Tim Burton – 64 Years Old | Why ‘Sweeney Todd’ Is One of the Iconic Director’s Best Films
In the mid-1840s, the tale ‘The String of Pearls’ introduced to the world one of the most bizarre and terrifying characters of recent times: Sweeney Todd, an insane and troubled barber who, in collusion with a simple pie shop owner, murdered countless names of high society to at the same time satisfy a desire to long-grown revenge and roasting little meat “delights” to sell to the London community – and worse: becoming a huge success for its unparalleled flavor. And of course, such a macabre story would draw the attention of countless artists, especially playwrights. Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheimwho took this narrative to the stage and managed to bring comic, tragic and lyrical elements to an essentially morbid scope.
Put all these elements next to each other and think of a name that could readapt such a tale once again, but this time for the theaters. Perhaps there was no more qualified name than that of Tim Burton to provide a unique perspective and memorable rendition for such a piece, yet its filmic history has been marked by ups and downs. The big problem would be knowing how to mix comedy and drama so as not to turn the feature into a trash product or something too caricature to be taken seriously, since the background brings an almost animalistic desire to rescue what it once was. lost and pay in the same coin a life unraveled by trauma and pain.
Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carteras is to be expected for a film by the filmmaker, came together once again for an incredible and satisfying combination in the cinematic retelling of ‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street‘. Depp plays the title character, formerly known as Benjamin Barker, who, after being sentenced without charges or any sense of justice, spends fifteen years serving his sentence and then returns to his hometown fueled by growing hatred. After arriving at the port of the gray metropolis, taken by a dense and mysterious mist that spreads through all its streets, he realizes that he has nothing can and definitely nothing to lose – and it is through his vague wanderings that he meets Mrs. Lovett, an unsuccessful “businesswoman” who tries to survive day after day.
The two characters maintain a level of similarity and difference that is almost intrinsic to their personalities: although opposite, their ambitions are similar if we think that they want to achieve success in what they do best as they take revenge on an unfair system that puts them on the margins of society. His scenic constructions are based on a monochromatic mix between black and white, including very whitish faces and sunken eyes, highlighted by a morbid make-up that works throughout the feature film; even so, the rough garments still seek a little sparkle by being adorned with some reddish tones that are flashy and purposefully draw attention to a possible change of status quo.
Lovett sees immense poetry in Todd’s unbridled revenge, and uses it to start worshiping him more for his own benefit than selflessly. She understands his need not to sit still after years of helplessness and imprisonment, and such fiendish flames rekindle even more when she tells him that his ex-wife Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly) became insane and died, while her daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener) became the protégé of the same man responsible for arresting him, Judge Turpin (incarnated by an engaging and heartbreaking performance by the veteran Alan Rickman). But for that, you need to develop a solid plan and not just act on impulse – and this is precisely where both figures manage to complement each other.
Burton manages to capture all the essence of the tale and transform it into a memorable and applaudable retelling, mainly by opting for very fluid filmic sequences that complement themselves with the constant progress of London. In addition, moving away from the aesthetics of “filmed theater”, he is not restricted to formulaic conceptions such as shot-back, but is daring with his ability to create unconventional frameworks for such a story. We can draw some parallels with his earlier works, including ‘Ed Wood‘, but here everything is undeniably tied to the same identity as the works presented at the Grand Gouignol, a legendary stage renowned for bringing an exacerbated naturalism to the public. Therefore, it is natural that we see almost eschatological constructions, permeated by a frightening amount of blood, guts and brains.
As with all good works, we have the well-structured comic escape that is usually presented at the beginning of the second act. Adolfo Pirelli (Sacha Baron Cohen) is the typical ham and deceiver who uses the hopelessness of the English community to promise them miracles – in this case the cure for men’s baldness, in addition to working as a barber so skilled that he was called to work with the Pope himself. It is therefore up to Todd to unmask this cunning thief in a very well choreographed “battle” that has a hilarious and unexpected outcome – which leads the circus man to visit him with ulterior motives and trigger a plan that would not be noticed by anyone. . After an unusual attack of violence, Todd ends up murdering him and Lovett has the brilliant and horrendous idea of reusing him in his meat pies – after all, the crisis must be faced somehow, right? The price of meat is growing exponentially, and she needs to keep the business going somehow.
Despite the tense and dangerous environment, this feature film is an incredible musical. John Logan (who would gain even more fame with his surrender to terror with the series ‘Penny Dreadful‘) is responsible for adapting the play and even if he doesn’t bring all the amazing songs, he gives himself body and soul to reread them within a satisfactory scope. From the smooth ballads like “Johanna” and “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You”passing through the iconoclast “There’s No Place Like London” and finding its climax with one of the film’s most memorable songs, titled “A Little Priest”, it is incredible to note how the screenwriter manages to create small scenic nuclei that function within their own completeness both in isolation and in juxtaposition; in other words, the sequenced blocks seek an unspeakable mastery and that, in large part, find maximum use.
One of the archetypes explored by Burton and Logan – and which perhaps works a little better in the adaptation than in the play – is that of innocence: Toby’s childish naivete (Ed Sanders) collaborates for the audience to enter an even deeper cathartic state, especially if we take into account its outcome. The boy is adopted by Todd and Lovett, becoming a kind of son and helper for the baker, in addition to nurturing a great affection for his protector. Such reciprocity is called into question when she realizes that the boy is smarter than he appears and will eventually become a threat to her plan.
‘Sweeney Todd‘ is not a simple smug narrative that seeks the nothing within nowhere; is a literally visceral story that values the exacerbated imagery, whether in the framing in close-ups that clearly show the moment of the murders, or in the choices of the color palette, including a vivid contrast between neutral colors and the redness of blood that practically takes over the scene.
This is perhaps one of Burton’s finest works, and one of the few that actually demonstrates a bit of versatility without forcing him to abandon his affections. His perspective is not affected or loaded with artificiality, but moves in a very fluid way and surrenders to a new aspect to be explored much more than it appears.
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