Archive for January 28, 2008

Quote of the Day: Anyhow…

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on January 28, 2008 by dcairns

Crock of dolls 

‘…and still the New Mother stays in the little cottage, but the windows are closed and the doors are shut and no one knows what the inside looks like. Now and then, when the darkness has fallen, Blue-Eyes and the Turkey creep up near to the home in which they once were so happy and with beating hearts, they watch and listen; sometimes a blinding flash comes through the window and they know it is the light from the New Mother’s glass eyes; or they hear a strange, muffled noise and they know it is the sound of her wooden tail as she drags it along the floor.’

~ The New Mother, from Anyhow Stories by Lucy Lane Clifford, quoted in The Doom Patrol by Grant Morrison.

“Those stories scare the shit out of me and I’m a hard bastard.” ~ General Honey.

Image from STREET OF CROCODILES by the Brothers Quay.

On His Todd

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2008 by dcairns

Sweeney Scissorhands 

So we attended the tale of SWEENEY TODD THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET, Tim Burton version.

On the whole I liked it. The score has a massive amount of sheer OOMPH, the lyrics are spectacular (if you want dance numbers, just watch those words leap to and fro), and I enjoyed the performances, especially Sacha Baron Cohen and Timothy Spall. I was intrigued to see that Johnny Depp’s vocals boast their own producer…a touch of digital pitch-correction going on there, Fiona suggests.

There are a few unfortunate things about the film, and I’m going to dwell on them, I’m afraid. It’s a testament to the strength of the story and score and acting that the film entertains as well as it does, because these problems could really butcher a lesser film.

1) The Look. I think it’s too murky, and this combines with the C.G. backdrops and the theatrically enclosed narrative to make it rather claustrophobic. This might be OK if it’s your kind of thing, but since films with a very C.G. look — like “300” — tend to feel a little stifling no matter how the filmmakers try to open them out and give them sweep, I’d have awarded points to Burton for breathing some air into this.

(Very dark films sometimes look sharper on DVD than on the big screen — Darius Khondji’s most eye-straining work sometimes has this quality. So Dariusz Wolski’s smeary work here may likewise shine on home vid — the stills look much clearer than the movie did when I saw it. Perversely, Wolski’s lensing of DARK CITY was radiant by comparison.)

thru a glass very darkly indeed

2) The Plot. I don’t know the play but I was sure there had been some kind of ineffectual tampering when we got to the aftermath of the climax. I looked it up on Wikipedia and, although I hadn’t guessed the exact nature of the changes, tinkering had indeed taken place and the ending of the original sounded markedly more effective. I can’t go into this without major spoilers, but it’s largely a structural thing. Burton has never had much story sense, tending to favour image over word and missing the Hitchcockian principle of telling stories with pictures. Burton’s images are often stand-alone tableaux or, at most, gags.


Todd spares his daughter’s life for no convincing reason, and then she disappears from the narrative altogether. In the play, the authorities arrive at the end, obviously alerted by her, so at least there’s a pay-off to her survival. The film also soft-pedals young Tobias’ madness at the end, so that his killing Sweeney isn’t quite credible.)


3) The Squeamishness. This might be an odd thing to charge an 18-Rated musical with, but it seemed to me that the makers were rather shy of the whole cannibalism thing. You wouldn’t know, from the mise-en-scene, that there was anything unusual about the pies all those extras were munching. I can sort of understand Burton wanting to hold back on the horrors of the kitchen until they are discovered by little Tobias — except that doesn’t sound like the sort of narrative concern that would even occur to Timbo. It feels like he’s been told he can have his head with the throat-slitting, but could he please hold back on the old anthropophagy? And since that’s what the whole film’s about, it strikes me as an unfortunate area to ellide. When somebody doesn’t actually want to tell the story they’re telling, it never bodes well.

Sheer Barberism

4) The Momentum. The thrust of the story is maintained fairly well, and that’s something that musicals often sacrifice in order to celebrate a moment. But this film has too oppressive a milieuto really get away with that, so it needs to drive forward, from a bad situation to a worse: without shark-like constant forward motion, the audience isn’t going to want to hang about waiting for the next sordid crisis. The sequence which damages the momentum most is the song “By the Sea,” which doesn’t advance the story at all, but may be absolutely essential as the only scene to admit bright light, blue sky and fresh air into the film. It helps the sense of space even as it damages the sense of time. My theory is that the song may have been necessary on stage to show how Mrs. Lovett feels about Todd, but due to the huge amounts of emotional information conveyed by Helena Bonham-Carter in close-up, it’s redundant several times over in film terms.

