Mu­sic in their blood

Roger Moore Tim Bur­ton and Sweeney Todd were made for each other, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music -

YOU ’ D think you could get a rise out of Tim Bur­ton by pi­geon­hol­ing the guy, telling him that the blood­spat­tered Stephen Sond­heim mu­si­cal Sweeney Todd: The De­mon Bar­ber of Fleet Street is the movie he was born to di­rect. But you can ’ t. Maybe it ’s too ob­vi­ous: the lyri­cal, gothic throat- slash­ing melo­drama meets a di­rec­tor known for his love of the gothic, the sen­ti­men­tal, the macabre.

You can ’ t call it be­ing pi­geon­holed when you ‘‘ do an R- rated mu­si­cal, with blood, ’’ he says from Los An­ge­les with a chuckle.

Bur­ton, 49, gave us Sleepy Hollow , Corpse Bride

and Ed­ward Scis­sorhands. H e ’s famed for his wild hair, his artist ’ s eye and his dark world view. It turns out he knew Sweeney Todd was right up his al­ley when he first saw the Lon­don stage pro­duc­tion ’ s posters in 1980.

This lovely, lovely mu­sic jux­ta­posed against ‘‘ that grim, Dick­en­sian im­agery was very po­tent to me,’’ he says.

I couldn ’ t re­late it to any­thing else I ’d seen ‘‘ or ex­pe­ri­enced. It ’ s not just the dark­ness. It had

Sweeney also has this sad, a kind of hu­mour. tragic ro­mance qual­ity, which I like. ’’

Sweeney Todd is an oft- told and ap­par­ently fic­tional 19th- cen­tury tale of a Fleet Street bar­ber who killed his clients and whose land­lady, Mrs Lovett, dis­posed of the bod­ies and saved her butcher ’ s bills by bak­ing them into pies.

It’ s a very sim­ple, old- fash­ioned melo‘‘ drama, ’’ Bur­ton says. Emo­tions are height­ened,

‘‘ but at its most ba­sic, it ’s just about what can hap­pen in life, peo­ple work­ing at cross pur­poses, peo­ple eaten up by the de­sire for re­venge. Th­ese kinds of sto­ries go back to the an­cient Greek tragedies. Peo­ple don ’ t like to ad­mit it, but re­venge is a very hu­man trait. It ’s also a mu­si­cal. Peo­ple are singing. That ’s ex­treme. ’’

Bur­ton has made his home in Lon­don for years, the last sev­eral of them with his lead­ing lady, Helena Bon­ham Carter.

Lon­don ’s a city with a lot of tex­ture to it, ’’ ‘‘ he says. We wanted you to be able to feel it.

‘‘ There are parts of north Lon­don where we live, Cam­den, Hamp­stead, you go up on the heath you can still feel Dick­ens ’s Lon­don.

But what we did for Sweeney is more hor­ror‘‘ movie Lon­don. It prob­a­bly has more to do with the old Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios hor­ror movies made on the stu­dio back lot in the 1930s, than it does any real Lon­don. ’’

Bur­ton has a rep­u­ta­tion for us­ing his mem­o­ries of a child­hood shaped by clas­sic hor­ror to cre­ate wholly re­alised fan­tasy worlds, the

Bat­man , the fan­ci­ful candy Gotham City of works of Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­tory .

There is not re­ally a hint of the straight world ‘‘ in his films, ’’ critic David Thom­son wrote of him a few years back. Ev­ery­thing in a Bur­ton film

‘‘ ex­presses the dis­torted feel­ings of a res­o­lute, in­escapable lone­li­ness. ’’

Well, what­ever works. Bur­ton has just picked up the best di­rec­tor award from the US Na­tional

Sweeney Board of Re­view of Mo­tion Pic­tures for Todd . Re­views have been en­thu­si­as­tic, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that as we went along, I

‘‘ re­alised we were ba­si­cally cast­ing all non­singers ’’ , Bur­ton jokes.

That paid off, he in­sists, and not just be­cause he thinks Johnny Depp can do no wrong ( they ’ve made five movies to­gether).

It’ s dif­fer­ent from what you ’ d get from on ‘‘ stage, ’’ Bur­ton says. Johnny still sounds like

‘‘ Johnny, Alan Rick­man sounds like him­self. They had to tap into a more emo­tional thing, which makes the movie a dif­fer­ent emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence.

The songs here ‘‘

are

sung

by

the

ac­tors play­ing the char­ac­ter, and they sound to me like the char­ac­ter pour­ing his heart out. It gave an ex­tra emo­tional weight to it that I liked. We were al­ways try­ing to find the right bal­ance of the emo­tional and the com­i­cal. Un­like on stage, with film, you can get up close, look right in the ac­tors’ faces . . . Get up close enough to look into their eyes, and they have you. ’’

You ’d think get­ting that close would be trou­bling in a movie filled with slit throats and body parts. But Bur­ton laughs that off.

I never felt the vi­o­lence, the blood, was ‘‘ gra­tu­itous, ’’ he says. I ’ve seen pro­duc­tions

‘‘ where they tried to skimp on it, but if you ’ re go­ing to try and be po­lit­i­cally cor­rect, you shouldn ’ t be do­ing this story any­how. It ’ s about a se­rial killer and can­ni­bal­ism. The orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion is quite graphic.

By go­ing even more over the top with it and ‘‘ mak­ing the blood more colour­ful, bright red, I think I’ m serv­ing the story, which is over the top. I re­mem­ber the feel­ing of the orig­i­nal show, and there was that hor­ri­ble qual­ity of what we were see­ing set against that beau­ti­ful mu­sic, which is what made it spe­cial and unique. ’’

Ed­ward And yes, he sees the con­nec­tion to

. G o ahead and make your joke Scis­sorhands about Depp and Bur­ton go­ing snip- snip- snip one more time. He ’ll own that, too.

The first song we did is the one that sets the ‘‘ tone for the film. My Friends . Sweeney Todd singing to his straight ra­zors. That re­ally sets up his char­ac­ter and her char­ac­ter and the ra­zor ’ s

Ed­ward char­ac­ter that is quite spe­cial to me. Scis­sorhands ? A lit­tle. But there you go. ’’ MCT Sweeney Todd: The De­mon Bar­ber of Fleet Street opens on Jan­uary 24.

Old- fash­ioned melo­drama:

Johnny Depp as Sweeney the homi­ci­dal bar­ber, and Helena Bon­ham Carter as his ac­com­plice in Sweeney Todd

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