The new movie "SWEENEY TODD: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" opened at the ZIEGFELD THEATRE today. It was a nice moviegoing experience because of the contagious excitement and enthusiasm of audience members (clearly Sondheim fans) who wildly applauded even before the opening credits appear on the screen. Starring JOHNNY DEPP and HELENA BONHAM CARTER, and directed by TIM BURTON, this visually gorgeous but dark and gruesome movie is based on the Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical of the same name. I was very unfamiliar with the Broadway musical, and did not see the last Broadway revival, but I loved the movie and even appreciated Stephen Sondheim's music in this movie.
The Ziegfeld Theatre which opened in 1969, is arguably the last "movie palace" still showing films in Manhattan. The theatre has 1,131 seats with a raised balcony section in the rear. The interior has red carpeting and is decorated with abundant gold trim. The Ziegfeld is often the venue for a movie premiere in Manhattan. The theatre is located at 141 West 54th Street. Theatre Office Number: 212-307-1862. Pricing:General Admission $12.00, Seniors $8.00,Children $8.00. The theatre is not handicap accessible.
Review from the New York Times (A. O. Scott):
Tim Burton makes fantasy movies. Stephen Sondheim writes musicals. It is hard to think of two more optimistic genres of popular art, or of two popular artists who have so systematically subverted that optimism. Mr. Sondheim has always gravitated toward the dissonance lurking in hummable tunes, and has threaded his song-and-dance spectaculars with subtexts of anxiety and alienation. Mr. Burton, for his part, dwells most naturally (if somewhat uneasily) in the realms of the gothic and the grotesque, turning comic books and children’s tales into scary, nightmarish shadow plays.
And so it should not be surprising that “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” Mr. Burton’s film adaptation of Mr. Sondheim’s musical, is as dark and terrifying as any motion picture in recent memory, not excluding the bloody installments in the “Saw” franchise. Indeed, “Sweeney” is as much a horror film as a musical: It is cruel in its effects and radical in its misanthropy, expressing a breathtakingly, rigorously pessimistic view of human nature. It is also something close to a masterpiece, a work of extreme — I am tempted to say evil — genius.
As it was originally performed onstage, with all the songs Mr. Sondheim composed for it, “Sweeney Todd” balanced its inherent grisliness with a whimsical vitality. The basic story is a revenger’s tragedy more Jacobean than Victorian, but Mr. Sondheim nonetheless wrings some grim, boisterous comedy out of both the impulse for vengeance and the bustling spirit of commerce. A barber, wronged by a powerful judge, returns to London and sets up shop, cutting throats as well as hair. The bodies of his victims are turned into savory meat pies by Mrs. Lovett, his energetic partner in business and crime. Cannibalism and mass murder as the basis for a hit show — what a perverse and delicious joke.
It seemed a lot less funny in the recent revival, which starred Michael Cerveris and Patti Lupone in roles originated on Broadway by Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury in 1979. Mr. Burton’s film, in spite of the participation of Sacha Baron Cohen (as a mountebank barber in a skin-tight costume) and Timothy Spall (as a louche bailiff) pretty much casts out frivolity altogether. Mr. Burton’s London is a dark, smoky oil slick of a city. Dante Ferretti’s production design, which owes something to the Victorian city confected for Carol Reed’s “Oliver!,” can make even daylight look sinister. Innocence, represented by a pair of young would-be lovers (Jayne Wisener and Jamie Campbell Bower) has virtually no chance in this place; it is a joke played by fate, something to be corrupted, imprisoned or destroyed.
Mrs. Lovett the pie maker is played by Helena Bonham Carter, a witchy fixture of Mr. Burton’s cinematic universe as well as the mother of his children. If the director has an alter ego, or at least an actor consistently able to embody his ideas on screen, it would have to be Johnny Depp. He was the hurt, misunderstood man-child in “Edward Scissorhands,” the cracked visionary in “Ed Wood” and the cold, creepy candy mogul in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” in each case giving form to an emotional equation that had never quite been seen on film before. As Sweeney, his hair streaked with white and his eyes rimmed in black, he is an avatar of rage.
Mr. Depp’s singing voice is harsh and thin, but amazingly forceful. He brings the unpolished urgency of rock ’n’ roll to an idiom accustomed to more refinement, and in doing so awakens the violence of Mr. Sondheim’s lyrics and melodies. Some of the crowd-pleasing numbers, like “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” have been pared away, but their absence only contributes to the diabolical coherence of the film, which moves with a furious momentum toward its sanguinary conclusion.
Like nearly every other horror-film serial killer — the outcast teenager abused by the cool kids; the decent man whose suffering has been ignored or mocked — Sweeney starts out as a sympathetic figure. Once upon a time, he was a happy husband and father, until his lovely wife (Laura Michelle Kelly) caught the eye of a malignant judge (Alan Rickman), who transported the poor barber to Australia. Now, after many years, he has returned to find that his daughter, now a teenager, has become the judge’s ward. Finding his old straight razors — “my friends” — under the floorboards of his former shop, Sweeney sets out to ensnare the judge, a project that requires the deaths of quite a few customers along the way.
“They’ll never be missed,” sings the practical Mrs. Lovett. Sweeney’s view is harsher, almost genocidal. “They all deserve to die,” he says, looking out over the rooftops of the city. And Mr. Burton depicts those deaths ruthlessly. The initial geyser of blood may seem artificially bright, but when the bodies slide head first from the chair down a chute into the cellar, they crash and crumple with sickening literalness. You are watching human beings turned into meat.
It may seem strange that I am praising a work of such unremitting savagery. I confess that I’m a little startled myself, but it’s been a long time since a movie gave me nightmares. And the unsettling power of “Sweeney Todd” comes above all from its bracing refusal of any sentimental consolation, from Mr. Burton’s willingness to push the most dreadful implications of Mr. Sondheim’s story to their blackest conclusions.
“Sweeney Todd” is a fable about a world from which the possibility of justice has vanished, replaced on one hand by vain and arbitrary power, on the other by a righteous fury that quickly spirals into madness. There may be a suggestion of hopefulness near the end, but you don’t see hope on the screen. What you see is as dark as the grave. What you hear — some of the finest stage music of the past 40 years — is equally infernal, except that you might just as well call it heavenly.