Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd
Unremittingly gruesome, Sweeney Todd doesn’t seem to be the obvious choice for release around the holidays. Yet the film, adapted from Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 musical theater piece, works on many levels. Certainly this movie could succeed on the star power of its actors. Likewise, the beauty of the score could carry the movie, as could the performances or the cinematography. Tim Burton paints a gloomy, ghastly, surreal world. Yet somehow, the camera finds artistic beauty in each shot.
“You know it when you see it” is the often stated maxim that separates what is vulgar from that which is art. When you watch Sweeney, I think you’ll agree that it stands tall in the socially redeeming value department. Still, don’t take your young children!
Some critics have found fault with this film’s casting of movie stars into roles normally filled with dramatic and/or operatic voices. And so, on yet another level this film is brilliant. The cast and production brings their own vision of this musical theater masterpiece to life. Just as a Bach fugue survives adaptation into a tuba quartet, the story of Sweeney Todd works, even thrives, with barely a trace of bel canto singing to be heard.
For this writer, the lesson is twofold. First, a great musical work will stand the test of time unblemished. It lives anew with each performance. Second, as artists, it’s our job to bring our own complete and compelling vision to the music we perform. Singers or not, Depp and company did just that.
10 Second Review: Nothing beats a great performance of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. This film is no exception. Don’t miss it!