Sunday, December 30, 2007


I saw the movie. And, feel compelled to write a follow-up blog as I said I would. Unfortunately, this one's not going to be filled with epiphanies about my closed-mindedness or of self-flagellation under my desk: "DELIVER ME! TIM BURTON!!" .... oh WAIT, you cut that from the movie ....

To begin, I almost feel like I shouldn't even *write* the rest of this, except to say this: If they made Dreamgirls into a movie and cast people in the roles who looked just right, but had been pulled from the world's leading graduate musical theatre and opera schools, you'd be pissed, right? I don't mean to manipulate you, but it wouldn't really sound quite right to your ears, and you'd leave feeling that perhaps you'd missed something, but you just didn't really feel a need for the strange innovation which you just saw? I'm not talking about marketing here, before you point out that they were able to be true to the Dreamgirls style beceause it's what people want. I'm talking about you, and your reaction, so that you might understand how I feel. After all, it's a pointless hypothetical, isn't it?

Well, that's how I felt about this movie. The reedy, whiny, unpleasant "voices" of too many of its actors, not just computer-generated HBC, made it completely impossible for me to appreciate most of Tim Burton's choices. Furthermore, his and Mr. Sondheim's cutting the film down to 1 hour and 57 minutes, perhaps unnecessarily, made the whole thing feel rushed, robotic, unfeeling and under-nuanced. His "artful gravitation" toward the blood and the throat-splitting felt ornamental to me because the film's original message of "man devouring man" was lost due to a total dehumanization of everyone in the film.

"By the Sea" was visually appealing, but the total lack of chemistry between the two up to that point -- much less at least on a business-partner level -- than I've seen on the stage, made me keep my overwhelming "I DON'T CARE ABOUT ANY OF YOU" hat pasted firmly to my head. The cutting of "Kiss Me" and a host of other young lover-related things made the two seem a little too much like little mosquitos floating around the real plot. "A Little Priest" was devoid of joy a) because they sounded like they were having a lot of trouble with the lilting melodies and weird rhythms of the song for one and b) because unlike onstage, they didn't have to make their fun, so it became a scientific song about pointing out of the window and deciding whom to cook and eat. I'll keep "Silence of the Lambs" for that. "Epiphany" fell slightly flat for me too, though Depp did OK with it vocally, because one of my favorite parts of that song has to do with My feeling as a member of the audience being fucking freaked out, and watching Mrs. Lovett be, as well. Burton chose that one as his "Let's move it to the street" number, and I ended up feeling taken out of it, and the whole "out of body experience" just made it seem less real.

Pirelli and the Beadle were both wonderfully cast, but I just missed their character tenor identities and I think it took away from the characterization something that was not supplemented. Much less fun and much less creepy.

All right, so realism is not Burton's thing. Too bad, because the one thing I think that could have been served by a film version of this is that the city itself could have been accurately represented. Not so. Swirly buildings aside, my favorite utterly-laughable moment is when the Beadle throws Anthony out of the judge's house and then beats the crap out of his face, only to have Anthony rise and sing through his bloody, broken teeth. Yeah, Anthony's a little silly, but I usually end up feeling for his side of the story because he's dignified and passionate in his own way, and really wants to take care of Johanna, who's story we know a lot more about onstage. A lot of it for me, also has to do with his voice. Here, he's just a whiny guy who keeps saying the same damn thing over and over and over again, hardly ever actually interacting with Johanna before he risks his life to get her out a mental institution. What a douchebag.

While we're on realism, a lot of people have been upbraiding me for my desire for better voices in the movie. After all, would the "real" Mrs. Lovett have had a great voice? No. Well, they would not have broken out into song either, so ....

Finally, is it too brazen to suggest: With all the New York Times articles floating around, I think we've been tricked to a degree. Sure, Sondheim and Burton can come up scores of English major bullshit reasons as to why songs were cut, the most obvious being that they don't advance the plot. But when you strip away character entirely because a song doesn't advance the plot, you're left with something that feels, as I said, rushed and under-nuanced. Sondheim's not an idiot. How dare we suggest that he write things that could have been trimmed away with the fat? Therefore:

Dare I suggest .... that songs like the Judge's Johanna, like Ah Miss and Kiss Me and the Ballad were cut because THEY WERE TOO HARD?? If so, and I think it's a real possibilty for at least a few of those choices, shame on them. At least own up to it, or realize you can't stand the heat and get out of the kitchen.

So maybe I'm alone in my reactions and maybe I care more about Broadway than Hollywood. But I'm fine marching to the beat of my own drummer on this one.

To quote Beauty and the Beast, "If it isn't baroque, don't fix it."


Nate said...

I believe that that's "if it ain't 'baroque,' don't fix it."

But point taken, in any case!

Nate said...

Also, I'm totally a douche, because Cogsworth would never in a million years say 'ain't.'

Tried to nitpick for comedy, was sloppy, ruined it.