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John Logan's Screenplay for SWEENEY TODD 
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Post John Logan's Screenplay for SWEENEY TODD
We've had many discussions about the flaws of the film, but most of them seem to lay the blame on Tim Burton and his vision for the film. I've always felt that screenwriter John Logan was partially responsible for at at least some of the flaws in the adaptation, so it was interesting to read this interview with him, which was the sample article from an issue of The Sondheim Review from the time of the film's release. Although there are many interesting snippets (about all kinds of things, including the marketing of the film), including some from Burton and Stephen Sondheim himself, one thing that caught my attention was when Logan was asked whether fans of the show would be satisfied with the film. His reply:

Josh Logan wrote:
I certainly hope so! I think they'll recognize that we took it seriously and that we all deeply respect the underlying material and the stage show. I think that's patently obvious. I think our affection and passion for the material is in every frame of the movie. I can only hope that they will like it as much as this Sondheim fan likes it.

To this he adds:

Josh Logan wrote:
You just have to judge it on its own merits. And you can love it or hate it. But love it or hate it as what it is, not as you imagine Sweeney Todd the stage play is.

Now, I don't think the film is perfect by any means, not do I think it completely awful. However, there are gaps in the film that compromise Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's vision of the titular character as a tragic anti-hero: for example, the elimination of an early initial encounter between Sweeney and the Beggar Woman is the first signal we get in the screenplay itself that the film betrays, in some way, the spirit of the stage show. How does one separate that from what the stage play is, in the way that Logan suggests one should? It seems absolutely artificial to do so, and I think it is that lack of working through the material organically, combined with what needed to be done to the show to serve Burton's signature film-making style, that most compromises the film's potential.

Logan's other justification isn't convincing either:
Josh Logan wrote:
The reality of the situation is that we had to make cuts for time. There was no way, realistically, to film the entire stage play, nor did we want to just do a movie recording of the stage show. We wanted it to be a work of cinema, and that's a different art form with different demands.

Yes, it is a different art form with different demands. A generic restriction of time is not one of them and so why should cutting material, apparently only for the sake of cutting it, be justified in this way. The TV broadcast featuring Angela Lansbury runs for about 140 minutes, the concert with Patti LuPone runs for about 132 minutes and the film runs for 111 minutes. The difference is not that great and many films that are considered to be masterpieces of cinema run as long as longer. And yet, a wealth of excellent material was cut and the result is not a great work of cinema.

At any rate, it's another interesting article from The Sondheim Review and if anyone wants to read the full thing, click on the link in the title.

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Sat Jul 10, 2010 11:11 pm
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As much as I hate the cuts, mostly I wonder why they cut the humour - pr played it so subtly that it is no longer recognisable as humour. It's just the wrong tone for Sweeney Todd.

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Sun Jul 11, 2010 12:47 am
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The Sweeney Todd Film was my first encounter with Sweeney Todd and Sondheim in general. I didn't even really like musicals before I saw it.

I listened to the soundtrack very vaguely and out of context before I saw the movie. I immediately felt rapture and literally listened to it on repeat. The melodies, the orchestra...it was just amazing. I didn't listen to the 'final scene' to avoid spoilers.

When I actually saw the film I was blown away - it was funny, but thrilling and scary. During the "final scene" my heart was pounding SO hard when Turpin was killed, I still vividly remember the blood on Sweeney's face after he killed him. Then it was just climax after climax - the revelation of the Beggar Woman - I felt like crying - Lovett's death - Sweeney's death. The fadeout of Sweeney lying over Lucy. God.

Sweeney was always a 'tragic anti-hero' for me.

I wonder if you guys are a bit bias having been familiar with the show first - but I completely see how they are different and I thought the Sweeney Todd movie was an almost perfect musical movie and still do. The music felt so seamless and necessary. It was affecting and entertaining/genuinely thrilling.


I don't think the other video recordings of Sweeney Todd work as well as the film (as an actual recording). But it must have been as thrilling to see Sweeney Todd in 1979.


Sun Jul 11, 2010 3:51 am
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dolbinau wrote:
The Sweeney Todd Film was my first encounter with Sweeney Todd and Sondheim in general. I didn't even really like musicals before I saw it.

I listened to the soundtrack very vaguely and out of context before I saw the movie. I immediately felt rapture and literally listened to it on repeat. The melodies, the orchestra...it was just amazing. I didn't listen to the 'final scene' to avoid spoilers.

When I actually saw the film I was blown away - it was funny, but thrilling and scary. During the "final scene" my heart was pounding SO hard when Turpin was killed, I still vividly remember the blood on Sweeney's face after he killed him. Then it was just climax after climax - the revelation of the Beggar Woman - I felt like crying - Lovett's death - Sweeney's death. The fadeout of Sweeney lying over Lucy. God.

