Unlikely as it sounds, director Tim Burton missed all the jokes in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The origins of the celebrated 1979 musical, written by Stephen Sondheim in collaboration with Hugh Wheeler, lie in the vaudeville-style English music hall tradition and in 19th-century penny dreadfuls.
This is the last outrage, what women do in secret, slipping their fingers under bras or nightgowns on wild, moon-driven nights, needing to true the circle of their breasts, wanting to lunge below desire, beneath arousal and beyond the sweet milk-happiness of feeding children to find the nuclear godawful contraband their bodies might be hiding—the refrain danger, danger, singing in their minds.
At dusk I slip into a pew, enthralled, alert, combing through the week to find what might destroy me, to send it away. Lawyer, accused, bent to root out scandal, my hands judging. And also, maybe guilty.
Can you tell me what to want now? I can’t go on, no turning back. We’d sing, “Jesus on the main line, tell him what you want. Just call him up, tell him what you want, what you want.” But these six months, they came to me, I tell you— tire tracks and footsteps flattened the grass ’round the green tent—my words made such sound toward the crowd—they bent, repented. But I knew I was nothing, I just stalled in the river’s flow. I waited for you, tensed as a dog’s hind leg crouching before bread crusts and melon rinds. Miz Black yowls “Call him up, call him up now!” But you’re here, and I’m blown, a cattail’s sag, I am birds dispersed—pepper in the wind.
I often tell screenwriting students not to avoid the difficult scene. By “difficult scene” I mean one involving a serious confrontation, a declaration of love or infidelity, or a confession of sin or weakness. These are scenes that lesser writers try to work around, since they are so difficult to write. But these scenes are the cornerstones of a meaningful story.
Joel and Ethan Coen accomplish what Cormac McCarthy set out to do in his bombastic 2005 novel No Country for Old Men. The movie by the same name is a portrait of the moral void of post-Vietnam America (it’s set in 1980). The title, which implies a nostalgia for vanished old-world values, is taken from Yeats’s poem “Sailing to Byzantium.”
I have met them in the Uffizi the angel hunched on bended knee— his thigh thick beneath his satin robe— the virgin’s urgent contrapposto her sudden arm extended long beyond the border of her cape halting his rehearsed song as if his theme weren’t love but rape.
Her face impossibly serene does not betray her body’s fear. His deathless eyes have never seen a mortal woman quite so near. The space between their outstretched hands salvation in a single glance.
At least half of churchgoers in the United Kingdom claim they’ve heard their church organist occasionally slip in unexpected tunes, from popular songs to advertising jingles and theme songs from TV programs or movies. Sometimes organists are motivated by playfulness, other times revenge. One organist played “Money, Money, Money” by Abba while the offering was taken. Another played “Roll Out the Barrel” at a funeral for a man known for his drinking. (The organist got sacked for this transgression.) An organist in Scotland at odds with the elders played a thinly disguised version of “Send in the Clowns” during the procession in a worship service (Telegraph, May 3, 2013).