5) Alan Rickman. Although he fills his trews prodigiously, Rickman has an unpleasant singing voice and is too predictable a baddie to offer much here, except when Judge Turpin has a sentimental moment. Rickman wisely makes the most of these: it’s unexpected to see how moved Turpin is by Todd’s lie that his ward has “repented” and wants to see him again.

6) Blocking. David Bordwell has argued very coherently that the art of complex blocking in Hollywood films has almost been lost. Characters either “walk and talk” or “stand and deliver” — no longer do they stalk around each other and move from close-up to long-shot and back within a single take. Burton has a reputation as a visual stylist, but he struggles to bring the songs to dramatic life through dynamic movement: shot as if they were dialogue scenes in a very dark episode of Eastenders, the songs feel somewhat squashed. Since this musical doesn’t use dance at all, a choreographic interplay of camera and actor would have been nice — oddly, this is something Burton has often brought to action sequences in other films. He does a bit of his trademark swooping, but that’s a bit overpowering. The Minnelli touch is lacking.

Hair today

7) The deplorable absence of Christopher Lee. It was announced early on that Lee would play a part, but he was later dropped (along with the other ghosts). He would have been the best singer in it. Lee has suggested that his part was cut due to time difficulties: Johnny Depp’s daughter became ill during filming and some shooting days were lost. In which case, one can only sympathise, and admire Depp’s performance even more.

Still, despite my admiration for Johnny and Helena’s work here, I can’t avoid a little thought experiment, as to who could have been cast if the film had been rushed into production in 1979, after the play’s premiere…


SWEENEY TODD: the British horror version

demon in need of barber

Director: Piers Haggard. His experience with the BBC period musical Pennies From Heaven and the Tigon horror BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW makes him a fitting choice. and his lovely and talented daughter Daisy would have been just the right age to play the baby Johanna. (Daisy, who always cries at the end of KING KONG because the big gorilla reminds her of her dad.)

SWEENEY TODD: Christopher Lee.

MRS. NELLIE LOVETT: Barbara Steele.


JOHANNA: Britt Ekland, dubbed by Annie Ross.

TOBIAS RAGG: Dexter Fletcher.

JUDGE TURPIN: Peter Cushing.

BEADLE BAMFORD: Donald Pleasence.

BEGGAR WOMAN: Sheila Keith.

ADOLFO PIRELLI: Vincent Price.

Hmmm, I can’t quite decide which version I’d rather see. With my usual perversity, I think I’ll plump for the one that doesn’t exist.

Euphoria #30: I trust the sight of the young people refreshes you

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , on January 28, 2008 by dcairns

ringstone round 

On Saturday night Fiona and I went to see SWEENEY TODD THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET with our friends Ali and David, and naturally I pumped them for suggestions for the blog here. This is Ali’s excellent proposal for a moment of cinema that warms the cockles and releases endorphins (which are stored in your cockles and released by heat).

THE WICKER MAN is still one of the few Scottish films that Scottish people like. Because it’s actually unusual, intelligent and entertaining, I suppose (there’s no accounting for taste). Those in charge of promoting Scottish cinema have, in their wisdom, chosen to concentrate on making dull, depressing and anti-cinematic films, so it’s no wonder that Robin Hardy, director of this little classic, has struggled to find funding for a WICKER MAN follow-up.

Of course, THE WICKER MAN is an English production set and filmed here, rather than an indigenous film. As such, it’s part of a small group of foreign portrayals of Scotland that Scots actually like. WHISKY GALORE and LOCAL HERO have Scottish or part-Scottish directors. The success of BRAVEHEART here testifies to our healthy population of patriotic idiots.

A lot of people have been inspired by this film over the years. Jonathan Ross credits Britt Ekland’s performance for “helping me through those difficult teenage years.” Ewen McGregor can be seen watching it in SHALLOW GRAVE, and chortling, the way all Scots instinctively do when a policeman is immolated. For those of us in the film industry, it’s a monument to the principle that the words Scottish and Cinema CAN go together.

Ali is a brilliant costume designer:

send in the clowns

She’s dressed WICKER MAN star Christopher Lee in GREYFRIAR’S BOBBY, and was recently chatting to Robin Hardy about COWBOYS FOR CHRIST, his follow-up to TWM. She found him fun and extremely energetic — which he’ll need to be.

But her reason for picking this moment is the perfect encapsulation of the Cinema Euphoria Credo — it makes her happy.