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.
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 was, no kidding, a visiting writer in a kindergarten recently, And the children asked me many wry and hilarious questions, Among them is that your real nose? and can you write a book About a ruffed grouse, please? But the one that pops back into My mind this morning was what do poems do? Answers: swirl Leaves along sidewalks suddenly when there is no wind. Open Recalcitrant jars of honey. Be huckleberries in earliest January, When berries are only a shivering idea on a bush. Be your dad For a moment again, tall and amused and smelling like Sunday. Be the awful wheeze of a kid with the flu. Remind you of what You didn’t ever forget but only mislaid or misfiled. Be badgers, Meteor showers, falcons, prayers, sneers, mayors, confessionals. They are built to slide into you sideways. You have poetry slots Where your gills used to be, when you lived inside your mother. If you hold a poem right you can go back there. Find the handle. Take a skitter of words and speak gently to them, and you’ll see.
Patients at the Maple City Health Care Center in Goshen, Indiana, have a new way to pay for medical services. They can join Martha’s Gift program, which knits blankets for babies in the community, and receive a credit against their bill. The knitting happens in a group setting in which people joke, laugh, and share their lives. The center serves low-income people and the uninsured. It has a sliding scale payment plan, but offers community service projects as another way to pay off bills. The knitting program not only makes health care more affordable but counters the isolation that often accompanies illness (Elkhart Truth, December 31).