24 August 2007

Sweeney Dud? I hope not, but...


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Over the next several months the hype for Tim Burton's version of Sweeney Todd is going to increase. Were any other director attached to this, the hype machine wouldn't get turned on, but all the Burton freaks of the world are going to be pimping this flick to their utmost. And it is most likely going to suck balls. Big, massive donkey balls. The sort of hairy balls that Benjamin Barker could shave smooth as a novice's knees in the time it takes to whistle a happy tune.

I don't hate Tim Burton, but I think he's got a few problems that make him particularly ill-suited to bring my favorite musical1 to the big screen. Let's count out those problems!

  • He insists on casting the missus in just about everything. Hey, I've got nothing against her, and I thought she was great in Wallace & Grommit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, but Mrs. Lovett? She's no Murder She Wrote.
  • He has a massive man-crush on Johnny Depp2. I know Johnny can sing (at least his bandmates told him so) but at a booming baritone? Maybe that will work out, but I have my doubts right now. Also, honestly, he's too pretty. Anthony, he could play. Todd?
  • Tim Burton hates you. Yes, you. He doesn't give a shit about your hopes, dreams, and childhood pleasures. All he cares about is his vision.
  • Tim Burton hates everyone else. He hates Pierre Boulle and Rod Serling. He hates Frank Miller and Bob Kane. He hates them all. They're all hacks who lack his vision, his brilliance, his panache and style.
  • Tim Burton hates himself. At least, if he had an ounce of sense and taste he would. God knows the sensible among us hate him for all the reasons above.
Hey, what do you know? I do hate Tim-tim!

I've commented on a couple of other blogs about Tim-tim's lack of love for anyone but himself and anything he didn't "put his stamp on". I realized it would be a lot easier for me to just put it all together here and link to it every time I read something about how wonderful Sweeney is going to be by one of Tim-tim's adoring fanatics.

TIM BURTON
Anybody who knows me knows I would never read a comic book.
KEVIN SMITH
Which I guess explains "Batman".

Maybe I'll be wrong this time. Maybe this will be the time that Tim-tim has even the tiniest spark of respect for the source material. Maybe Sondheim's veto powers are broad and sweeping and Tim-tim couldn't steamroll his "vision" onto the screen. Maybe I'll be shocked and amazed by what he brings to screen.

Still, would it have hurt to cast Victor Garber somewhere? I mean, it's nice he gave a wee speck of a role to ASH, who's got quite a solid musical background. But no. It was more important to find space for Sacha Cohen3 than for the original Anthony. Beautiful.

Then again, I'm sure Tim-tim has never listened to any of the cast recordings. Why would he want to muddy up his perfect vision with other, inferior products?

1 That's actually a tough call. It could be Camelot or even Guys and Dolls instead, but I think the multi-layer vocal pieces pull Sweeney ahead by a nose.
2 Honestly, who doesn't? The problem isn't that I don't love the Depp.
3 His cousin does some really good research into autism. I will leave it to the gentle reader to make snarky comments about who inspired him to go into that field.

10 comments:

D. McEwan said...

Okay. Let's start with this fact: SWEENEY TODD is also MY favorite musical, and it's no close call either. It's #1 by a LONG stretch. Sure I like CAMELOT. I was even in a spectacularly fine produciton of it back in 1966, with the original touring company sets and costumes, but it has MAJOR 2nd act problems. In fact there are two distinct and seperate 2nd acts out there; one with the enchantress, and one without. GUYS & DOLLs has a great score, but by the second act I am sick of the Runyun argot.

So I would really, really like this movie to be great. I don't know if it will be great, okay, or will suck, and neither do you. We'll find out in December, and even then may come to different conclusions.

But I have to tell you this: Tim Burton does not hate you. I'm guessing he isn't even aware you exist.

He doesn't hate me. I'm sure he doesn't know I exist. As for my childhood pleasures, since he and I both count Vincent Price's 60s horror films as major childhood pleasures, I can safely say he does care about my childhood loves.

Burton doesn't hate Rod Serling, or Frank Miller, or himself. I do hear relations between he and Lisa Marie aren't too good.

