Tim Burton Shows First "Sweeney Todd" Cuts to New York Audience

News   Tim Burton Shows First "Sweeney Todd" Cuts to New York Audience
"They wanted me to do 'Batman' as a musical," said director Tim Burton — with a verbal eye-roll to a crowd of film buffs at The Film Society of Lincoln Center — about his previous brush with the world of musical theatre.
Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter star in
Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter star in "Sweeney Todd." Photo by Leah Gallo

Richard Peña moderated "An Evening with Tim Burton: Cinema's Demon Barber" Nov. 14 at Frederick P. Rose Hall's Rose Theater where scenes from the forthcoming Sweeney Todd film were shown.

Donned in black, as one might expect of the auteur known for his macabre work, Burton spoke about his career between the screening of clips of his previous work — segmented into blockbusters, (ie. "Batman," "Batman Returns"), animation ("The Nightmare Before Christmas") and collaborations with Johnny Depp ("Edward Scissorhands").

Burton peppered his conversation with several bits of trivia —including how Depp so eagerly wanted to wear a prosthetic nose to play Ichabod Crane in "Sleepy Hollow" and how the actor's hair in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" was inspired by Vogue editor Anna Wintour's well-known bob.

Turning to his upcoming stab at the movie musical genre with Stephen Sondeim and Hugh Wheeler's darkly operatic tale, he admitted his trepidation. "None of them are singers," he said about about lead actors Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen — but they all reveled in the challenge. He noted his approach to "Sweeney" was inspired by the more-seamless interpolation of music into the action of "Hammer Horror" films. Burton also revealed that following an earlier draft of the film (adapted by John Logan), he "put more of the music back in."

Prior to the screening of the scenes, Burton offered this set-up: "We see Sweeney when he comes home, when he gets pissed and when he gets to work." The first clip screened was "My Friends," the scene when Lovett returns the barber's (formerly known as Benjamin Barker) straight blades. Depp fans may be initially off-put by the actor breaking — or rather sliding — into song, but the star can hold a note. He gives Sweeney a voice slightly more rockish than the traditionally operatic tone. Sweeney's songs are deeply rooted in character — a fact Sondheim himself noted in giving his blessing of the actor known for his dramatic chops. Carter is briefly heard in softly accompanying Depp as he gnashes his lips and teeth in reverence of his razors, ending "At last, my arm is complete again!" The Sondheim score then swells as the shot zooms out of the window of Todd's shop atop Lovett's pieshop to reveal the dank streets of London.

"Epiphany" was the next clip, featuring Depp as Sweeney singing to seemingly uninterested prospective clients and denizen of Fleet Street as he walks the cobblestones amongst them. The shot then cuts to Lovett breaking Todd out of his waking dream back into the shop.

The final clip shown, "Johanna," reveals the bloody "barber-y" of Todd at work — no more barbaric than contemporary action movies or the similar slashing in "Eastern Promises." The squeamish may want to take cover from the sound of the freshly-shaven bodies as they reach their final resting place with a rather audible crunch. The song also features Jamie Campbell Bower (as Anthony) en route to the dwelling of his paramour as well as Carter and Laura Michelle Kelly as the ominous Beggar Woman. (Kelly, known to Londoners as the bubbly musical star of Mary Poppins, is virtually unrecognizable in her decrepit vagabond role.)

The first tastes of the forthcoming "Sweeney Todd" film were met (after each clip) with eager applause from the Gotham crowd. Fans of Burton's films may liken the feel of his upcoming musical venture as a "Sleepy Hollow" (with its similarly macabre themed tale and period setting) meets "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (with its dark score and fantasy). The film looks to be a welcome addition to the crop of recent movie musicals, providing a darker compliment to the genre.

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