DID YOU READ

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Johnny Depp in “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” Paramount Pictures, 2007]

Just in time for Christmas, director Tim Burton is painting theaters across the country red and green: red with gallons of movie blood, green with the faces of queasy moviegoers when they discover just what kind of gorefest they’ve wandered into. Burton’s turned Steven Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s musical “Sweeney Todd” into a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie for the Schubert Alley set. Squeamish theater fans take note: it’s “A Bucket of Blood and Barbasol.”

The story remains largely unchanged from the stage version, but the blood-and-guts factor has risen exponentially. Sweeney Todd is equally phlegmatic whether he’s giving someone a haircut, a shave or a straight razor to the jugular, and Burton’s camera records the action in much the same way. There are numerous instances where Burton could have cut away from the action to leave some of the carnage to the imagination. He never does. His technique is as coldly unwavering as Sweeney’s.

Once, Sweeney (Johnny Depp) lived a happy life as Benjamin Barker, a successful barber with a wife and child. Then a jealous judge named Turpin (Alan Rickman) wrongfully imprisoned him, stole his young daughter (whom he now intends to wed) and drove his wife to suicide. After a long exile, Barker returns with a different name and Susan Sontag hair, vowing revenge. “The years no doubt have changed me,” he sinisterly informs Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), the crazy widow who runs the meat pie bakery below his shop. For a while Sweeney’s modus operandi is limited only to killing Turpin; at a certain point, madness and hatred expands his vision and he decrees that there will be blood for anyone dumb enough to pay him to lower their ears.

Thus, as the open credits suggest, blood and witty musical numbers pour down like rain. But even as the body count enters slasher film territory, Burton keeps the tone wickedly funny. If Sondheim and Wheeler’s original text was always smirky-creepy, Burton pushes the tone farther into the theater of the absurd. He turns Mrs. Lovett’s number about her hopes of a happy home life (“By the Sea”) into a candy-colored dream sequence with Sweeney, dressed in convict black and whites, desperately looking for an exit. He treats the romantic lead Anthony (a bug-eyed Jamie Campbell Bower) as a laughably desperate stalker (and doesn’t scrimp on Turpin’s pedophilic tendencies). He even cast Sacha Baron Cohen as an outlandish street performer (with an even more outlandish Italian accent) who becomes Sweeney’s first victim.

The staged “Sweeney Todd” was almost entirely sung, but even if Burton (with Sondheim’s blessing and assistance) cut several numbers entirely — including the famous “Ballad of Sweeney Todd” opener — and trimmed many others, the movie is still jammed with music from sprocket hole to sprocket hole. Though Depp has no formal musical training, he did spend many of his pre-acting days in various rock bands, and that influence comes through strongly in his vocal performance, which ranges from a David Bowie croon to a Billy Idol howl. Even if the songs have been performed by more talented singers in the past, there’s something seductive about Depp’s approach. Against any of the numerous theatrical renditions viewable on YouTube, the movie Sweeney holds his own. I’d take Depp and Rickman’s “Pretty Women,” for instance, over any of the half-dozen variations available online.

So musically it works, comedically it works, but man is this thing just soaked to the bone with blood. You can’t really argue that the thicker-than-waterworks ruin “Sweeney Todd”‘s message because they don’t. The orgy of Karo syrup (the only strong color presence onscreen in what is otherwise almost a black and white film) only enhances the story’s idea of revenge as a doomed, poisonous pursuit. Sweeney’s quest for vengeance touches, if not outright destroys, the lives of everyone around him even the innocent. His infective taint on his neighborhood is symbolized by the sooty smoke that pours out of his bakehouse chimney and clogs the air with an inescapable stench. However poetic the Judge’s ultimate fate may be, there’s no denying that Sweeney, not Turpin, has more blood on his hands — both literally and figuratively.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.