January 11th, 2008

PurpleLabyrinth

(no subject)

Sweeney Todd is a great movie. Certainly the best adaptation of a Broadway musical that's been done in decades (maybe ever?). Stage productions always have the layer of artifice between the audience and the play. The ST stage production took that and built upon it, making the stage into a grand cage within which the characters were trapped. Like any good play the production broke through the wall of artifice by being moving and powerful in it's use of artifice. Movies by contrast are by default, realistic. Burton could have opted to break the realism and create a stagy vision as was done in the movie version of Guys and Dolls. He chose the harder and much more satisfying and, for this story, the necessary route of allowing the realism to seep into the bones of the story. London becomes the cage in which everyone is trapped-- the "pit" of the very first sung words of the movie. How does he accommodate the singing, then? That most artificial convention of the stage. One way is by making the songs intimate — either private musings, like Shakespearean asides, or conversations. There are no choruses in this movie and no dances. There is no breaking into song. The singing both in style and presentation seems to well up out of the characters. Burton, though, has another problem. How to keep this from becoming another slasher movie--which, after all, is exactly what it is. There is, of course, the singing itself which is distancing in a way that cannot be entirely ignored. Then there's the makeup. Sweeney and Mrs. Lovette are both just beyond the point of believably real. Not to the point of outlandishness but always exaggerated, almost doll-like versions of people. But his major artifice is the blood which spurts, pours and drips through the film right from the very first credits. It's too red, it's too paint-like. As with the characters, there's always the consciousness of artifice that keeps the gore from becoming more repulsive than the story will stand. Sondheim and Burton were both well aware that this story is melodrama, not tragedy. The triumph of the the film is that despite that, it's tragic.