Why should he care about other artists's visions when he's making his own art? That he made his works his own way isn't an act of hate. It's just Tim doing his own thing. James Whale's FRANKENSTEIN bares no resemblance however faint to Mary Shelley's novel, but that didn't mean Whale hated Mary Shelley. Stop berating Tim Burton for making Tim Burton movies. There's no need to remake Rod Serling's version of PLANET OF THE APES. If you want Serling's, watch Serling's. Burton did not go out and burn all the prints. Yes, he puts his stamp on his movies. OF COURSE HE DOES!

Why do you care that Victor Garber isn't in the film? I haven't heard Garber complain. He's too old for his old role, and he's hardly idle. Maybe he was offered a part, but wasn't available. He's probably BUSY! Why aren't you bitching about the absence of Angela Lansbury, or Len Carou, or George Hearn, of Ken Jennings, or Calvin Remsberg, or anyone else who's ever been in it? What a stupid thing to complain about.

Neither you nor I have seen Cohen as Pirelli yet. Maybe he'll be good. I haven't seen him be bad in anything yet.

Mrs. Burton isn't who I would cast, and sure the nepotism is obvious, but I'll wait and see how she is in the role before complaining about it. The stills I've seen have her looking great.

To answer your "Who doesn't?" question, I do not have a man-crush on Johnny Depp. I am gay, and he doesn't float my boat, but he's amazed me from time-to-time. I don't expect that the soundtrack album will make me want to toss out the Broadway cast album, but I haven't heard him yet, so I can not pre-judge. As for him being too pretty: he doesn't look pretty in the stills I've seen. And why can't Benjamin Barker have been pretty? There must be some reason Nellie carried a torch for him all those years. Your statement that Depp could play Anthony Hope is ridiculous. He's two decades too old for the role.

I suspect Tim HAS listened to the recordings of the show, as he fell in love with it seeing it onstage, so he has experienced other people's visions of it. But he isn't filming their vision, he's filming his. That's what he's SUPPOSED to do.

Perhaps you should send Tim your contact info, so that , in future, he can get your personal approval on his every artistic decision, to avoid shitting on your childhood memories.

Except then, it wouldn't be his work; it would be yours. That Tim Burton isn't you, doesn't make him bad.

R.A. Porter said...

You're right, Tim Burton doesn't know or care that I exist. I'm okay with that. I'll try to provide reasonable responses to you point by point, but we're clearly in two different camps: you're a fan of Burton's, I'm anything but.

Of course you're correct that no artist should try to duplicate what's already been done. There's no point in wasting time and effort on that, unless you're Gus Van Sant (even then, it's silly.) It would be nice if artists repeated themselves less as well (a point that frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman would do well to remember the next time he clones another score.) That said, I'm not sure why Tim-tim must remake so many things. He's got a unique vision. He should stick with that and create unique worlds.

Why Victor Garber and no one else? Because I figure he's aged to around the right age for Judge Turpin and his voice (at least his speaking voice, haven't heard him sing in quite a while) has developed some nice depth fitting the role. I didn't mention any of the others simply because I couldn't think of good fits for them, not because they're not deserving.

Hey! Yet another place we have VASTLY different tastes. I've yet to like Cohen in anything I've seen him do. Oh wait, I saw him make a fool of Andy Rooney once and that was funny; otherwise, I haven't ever enjoyed him. He might surprise me and make a good Pirelli, but I really don't have any hope on that front.

My man crush is solely related to the Depp's talent. He never fails to impress me, even in things beneath him. But he's still too pretty for Barker. The man spent 20 years in the antipodes. Today, that means snorkeling in the day and Foster's in the evening, but not so much back then. Also recall that he's barely recognizable even to those who knew him. As written, Barker has aged. Sure, I'm exaggerating for effect when I say Depp could play Anthony, but that's because I think it's a greater stretch for him to play Sweeney.

Your completely sincere and heartfelt suggestion that I send Tim-tim my contact info is interesting, but I'm going to pass on that. I'm happy in a world where he doesn't know or care who I am. If he did, I'd have to conclude he's a prick who intentionally shits on things I care about. Far better if he does it unintentionally.

Jack Ruttan said...

I'm dreading Tim Burton's dark whimsy prettying up this classic of music theatre. And Johnny Depp as "Apeneck" Sweeney? Forget it!

Of course, it could surprise, but Burton's movies are all design and no substance.

