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April 02 2008

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" released on DVD yesterday. Starring Johnny Depp and featuring a cameo appearance by our very own Anthony Head.

I still need to see the end of this. When I went to see it at the movies, the theater lost power with only a half hour left. :(
The only good part of that movie was the cameo by Anthony Steward Head and competition between the two barbers at the beginning.

Not sure why this was given so much praise besides the fact that it looked beautiful. I think thats all it had though.
You missed some of the other good parts. Immaculate music by Stephen Sondheim, a perfect performance by Johnny Depp (on an acting level, even if his voice doesn't hold a candle to Len Cariou), and the fact that it's the best film adaptation of a musical since West Side Story. The film's "By The Sea" was even better than the stage versions, and that's rare. I did miss the Ballad (which ASH was meant to sing for).

I wonder what Joss thought of it? I seem to remember reading somewhere that he's a Sondheim fan. For my own part, upon walking out of the cinema the first thing I said was "Tim Burton now has my permission to do Assassins."
Does anyone know if ASH has more screen time via the DVD release's bonus features?

If so... please report!
Tim Burton has my permission to STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM SONDHEIM MUSICALS. Kthnxbye!

Um, but seriously... it's nothing like the best musical to film adaptation since anything. It looks gorgeous, but Sondheim's music is so compromised - to the detriment of the larger story, that it's like Sondheim-lite. The musical itself is so operatic... and Burton's film really isn't.

The acting is great, but the singing leaves a lot to be desired. And that robs the work of so much of its power. There are songs missing and plots reduced... and SO MUCH BLOOD it's gratuitous.

Given that, it's not a terrible adaptation, but it doesn't give me faith that Burton could or should do another musical - least of all a Sondheim, which really deserves its music to be treated better. Particularly "Assassins" which should not be Burtonesque at all.

I asked Joss (when I met him once and between the babbling I also did) what his favourite Sondheim show was. He said "Sweeney Todd, though that can change." I imagine - since he saw the Original Broadway Cast perform it - that he's not a big fan of the film.
"Does anyone know if ASH has more screen time via the DVD release's bonus features?".

He's not in the DVD extras anywhere that I saw. I checked in hopes of a deleted scene or two, but nothing.
I'm kind of glad ASH's part got reduced--I have a feeling the rest of it would have involved his throat getting cut. I don't really want to see that.
Sweeney was just like other Burton films...beautiful to look at...but somehow afraid to "go there" emotionally. He also took out much of the comedy--which I think leaves the film somewhat flat. I was squeeing when I saw ASH though. Nothing thrills me more than Sondheim with a dash of Buffy...alum. Joss said he may be interested in bringing some Buffy-related story to Broadway. I'd LOVE to hear what he has in mind. I honestly can't imagine!
Buffyactsing, I thought the exact opposite of Sweeney Todd: Finally! A Burton movie that does "go there" emotionally!

Gone are the beautiful but artifical sets, gone is the plasticity, gone is the pointless quirk!

I thought it was a powerful film, and one of last year's very best. I confess total ignorance of the original Sondheim musical, but I absolutely loved the movie and its soundtrack. I think it's the best thing that both Depp and Burton have ever done.
Good acting by Depp and Carter. On the singing... well, the original cast was Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury. Hard to top that.

Apparently Sondheim was consulted on this, but I'm not convinced Burton consulted him enough.

I might check out the ASH stuff when my friends get it on DVD, though.
I loved this movie. I can't really make an informed comment on the differences between the stage version and the film, as I've yet to see the stage version. However, I just watched an interview with Sondheim, who was apparently present at the recording sessions and sanctioned the cuts, in which he states that the film is specifically meant to be different from the stage version. I can't remember his exact phrasing, but he does mention that he thinks fans of the stage musical need to completely leave the stage musical behind, when viewing the film. Perhaps not a bad tip...
Well, he was more than consulted - he scored the film, approved the casting, etc.

