Sunday, May 17, 2009
Okay, so I promised a post about Sweeney Todd, so here it is. I thought that I should address exactly why I love such a morbid, macabre musical.
Sweeney Todd started out as a character in a story called The String of Pearls, was made into a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, and was recently made into a major motion picture directed by Tim Burton. You can read the Wikipedia article about it HERE.
The story is about Sweeney Todd, a barber who returns from prison to find his wife dead, and his daughter taken by the nasty Judge Turpin. He swears revenge, opens a barber shop above the meat pie shop of Mrs. Lovett and proceeds to slit the throats of his innocent customers. It gets nastier. Mrs. Lovett, being short of meat for her pies, makes a plan with him. Sweeney cuts the throats, sends the bodies downstairs, where she uses the meat for pies. Her customers, unknowingly gobble up the meat pies. Her shop is a success.
Not pleasant. It is so far from my normal taste (no pun intended), that you are probably wondering why I love this musical/movie so much.
For me, the main reason is the music. All the music is by Stephen Sondheim and it's absolutely breathtaking. The harmonies are so cool, often dissonant (depending on the mood of the piece) and are so much more interesting than the normal pop harmonies often found in musicals. His use of language is brilliant also. For example, in the song, "My Friends", the way he uses consonants in his music is incredible.
The following video is fascinating to watch. It's Stephen Sondheim himself teaching a masterclass on "My Friends". Its about 9:00 long, but worth watching if you are at all interested. What Sondheim says at 0:30 shows his genius. He doesn't just write songs to sound good, he really thinks them through, and every rhythm in the music and consonant in the lyric is important to the mood of the song.
Here is the video.
At 2:25, Sondheim offers another fascinating insight. He says "The reason that there are so many Ss in the beginning of this lyric is because it has a whispered quality When you get to "my friend" which has no Ss, I want to feel a swelling, so thats where you start to come out in a way, it starts to get passionate..."
Interesting eh? And brilliant. (By the way, I don't think the actor singing Sweeney is a particularly good actor in this video, but he has a good voice. The young woman singing Mrs. Lovett is brilliant though.)
Here is a clip from the movie with Johnny Depp (Sweeney) and Helena Bonham Carter (Mrs. Lovett) singing "My Friends". There is nothing scary or violent in this clip (I would rate it G). The song starts at 1:30.
Thats all that I'm going to write concerning the music, but I think think it's absolutely brilliant. One of the best musicals out there. Another thing about it is that you almost don't even notice when the characters break into song because the music is so beautifully woven into the characters and the plot that it just seems so natural.
Now I'd like to write a bit concerning the movie, which came out in December of 2007.
Tim Burton directed it and the cast is headed by Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd, Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, and Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin.
A lot of people really don't like the movie at all. Of course, it's incredibly difficult taking a Broadway musical and turning into a blockbuster film, but I think Tim Burton did a wonderful job of it.
None of the lead actors are professional singers, and that was one of the things that the film was criticized for. Personally, I think Johnny Depp has a great voice in the movie, and the bit of roughness in his voice only adds to the character. Same with Bonham Carter's voice. Sure, the singing isn't perfect, but I think that it would only take away from the characters if they had perfect, pure voices.
Artistically, the film is amazing. In typical Tim Burton style, he creates something that is very visually appealing. The costumes and set is very dark and dreary, almost making it seem like a black and white movie, of course until the blood comes. But even the blood is theatrical and heightened, a bright, fake red that contrasts against the dreary setting. Visually, it's really quite stunning. In fact, it won the Acheivement in Art Direction award at the Oscars. It was also nominated for Best Costume Design.
And of course, the acting is amazing (Depp was nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars).
Just a note: no matter how artistic it is, it is still very graphically violent, so if you are at all sensitive about that sort of thing, you should be warned. There is a lot of blood and violence. It is rated R after all. Just...be warned, and it would probably be a good idea to read the Screenit review before deciding if it is something you want to watch.
The character of Sweeney is very interesting to think about also. Most consider him a villain (he slits the throats of innocent people!), but a lot consider him a tragic, victim character. We see a man who, hurt and treated unjustly, swears revenge on the world (he says "They all deserve to die", a line from one of the songs, "Epiphany").
All in all though, it's an incredible masterpiece of musical theatre, and brings up some good questions about revenge, and some interesting insights on humanity. Oh yeah, and the music is incredible. Have I said that already? If you ever get a chance to see it on stage, or on film, I highly recommend it. But again, I have to stress that it is very violent, and isn't really for the faint of heart. If you feel you don't want to see the movie or the play though (and I can understand that!), definitely check out the music and read a synopsis. The music is really good stuff.
So that's why I like Sweeney Todd. For me, it's not about the violence and the murder, it's about the fascinating plot and and how it is told through some clever writing, and stunning music.
Thanks for reading!