helena Bonham-Carter's perfunctory yet romantic Mrs. Lovett and Sondheim's ever prescient message about the desperate measures people resort to in desperate times. Funny how this theme never goes out of style.

The funny thing about Burton's movies is that once you've seen one of them, you've seen them all. From the brooding, fairytale landscapes to the birds nest hairdos (which make all of his actors look like Robert Smith, lead singer of The Cure) Burton's movies are deeply embossed with the director's aesthetic.

What struck me particularly strongly about Sweeney Todd is its close resemblance in particular to Burton's 1990 film, Edward Scissorhands. The new movie seems to be constantly quoting the old one. I wonder if that was deliberate? Sweeney has razors in his hands, while Edward has scissors. At one point, Depp (who has the same hairdo, darkened eye sockets and white face as he did in the earlier film) even brandishes the open razors like they're extensions of his hands (and says as much). As in Edward Scissorhands, the ingenue in Sweeney Todd is a sweet, blond-haired girl, who's cornered by a bullying, lascivious man. And the set for Edward Scissorhands -- at least the old house in which Edward lives -- is a dead ringer for Burton's reconstruction of Victorian London with its soot-stained chimneys and crumbling Gothic splendor. Both films end with showers, though of a slightly different nature: Instead of spraying snowflakes at the end of the film as a result of his handiwork, Depp as Sweeney sprays blood.

I think the similarities between these two films are worth pointing out because I don't think Burton had made a film as good as Edward Scissorhands until Sweeney Todd came out. It's as if the director has come full circle. Then again, it might be best to ignore me. It's never a good idea to listen to the hype.

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