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The Reeler Blog

Burton Bloody Burton

By Mat Newman

Tim Burton showed up Thursday to the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Evening With Tim Burton event looking very... Tim Burton. Dressed in black with a tangled mess of hair and black-and-white striped socks straight out of Beetlejuice's wardrobe department, the filmmaker spent an hour talking about his career, Johnny Depp and his new movie Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Barber poles: (L-R) Tim Burton and Johnny Depp on the set of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Photo: Warner Bros.)

The evening began with musings on Burton's early work as an animator for Disney. "I learned how to fall asleep sitting up at my desk for two hours every morning and afternoon -- that's how bad things were," Burton said. "I was working on The Fox and the Hound and found out that I'm really bad at drawing cute foxes. Thankfully I was so bad they moved me to design." The move turned out to be good for his career. By the time he left Disney he'd directed two shorts -- Frankenweenie and Vincent -- that landed him an offer to direct Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.

A few years later Burton started work on Edward Scissorhands with Sweeney star Johnny Depp. Nearly two decades hence the actor and director's names are practically inseparable: Sweeney marks the sixth time the pair have worked together since 1990. But when moderator Richard Peña first approached the subject, Burton answered with a deadpan, "I think he gets enough attention, don't you?"

The indifferent act didn't last long. Burton spent much of the evening praising his on-screen counterpart. "When I met with Johnny, he just seemed like Edward to me," Burton said. "He was on the cover of magazines like Tiger Beat but he wasn't like that on the inside. He's so expressive and sort of has something that makes him seem like a silent movie actor."

Since Scissorhands Depp has been Burton's go-to guy for weirdos -- famously portraying a cross-dressing director (Ed Wood), a squeamish detective (Sleepy Hollow) and a creepy chocolatier (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) among others -- but the character of Sweeney Todd might be the strangest one yet. The film is adapted from the bloody Steven Sondheim stage musical and also stars Burton's fiancée Helena Bonham-Carter, Alan Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen.

"I've never been much of a theater guy, but I saw it in London a long time ago and thought it was great," Burton said. "I was involved with it around 10 years ago, but ended up doing other stuff. Later I came across a drawing I'd done and it looked just like Helena and Johnny, which freaked me out because I didn't know either of them when I'd done it."

The night ended with three clips/songs from Sweeney Todd that Burton described as, "Sweeney comes home, Sweeney gets pissed and Sweeney gets down to business." The look of the film is classic Burton -- muted tones and pale leading actors -- but the real excitement was in how Burton had earned his first-ever R-rating; one reason came in the third and final scene, when Sweeney chalks up a body count of at least a half-dozen in mid-song. The audience oohed every time Depp pulled his straight razor across a throat and ahhed when blood spattered the lens. The director seemed to get a kick out of how much gore Christmastime crowds were in for. The last thing he said before disappearing backstage accompanied a mischievous smile: "If you don't like it, don't worry -- I promise it's not that long."

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street opens Dec. 21 in New York.

Posted at November 15, 2007 9:42 AM

Comments (1)

"how Burton had earned his first-ever R-rating"

Sleepy Hollow was R, last time I checked.

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