Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bags Of Liquid And Squishy Flesh

the first thought i had as i was leaving the Harvard Square Sony theater last Friday after seeing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was that i never wanted to see it again. ever. it wasn't because i can't handle gore. i'm a huge fan of horror movies populated with zombies, werewolves, vampires and other creatures who chow down on unlucky human victims in scenes replete with chunks of bloody intestines and brain matter.

i just can't deal with gore that is too true to life. as i said to my fiance on the walk home, someone with a slashed throat would gasp and choke and gurgle like Sweeney Todd's victims with blood spurting from the wound. likewise, if a person were dropped headfirst from two floors up onto a stone floor, their skull and spine would crack and crunch in the same way that the movie depicts. at the time, i opined that the play didn't work as a film. it was too personal and too graphic.

but, the movie had a way of sneaking into the more thoughtful corners of my mind. Burton is a clever film-maker and he was able to do things with this play that cannot be done in a stage production. the devil is in the details. at the opening of the movie, Sweeney Todd, already a hardened misanthrope contemptuously declares that London is a black pit populated by people who are full of shit. Burton takes this theme of disgust and runs with it. he truly rubs the viewer's face in the filth and depravity of life in Victorian London.

the landscape is dark and sooty and the process of aging and decay sets in early for those who struggle for survival in the great maw of 19th century London. the bloom of youth fades quickly to the sallow complexion of the sun-starved, poisoned Londoner of the industrial revolution. innocence and kindness are murdered handily as they are nothing more than handicaps in the social darwinism of that age. this is a world where people chew one another up without a second thought and Burton gets some impressive mileage out of the tension between moral and physical filth in the opening song of the film.

there is barely a scene in which Burton does not tickle his audience's gag reflex with some new means of disgusting them with the physical world and the rapacious predation of one person against another. save for the innocence of the two young lovers, who hardly function as more than plot devices, there is little hope for redemption in the whole bloody tragedy, and there is scarce little hope even for them. their ultimate fate is left unclear, but tinged with a hint of despair and fear. all the others, including poor, doomed Toby are poisoned by brutality and betrayal.

i probably won't watch it again, but i place it in the category of films that i would recommend seeing once.


Dizzy Dezzi said...

I was just fine with the throat slashing (watched quite a few slasher flicks in my day). What I couldn't handle was the bone crunching as the bodies were dropped down the chute. It turned my stomach every time (I had to put my popcorn away). Unfortunately, I went alone, so I couldn't even use my partner as a surrogate for my eyes at ears for the "gory" parts, like I normally would.

The worst part of my Sweeney Todd experience was not the blood and gore, though. It was the music! It was killing me sitting in the theater humming to myself, under my breath, when I really wanted to sing loudly along with the soundtrack (having watched the musical on video several times).

I think Burton did an excellent job in adapting "Sweeney Todd". I agree with you, he did it just a little too well when it comes to the fleshy stuff, though.

emily1 said...

i had never seen a stage production or listened to the soundtrack before seeing the movie, so i didn't get the urge to try and sing along.

i still get flashbacks from the bone-crunching scenes when the bodies were dropped down the chute. that movie has given me some mild PTSD.