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.”
My good neighbor of long standing said to me, You know, I think that old nursery rhyme, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, is the golden key To a successful life. Remember how it goes?
Oh yes, I said, but what about all those folks Whose boat is leaking, and their oars have Battered blades and split handles that pinch Their palms and splinter their fingers at every stroke, And as far as they can see downstream, There is crashing white water, great boulders And perhaps a fatal waterfall ahead?
Ah yes, he sighed. I pray for them every day. I pray earnestly that they can swim—that they Know how to swim, he said, pouting his lips Thoughtfully and nodding his white head. Yes, they must know how to swim.
Religion is often on display in professional athletics, with the exception of the National Hockey League. The few hockey players who are open about their faith buck a tradition of reticence or downright distrustfulness toward religion. Unlike professional football or basketball, many NHL players come from Canada or Europe, where the culture is much more secular and religious faith is closely guarded. There is also the suspicion in hockey that a person of faith might be too soft a player. Some hockey clubs make chapel services available, but far fewer than in professional basketball (Boston Globe, April 5).