From the Deadbolt Sondheim Interview:

"...if Tim or Logan said to me, 'Could we get from this point to that point more quickly?' I’d find a way of compressing or omitting or aligning, so that it would still maintain the shape of a song - of the song - without having to... I could give you numerous examples. There’s a whole middle section of Green Finch and lin, Linnet Bird which is cut. There’s a whole middle section of Little Priest which is cut. But unless you know the score, you wouldn’t know it. I like to think you wouldn’t know that anything was cut. I might be wrong, but I think you wouldn’t know. And I’ll bet a lot of people who only know the score superficially will not notice those elisions. But those are the things I worked out so the movie could be told swiftly."

I find myself in the very odd position of disagreeing with Mr. Sondheim himself about the success of the music and other cutting done in this movie - while it was beautiful to look upon, and Depp and some others acted it most wonderfully, I felt like its very heart had been ripped out in the film. (In this I disagree with most of my actor friends, who loved it.) I saw the B'way version with Cariou and Lansbury, and it was chilling. This felt merely pretty and gorey and sorta petulant.

I read a Sondheim interview somewhere in which he said that as he was about to see the finished film, he turned to Tim Burton and asked nervously, "Am I going to like this, Tim?" So even after being fairly involved, he still had some major concerns - I don't recall if they printed Tim's answer, nor if Mr. Sondheim ultimately felt as if the film bore out his vision... but I don't think it did. I don't think Mr. Burton's storytelling holds a candle to Stephen Sondheim's, even on a bad day...

Here's a bunch of related Sondheim interviews:

Stage and Screen online

(Not an interview, but A.V. Club's great review of Sondheim's career.)

A Sondheimian red carpet interview

The Sondheim Society

(In case you've not seen it, you must read this 2005 report of a panel ("Sondheim and American Popular Culture") that has Joss with Stephen (among others) in Comics in Context: Gone With the Steam.

"Whedon said that claiming his work is like Sondheim's would be like saying he wrote like Shakespeare because 'he's real good.' ")

I disagree, but I can, 'cause I'm not Joss, and I don't hafta be humble for him.
Well, I didn't see the stage musical and I still am not all that fond of Sweeny Todd. I love Johnny and I think he's an amazing actor that should check in with Joss because he will use that talent to the last drop (maybe have him and James on the same screen), but I didn't think the movie lived up to all that hype. Or anywhere near it. It was okay. I found it lacking though and maybe that's my fault, I don't know, I just felt some scenes and plots were rushed without much explanation. Or something ;)
Thanks for the linkage, QuoterGal. That AV Club article looks detailed. But I agree with you, this film is missing a lot of its heart - and some of its comedy, too. I really hate how Burton directed "A Little Priest" - being so overly literal with it. The stage show is one of the greats of the modern era and seeing it on stage is one of the best nights of musical theatre I have ever attended. Burton's film does not capture the majesty of Sondheim's work.

Try to compare Joss and Sondheim? Almost impossible. But I think Joss has done for television what Sondheim has done with the stage - taken some of its component parts and put it back together in ways that are deceptive: it looks simple, but it has layers; it looks like a comedy, but it's a heart-rending drama.
Not a big fan of musicals (AFAIK i've never seen one on stage) and I didn't expect this to be quite as much of a musical as it was but having heard great things about Sondheim I was expecting at least spectacularly witty lyrics that were funny and revealing and resonant while still being great poetry and, well, they just weren't IMO (to be honest, I was basically expecting OMWF on steroids and it didn't really deliver for me).

Everything was OK, the acting was decent, the set design was great, the singing was fine, the gore was disturbing enough but I just didn't connect with the story or characters, I really felt like we didn't see enough of Sweeney as Ben to find him at all sympathetic and without liking him to begin with IMO we lost the tragedy of his fall.

(as you'd expect with Burton though, it was often beautiful to look at, especially the only bit I really enjoyed, the "family" picnic, where Burton's skill with off-kilter imagery really worked with the film)
Wait... Ben is Sweeney?
Sondhiem liked the movie...
Sondheim was being nice, if he said that.