D. McEwan said...

Well, we agree about Gus Van Sant at least. His Psycho was the most unnecessary movie of all-time. And I'll grant you the point on Danny Elfman also, although it's a complaint that can be leveled against a lot of composers. I believe it was Hitchcock who defined "Style" as "Self-plagiarism."

You complain that Tim does too many remakes. But his Sweeney Todd is not a remake, so it's an irrelevant point to level against it.

I certainly enjoy Garber's work. I've met him, and I saw him play DAMN YANKEES on Broadway, and his musical chops were just fine then. But while tossing in actors from earlier productions is a treat when it happens, it is not something filmmakers should be pillaried for if they don't do it. It's not like Garber is giving interviews bitching about being left out. (Like Cloris Leachman is doing about the musical of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.) He's moved on. Perhaps you should too. And speaking of "Too Pretty", although I don't find Garber sexy myself, he has too much sex appeal left for Turpin's lust for Joanna to really make one's skin crawl as it should. Turpin's lust should raise hackles, even in the flashbacks to his rape of Lucy years earlier.

Yup, we completely disagree about Sasha Baron Cohen. He's fearless for one thing. I don't think I could stay so deeply in character in some of the situations he puts himself into. And BORAT made me laugh harder than any movie I've seen in ten years. I think he's in a class with Barry Humphries, and that's a high class indeed. (and he didn't "Make a fool of Andy Rooney", he allowed Rooney to show us, yet again, the fool he's always been.) Whether he'll make a good Pirelli, I have no idea, but I think it's quite possible, and in any event, even a terrible Pirelli couldn't do much damage to the work as a whole. It's too small a role.

We'll know in December, and even then, we will probably still disagree.

D. McEwan said...

BTW, you want to see a lousy SWEENEY? 6 years ago I saw Kelsey Grammar play Sweeney on stage in Los Angeles, opposite Christine Baranski. She was okay (Though no Julia MacKenzie), but Grammar was doomed. His great moments of insane rage just sounded like Frasier peeved. Sondheim was there opening night, but I have not heard what he thought of it. I thought it was a failure.

R.A. Porter said...

1. That's a great comment on style and self-plagiarism. I'll have to hunt down the original quote.

2. I agree that Garber's still got a good amount of sex appeal, but so does Alan Rickman, although Rickman has shown a strong willingness to let himself appear a bit grotesque. I'm certainly willing to let that go; I just think it's always a nice nod to the fans to bring someone along, even in a small way. Noel Neill and Jack Larson's cameos in the dreadful Superman Returns (or Neill's cuter cameo in Donner's Superman come to mind. To me, it's an acknowledgment of the fans' long-simmering hopes and expectations.

3. We're on the same side with Rooney. He is a petulant windbag and it's not as if Cohen tricked him. He just gave Rooney enough rope to hang himself. I was actually giving Cohen a lot of credit for the style he used when doing it. Pirelli is a small role and I don't think Cohen can swing the movie one way or the other. It's a four-choice matrix: he's good/bad; the movie's good/bad.

4. Grammar. Ugh. I'm not sure anymore if it's his limited range, or playing the same character for 20 years. I just don't hear anything but Frasier when he speaks.

We both want the same thing, but I'm far more pessimistic that we'll get it. We want a powerful, gripping Sweeney on the big screen. Let's hope your (if I'm reading it correctly) cautious optimism is on the mark and my pessimism is misguided.

D. McEwan said...

Regarding Alan Rickman. I saw him play Valmont in "Les Liaisons Dangerouse" (Probably mispelled, but I'm roo lazy to go check the proper spelling of that title just at the moment.) on Broadway 20 years ago, and he had sexually creepy down. He is still a bit too sexy for an ideal Turpin, and I have no idea if he can sing or not.

When Edmund Lyndeck was playing Turpin in Los Angeles, I was working as a bank teller in Hollywood. One day an old man slid a check across to me to cash, and I saw Lyndeck's name on it. I looked up at him and said, "Edmond Lyndeck? Judge Turpin! You SWINE!" Fortunately, he laughed heartily.

Yes, Grammar was a failure as Sweeney, even though he certainly could sing it. It was a star-studded production that had only 5 performances, to comemmorate the show's 20th anniversary. Neal Patrick Harris was Toby and Melissa Manchester was Lucy. Kind of a half-assed, thrown-together production.

