Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Drips and sprays and pools and stains.

by Ryland Walker Knight


Maybe it's my mood of late, but I'm almost right there with Walter Chaw on this one. If anything, I'm totally with him in his lead: "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is easily Tim Burton's best film." I don't rate things but I don't think I'd go full out and give this thing four stars, even though it is, surprising as it sounds, kind of excellent. I didn't think Tim Burton could pull off this, err, deadly tale, but it makes sense, really, that it should be a career high, what with its ghoulish demeanor (don't look back, nostalgia will eat up your shadow-present cannibal-style) and its ample opportunity for artifice, ink blacks and fire engine reds that drip and spray and pool and stain. I never thought I could (or would) find to its gore, ahem, beautiful -- but I do. (I'm not versed in giallo by choice, I should admit: I've found, as I've grown, that horror is a tricky genre for me to navigate.) A lot of the film's success is inherent in its source material, sure, but it's how Burton shot the film, along with the physical (to say facial, for the most part) acting of Johnny Depp, that brings home its wild pathos. (It doesn't really matter, no, that the singing isn't Broadway caliber when the acting is there, working as a part of images like these.) Fitting the blood looks like paint, and that Burton's "canvass" never rests unless it's splattered thick with the stuff. Earlier today I was talking with a friend about how we are kind of trained -- by film itself, by the dominance of "basic" film grammar -- to see film images as representations of objects first and visual patterns second. I think the best way to appreciate something like this picture is to look at its colors and angles and glints and reflections and movements as simply that: not an accretion of objects but a flow of colors in the visual field of the frame. It is a musical, after before all; it's pure spectacle from the get go. All the way to this gorgeous tableau mort, as Dub-C wrote.


10 minutes later update:
Glenn Kenny's got good words, too.

Next day update:
It looks like Rob Humanick watched Sweeney right about the same time as I did. And so did Keith Uhlich. Weird timing, indeed.


  1. I realize it's April Fool's Day, but this is real. I think the joke is on me, to tell the truth. I always speak too soon. And I definitely avoided this movie, for too long, like -- wait for it -- a fool.