Film:Sweeney Todd

Yes, I’m talking about the 2007 Tim Burton film, and so I’m about 3 years behind the times, but it brought a lot of joy to my MLK weekend and it’s quite an interesting story.

In case you haven’t heard of it, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a musical written in 1979 by Stephen Sondheim. It was  based on a “penny-dreadful” (referring to the price and quality of the writing), The String of Pearls,  published as a serial in 1846 and 1847. Benjamin Barker is a young and prosperous London barber with a beautiful wife, Lucy, and an infant daughter, Johanna. A local magistrate named Turpin becomes infatuated with Lucy and arranges for Barker to be transported for life (to Australia, I’m assuming). Fifteen years later, Barker returns to London under the alias of Sweeney Todd, along with a young sailor named Anthony Hope. Todd returns to his old apartment about Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop to find it abandoned; Mrs. Lovett tells him that Judge Turpin adopted his daughter as his ward, and that Lucy poisoned herself after Turpin raped her. Todd vows revenge, and….

And I’m not saying anything else, because I wish I had seen it without knowing almost the entire plot. I’ll say a few things without significant spoilers, then discuss later parts of the film after a spoiler warning.

First of all, I have only seen the movie, so I can’t say whether it was better than a stage version or not. It is one of the better stage-to-film adaptations I’ve seen of a musical; the visual effects are stunning, even though the setting is very oppressive and gloomy for most of the film. Several songs were cut out of the film, notably “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” (which makes sense in my opinion; I’ve always thought it a bit weird when a bunch of random people in the street burst into song and dance just to give the viewer some extra exposition). The music is stunningly beautiful and awesomely creepy. “My Friends” is superb, and it sums up the tone of the film without giving too much away; I recommend you see it on Youtube or something if you’re not sure this is for you.

Bottom line: see this film, but bring a friend if you’re squeamish so they can tell you when to close your eyes. There is a lot of blood.

Spoiler alert: Now I’m talking about later in the film. A few more things: I noticed that most of the songs that are about the most disturbing aspects of the plot (killing people, Turpin’s lust, cannibalism, etc.) have the most upbeat music (Todd’s part in “Johanna,” “Pretty Women,” and “A Little Priest”, respectively). In contrast, Anthony’s solo “Johanna” is about his love for her, but the music and some of the lyrics are a little creepy (minor and diminished chords combining with “Even now I’m at your window,/I am in the dark beside you”). Is Sondheim saying that even the most sincere people have darkness inside them? Or am I being overanalytical again? That happens a lot. (It should be noted that the musical has more interaction between Anthony and Johanna than the film does; she and Anthony decide to elope, rather than him just showing up to rescue her without any prior verbal communication).

Case in point: “Not While I’m Around.” A duet between Toby (an abused orphan that Mrs. Lovett rescues and puts to work in the pie shop; in the stage musical, he helps grind the meat and bake pies from the beginning, while in the film he only goes down there at the end) and Mrs. Lovett (his mother figure). The song is very sweet; basically, they promise to protect each other and Toby voices his suspicion of Todd. After the song, Mrs. Lovett locks him in the basement with all the corpses, where he goes insane. That is messed up. At the end, Todd and Mrs. Lovett go down to the basement looking for Toby (who is hiding after he saw the corpses). Todd sees the corpse of a beggar woman he killed because she came into his shop acting suspicious, and recognizes her as Lucy. He pretends to forgive Mrs. Lovett, and then throws her in her oven, where she burns to death. Todd goes to cradle Lucy’s body, at which point Toby comes out of hiding and kills him  (“Nothing’s gonna harm you,” remember?). He walks offscreen in the movie; in the stage musical, he goes back to grinding the meat. And that’s the end of the story. There are light and satirical moments in the film, but it’s pretty damn dark. See it with people.

Ok, that’s it for the logorrhea. Sorry that ended up being mostly recap.


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