I had a funny discussion the other day with another New Yorker living in LA. He said he felt like an "expat" here: a "big fish living in a small pond," in his telling--at least when it comes to meeting people who think beyond headlines. I didn't exactly agree or make the statement, but it wasn't the first time I heard it. Luckily, I've met tons of brilliant people in my new fair city. But I've sought a lot of them out. You don't always converse with new ones in line at El Pollo Loco. But my tales of serendipitous philosophical chicken-joint communion will have to wait.
Funnily, another friend just pointed out that Variety, Hollywood's glory trade mag (Ari Gold once called it the "school paper" on Entourage), linked to my Sweeney Todd piece earlier in December. The blog's quote? "Adam Baer claims that 'Tim Burton "re-invents the movie musical" with 'Sweeney Todd.' Really?'"
I had to laugh when I saw that. Did the blogger even realize that the actual subhead of the article--written by someone other than me--made it very clear that "re-inventing the movie musical" is what the filmmakers claim, and that I simply reported what they had to say? Probably not, because short-order blogs and especially movie-trade blogs meant for D-people aren't exactly the most accurate places to get your news.
Read the story that I wrote carefully. There's hardly any criticism in the piece, save for a very careful statement that reads: " [Sweeney's] as entertaining, artistic and efficient as anyone could make a 'Sweeney Todd' film that might appeal to a broad swath of moviegoers." While I believe the movie is entertaining and a great shot at creating a Hollywood movie version of Sweeney, save for a lot of the singing, I don't go beyond that point. I'm not hired to be a critic here. And I'm actually pleased with that fact. So argue away with each other. I'm not jumping into the fray as a film or music critic on this one.
And that's the way it was supposed to be. I was paid to tell other peoples' stories in this case. Additionally, I write that: "The key, therefore, was not to produce a performance film like Ingmar Bergman's "The Magic Flute" but to create an original movie genre: a consciously present-day spoke-sung music-film with younger actors, no traditional singers and a cinema-grotesquerie style, full of viscous slashes of blood." But this isn't my opinion. It's implied that the "key" belongs to the filmmakers. This is the opinion of those interviewed--see forthcoming Steven Sondheim quote. It's factual reportage.
In Sondheim's words: "You can't just adapt stage musicals for the screen. You have to re-create them."
If I had been hired to critique the film, I might have printed all kinds of comments that discuss this recreation of genre and what Sweeney means to music and film. But I wasn't. And I'm not going to do it here and undermine my story. I stand by it. And if its sub-headline should read that the filmmakers' claim they've created a new genre--and if I should go on to give you those opinions--well, that doesn't mean I'm making the critical statement.
Frankly, after a childhood of conservatory composition, mainstream movie-loving, and a decade of criticism, I don't think Sweeney re-invents the movie musical; I think it adds new elements to it as filmic entertainment. As I wrote: " Sweeney's new Burtonesque world is a visceral, inflated experience only film can provide."
But please, Variety blog, read between the lines before misquoting
reporters on critical statements they, personally, haven't made. This
sort of reaction to a story about Sweeney Todd is exactly what worried
me when I learned such a meaningful and complex piece of music-theater
was going to be fed to the multiplex crowd--and those who
blog for those who feed them. Perhaps I should have asked the producers if they were worried about how the insider movie press would handle the movie and the primary press it might inspire--as opposed to how audiences across America would handle it. Happily, I left a midwestern theater the other day after seeing the movie in its completed version to find goth teenagers singing "Nothing's Gonna Harm You..." Sondheim doesn't need anyone's help connecting to any brand of audience.