Saje, I think the problem is that the lyrics are often obscured in the movie - or cut. The loss of the Ballad of Sweeney Todd from the start of the movie hampers it a lot more than you might imagine for a song that basically introduces the play. Also the Beggar Woman should be in the song "No Place Like London" - but she now turns up later, which means she comes out of nowhere a bit.

Some of the film is directed/sung so that you can't understand the lyrics. I know the score and was still having trouble with some of the things Helena Bonham Carter was singing! So I don't think this film is the one to judge the uber-composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim on.

The Original Broadway Cast of Sweeney Todd is out on DVD. As are his other masterworks Into the Woods and Sunday in the Park with George. I recommend Into the Woods to everyone, because it's easily the most accessible of his greatest works - but it's also devastatingly emotional. I think Joss' work is closest to Into the Woods - fairytales with big emotion.
That's the one Joss named the Buffy episode after, yeah ? Are they similar thematically ?

It's a fair point actually, the mixing was sometimes so off that you couldn't hear the songs properly (or rather, you were straining to hear them and so possibly couldn't fully appreciate them) so maybe I should track down a stage performance on DVD (or CD) and give it another chance.

Don't mind saying I was a bit disappointed after the lavish praise Joss (and folk on here) had heaped on Sondheim but maybe the fault wasn't with him.
Sondheim was being nice, if he said that.

I've never known Sondheim to say something positive just to be nice. I associate him more with being extremely picayune when tearing apart someone's work.

I've seen Sweeney Todd on stage in Philly where the singer playing Sweeney was a technically perfect singer, but his acting was so tepid it detracted from the show (and this guy was the director and believed he shat gold). Johnny Depp was far superior, because in his delivery, you could see aspects of his character that weren't there with Mr. Goldenvoice.
I really enjoyed this film but have not had the pleasure of seeing the stage version. I learned with Phantom of the Opera that some things can change dramatically from stage to screen but the end result can still be enjoyable but in a different way.
Stephen Sondheim said something like, Burton translated Sweeney Todd, a musical, into a well crafted movie that happened to have singing in it.
That might not be what he said though... but it was close to that...
Right, Sondheim has always preferred actors who can sing to singers who can act, and the preformances in this film were all excellent. I also would recommend the original cast recording over the DVD, because Len Cariou defines the role. George Hearn (who is Sweeney on the DVD) just kind of plays it.

As far as missing the Ballad goes, while I don't like it I understand it. A chorus piece works on stage, but not in a film. They're different mediums, and I think Burton did a splendid job translating this piece to film. The heart of the story is still there, no matter what little details were changed. And this isn't coming from some Burton fanboy, either. The only other movie of his that I like is Ed Wood.
That's the one Joss named the Buffy episode after, yeah ? Are they similar thematically ?

Um, no - not in the slightest. I wasn't even sure the title choice was an homage because the things are so different.

I learned with Phantom of the Opera that some things can change dramatically from stage to screen but the end result can still be enjoyable but in a different way.

What I learned from Phantom of the Opera is - just because it's really, really popular doesn't mean it's good at all. Andrew Lloyd Webber is like the anti-Sondheim - simplistic melodies for simplistic shows. His lyricists are dull, too.

Stephen Sondheim said something like, Burton translated Sweeney Todd, a musical, into a well crafted movie that happened to have singing in it.

Yes, so that's a back-handed compliment if ever I read one. Since Sweeney Todd is a musical first and foremost - a "film with singing" is, well, it might as well be The Blues Brothers.

Given the story of Sweeney Todd isn't original to the musical, just because Burton has made a decent film of the story, doesn't mean it's done a service to Sondheim's musical.
What Sondheim most likely meant was that it wasn't like a musical in that the characters weren't obviously performing for the audience and it wasn't shot like a musical. Unlike most musicals I can think of there were a lot of close ups and it was hard to predict when the characters would start singing.