Sweeney was always a 'tragic anti-hero' for me.

I wonder if you guys are a bit bias having been familiar with the show first - but I completely see how they are different and I thought the Sweeney Todd movie was an almost perfect musical movie and still do. The music felt so seamless and necessary. It was affecting and entertaining/genuinely thrilling.


I don't think the other video recordings of Sweeney Todd work as well as the film (as an actual recording). But it must have been as thrilling to see Sweeney Todd in 1979.


I also saw the Motion Picture before I saw the tour video or the LuPone / Hearn concert, but I still prefer the original. My reasons? The original have very few errors, and most of them are easy to ignore. The movie's errors on the other hand are major. For example the relationship with Anthony and Johanna which is not fleshed out at all, and it seems like they've never spoken with each other before she throws down her key and he take it as a token of marriage.

It is also, as Hans said, the lack of humor. And of course we have Helena Bonham Carter's horrible acting, or lack of acting. She is a brilliant actress, but in Sweeney Todd she stops acting whenever she start singing. It gets pretty annoying.

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Sun Jul 11, 2010 4:17 am
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And in the "original" Johanna didn't even know his name before he decided they were getting married [kiss me]. I don't think it's a relationship that really needs much fleshing out.


Sun Jul 11, 2010 4:30 am
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dolbinau wrote:
And in the "original" Johanna didn't even know his name before he decided they were getting married [kiss me]. I don't think it's a relationship that really needs much fleshing out.


At least they spoke, and in the original it is more clear that Johanna is running off with Anthony to escape Turpin, and that she is crazed.

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Sun Jul 11, 2010 4:49 am
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Personally, I found the film funny, and liked Helena Bonham Carter's delivery of humour. I like darkly funny things delivered in all seriousness. In fact I like most of my comedy that way.

I agree that Johanna and Anthony's relationship was rather flimsy, but I suppose they wanted to focus on Sweeney more, and to him they were just means to an end. I would have preferred it if it wasn't so bleedingly obvious that the beggar woman was Sweeney's wife from her first appearance.

And no, I have never seen the stage version.


Sun Jul 11, 2010 5:56 am
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dolbinau wrote:
The Sweeney Todd Film was my first encounter with Sweeney Todd and Sondheim in general. I didn't even really like musicals before I saw it.

I listened to the soundtrack very vaguely and out of context before I saw the movie. I immediately felt rapture and literally listened to it on repeat. The melodies, the orchestra...it was just amazing. I didn't listen to the 'final scene' to avoid spoilers.

When I actually saw the film I was blown away - it was funny, but thrilling and scary. During the "final scene" my heart was pounding SO hard when Turpin was killed, I still vividly remember the blood on Sweeney's face after he killed him. Then it was just climax after climax - the revelation of the Beggar Woman - I felt like crying - Lovett's death - Sweeney's death. The fadeout of Sweeney lying over Lucy. God.

Sweeney was always a 'tragic anti-hero' for me.

I wonder if you guys are a bit bias having been familiar with the show first - but I completely see how they are different and I thought the Sweeney Todd movie was an almost perfect musical movie and still do. The music felt so seamless and necessary. It was affecting and entertaining/genuinely thrilling.


I don't think the other video recordings of Sweeney Todd work as well as the film (as an actual recording). But it must have been as thrilling to see Sweeney Todd in 1979.


This.
I went through a brief obsession with the film, and thought it was the be-all, end-all musical. That Christmas, I purchased the OBC off of iTunes, and now, a year and a half later, I own both Sweeney performances on DVD, and I'm a Sondheim nut.
So while I don't necessarily love the film because it's perfect (though it was easily one of the best of 2007, any already very strong year) but in spite of its flaws, of which there are a few. As previously stated, Johanna's and Anthony's relationship is very flimsy. That said, one thing I LOVE about the film: the feel of the mood. To a first time viewer, it's thrilling--a joke pops up here and there, but you're on the edge of your seat the entire film. It's amazing to watch it with your first-time friends, I think.

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Sun Jul 11, 2010 8:43 am
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Guh when I went to the NIGHT MUSIC signing all I said to Sondheim was "Thankyou very much".

I should have said, "I am here because I saw the Burton SWEENEY TODD". I'm sure he would have been interested to know what it has 'achieved'.


Sun Jul 11, 2010 3:10 pm
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Mungojerrie_rt wrote:
Personally, I found the film funny, and liked Helena Bonham Carter's delivery of humour. I like darkly funny things delivered in all seriousness. In fact I like most of my comedy that way.


I don't think you understand the humour in ST.

The point is that Lovett is aware of how hysterically fun she is. It is because she is completely amoral. That's why she is so terribly scary.

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Mon Jul 12, 2010 1:35 am
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