The London production I saw at the National Theater in 1994 was fantastic. Julia MacKenzie wiped up the floor with Angela Lansbury, and I liked Lansbury. Dennis Quilley was terrifying as Sweeney, and the whole production had been rethought, and redesigned. Sondheim declared it a definitive production. I haven't seen the recent Broadway production with the actors playing the music, and big-nose Evita as Lovett.

And oh yes, we agree on Andy Rooney. How he has stayed on the air all these years I can not fathom. I remember him doing a "Report" on escalators once. "Some go up. Some go down." he said as though he was saying something. It was utterly content-free. I used to play him in an improv review I was in. (Again, almost 20 years ago, and he hasn't changed in all that time.) I would stick a couple of cotton balls over my eyebrows, and begin whining, "Have you ever stabbed a small child in the stomache? I hate how they yell when I do that. Some children squirt blood like a fountain, while others just sort of seep. Can't we set a standard? Have you ever eaten uncooked pasta? It's not good. I hate how we always have a Thursday right after Wednesday. It's so predictable. Why not throw in a rogue Monday now and then, just to mix it up some?"

Yeah, I enjoyed Noel & Jack's SUPERMAN RETURNS cameos. Noel is a sweetie who I have worked with. I just spent an afternoon with her again about a year ago. She's now the supreme Superman performer, having been in Kirk Alyn's Superman, George Reeves, Chris Reeves, and now Brandon Rauth's. That's almost 60 years from her first Superman to her most recent.

I didn't think it was dreadful - I quite liked Spacey's Luthor - but it sure could have been a lot better, and Luthor could have had a more interesting evil scheme. At least it didn't have Teri Hatcher or Dean Cain in it. Though Dean I hear will be a villain on SMALLVILLE this season. Yeah, I'm a big, lifelong Superman groupie.

Notice how in SUPERMAN RETURNS, the first two voices you hear are Brando's and then Noel's, the only two veterans of Reeves's SUPERMAN in the picture.

I've never gotten to meet Jack Larson, despite having had a crush on him since I was a pre-teen. but I enjoyed the moment when two Jimmy Olsons hugged each other after the rescue of the plane.

Kirk Alyn and I were neighbors for a year, 17 years ago, and I have many fine memories of him, really sweet man, though his 2 Superman serials are spectacularly awful.

A photo of Christopher Reeve and I standing with our arms around each other, taken in 1980, sits on my living room wall. He was an amazing and inspiring man. Robin Williams was in the picture too, but after Reeves incredible post-accident life arc and achievements, and Robin's string of unwatchable movies from the late-90s till now, I cropped him out of the photo.

The quote is definitely Alfred Hitchcock, and I think it's from the Trouffaut book, though I could be mistaken on the source. (It's been 30 years since I read that book.) But I'm certain it was Hitchcock who said it.

D. McEwan said...

PS. I laughed aloud at your idea that Rickman's noseless Lord Voldemort was merely "A bit grotesque".

And "Nice nods to fans" are just that, nice, but hardly compulsory. I'm surprised that not one critic I've read even noticed that Veronica Cartwright in THE INVASION was a survivor of the 1978 version.

Christopher Lee was originally going to do some of the chorus-narrative singing (Lee has an amazing operatic bass singing voice, and has appeared in operas all over Europe. He speaks and sings 7 languages.) but he was eliminated before shooting began. To me, Lee would be PERFECT for Turpin. That he's over 80 would only make him creepier.

I read where Sasha Baron Cohen had a professional barber come in and coach him on the shaving he has to do in the shaving-duel scene. No word on a singing coach, though it's a demanding tenor song. Maybe Marni Nixon will sing it.

Yes, "Cautious optomism" is a fair term for my anticipation of it. And I'm dying to see how it will look. I've seen only two stills so far, but I loved them.

D. McEwan said...

AARRGGH! What's wrong with me? Of course it was Ralph Finnes who was Voldemort, while Rickman played weaslly Snape. A mind-fart got me.

R.A. Porter said...

Man, Christopher Lee would have been an awesome Turpin. Creepy for his age, and that Hammer-style he'd bring to the affair.

Ah, Marni. The salvation of half the big screen musicals of the '60s. Think of the casting directors whose jobs she saved.

Here's hoping Cohen can already sing. But you know, if he can shave well...he'll be able to lose convincingly.