Wikipedia says about musical movies,

"Musical films characteristically contain elements reminiscent of theater; performers often treat their song and dance numbers as if there is a live audience watching. In a sense, the viewer becomes the deictic audience, as the performer looks directly into the camera and performs to it."

Sweeney Todd was nothing like that. And that is not a bad thing.
Oh, absolutely xerox - there is a veracity to the film that some film musicals lack, but the better musical-to-film adaptations always do strive to be good films. That doesn't excuse it for compromising the musical score or reducing some of the drama, simply to fit in more gushing blood.
I really don't believe the musical score was compromised, honestly. Sondheim oversaw the entire rewrite, as QuoterGal noted upthread, and in the companion book to the film John Logan says that many of the changes instigated came about in response to things that had been bothering Sondheim for a while. They were changes he wanted to make, in other words, not something that was necessary dictated by Tim Burton.

Sondheim's play is a theatrical masterwork, but as he notes in one of the Special Edition segments, the stage and film versions should be viewed as separate entities, each with their own respective strengths. I'm used to the Cariou/Lansbury cast recording and did note the absence of certain songs, but I have to say that I love the film and think Burton and Co. did a brilliant job adapting it for the big screen. I felt the cuts and plot alterations were true to the sensibility of the play -- succeeding in tightening the structure very successfully for effective translation to a vastly different medium -- without diminishing its overall effect. The tone of the film was darker, with less overt humor, but to me, that's the difference between stage and screen. You can't get that same immediacy of connection with an audience unless you're in a live environment, so playing scenes for laughs to an invisible audience would have fallen flat. I think Burton was wise to tailor his vision to suit the strengths of film, not the stage, and actually, what resulted counts as his most understated directorial effort. It's a beautifully realized piece of art, a distinct hybrid form of musical/horror/drama that will become, I bet, a touchstone for any future musicals striving for a more naturalistic approach.

Consider, too, that Burton and Depp's love of old silent black-and-white films and melodramatic Hammer horror flicks of the '60's and '70's informed the film's starkly stylized look; they wanted to emulate that creepy, "B" movie atmosphere while centering the focus onto Sweeney and harkening back to the character's mythological/historical roots. The blood, while being so copious, was never ancillary to the plot -- it's nothing less than essential. The story is of a murderer and his accomplice, but more, it's about a wronged man's tragic descent into self-destruction. I saw the blood as a metaphor for that, a visual expression of Sweeney's inarticulate suffering, and as such I found it not excessive, but pretty cathartic. And then aside from the sheer gorgeousness of the production, I thought Johnny Depp created a fabulously understated but memorable (and poignant) Sweeney, bringing a unique perspective to the role (which added even more dimension to the original, at least for me, when I went back and reread the libretto of the Broadway play).

After enjoying ST four times in the theater (once for the whole effect, once for detail, and twice again to experience pure immersion in the glories of the music), then again this week after getting the DVD, I realize it's going to be one of those few films I'll rewatch with pleasure again and again because it's got so many levels. I'd definitely urge people who haven't seen it, but might be hesitating -- because they either hate musicals, or love the stage version exclusively -- to do as Sondheim suggests on the DVD and go in with a fresh mind. It's Burton's best work so far, and a milestone in the film musical canon.
Saje, in my experience, hype and expectation can destroy any experience. That is why I try to be reserved when recommending things. That said, Sondheim has written some amazing stuff. Unfortunately, because of the subject matter of Sweeny Todd, I never saw it on stage, though all my friends saw the original and loved it. I also have not seen the movie for the same reason.

I love Sondheim's more subtle shows like Company and A Little Night Music as well as the others mentioned above. What I think Sondheim does so wonderfully is to examine how the negative and confused portions of human beings affect their relationships. Much of the time he includes male a female societal roles as a big part of the equation with a huge dollop of satire to bind it all together. He also has a wicked and cutting sense of humor.

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