something to lighten up the mood....:)
By Jan Henning
Dir: Tim Burton. Screenplay: John Logan
Based on: the musical by Sondheim and Wheeler
Tim Burton’s recent film of Sweeney Todd, starring Depp, Bonham-Carter and Rickman, is more streamlined than the original stage-musical; probably because of the vocal limitations of the three principals. Therefore sundry things like a coherent plotline and chorus of Bedlam-lunatics, are dispensed with. This strategy has the effect of throwing certain aspects of this venerable tale into stark relief.
One of these is the economic underpinning of the Sweeney-Lovett combined barbering-and-pies consortium.
Let us therefore look at how a serial killer and a besotted but amoral baker succeed in their joint enterprise, by turning an inevitable by-product into a commodity.
When Mr Todd returns to London from his enforced holiday in the antipodes, it is clear that the city is in the grip of an economic recession. We are informed of this by Mrs Lovett, the pie baker.
Ah, sir, times is hard, Times is hard!
We shall see that, throughout, it is Mrs Lovett who keeps a grip on the economic realities. Her two main songs – The Worst Pies in London, and A Little Priest - give a clear outline of her economic modus operandi; first before, then after she sets up the partnership.
In The Worst Pies, her business is on the brink of collapse. She has no custom, and insufficient raw materials with which to make the pies. Meat is in short supply, and therefore too expensive for her limited means. Thus her “meat pies” are without their main ingredient.
She attempts to rectify the situation in three ways.
Firstly she thickens the lard-based pastry - It's nothing but crusting!
Secondly she serves alcohol with the pies to mitigate the effect of the taste - Here, drink this, you'll need it!
Finally she resorts to road-kill for the pie filling –
Never thought I'd live to see the day when men would think it was a treat
Findin' poor animals wot are dyin' in the street!
None of these strategies have worked; and indeed, her rival Mrs Mooney, with pies made from (live) domestic cats, is fast cornering the market. Lovett admires the strategy, but confesses that she is unable to imitate it –
And I'm tellin' you, them pussycats is quick!...... Well, pity a woman alone, with limited wind …
It’s at this low point her career that Sweeney Todd arrives in her shop, intent on revenge against the wicked Judge Turpin, who has condemned him to Transportation, then debauched his wife and abducted his infant daughter. Later, when Sweeney has made his first kill; and also narrowly missed in his first attempt at the Judge and is feeling ready to widen the scope of his revenge, it is Mrs Lovett who sees the possibilities inherent in a constant supply of fresh corpses..
Her economic logic is impeccable:
Such a nice, plump frame wot's 'is name has...
Nor it can't be traced...
Bus'ness needs a lift,
Debts to be erased..
Think of it as thrift, as a gift, if you get my drift!
And then – this remarkable calculation:
Take, for instance, Mrs. Mooney and her pie shop!
Bus'ness never better using only pussycats and toast!
And a pussy's good for maybe six or seven at the most!
And I'm sure they can't compare as far as taste!
Thus, with a guaranteed supply of fresh meat, and the services of Workhouse-orphan Toby, who has a superb line in hard-selling to customers, Mrs Lovett’s business gets a kick-start. Later we see the successful pie shop – premises refurbished and improved – barely meeting the demands of its customers.
Sweeney himself contributes to the business solely as a creative artist. Money is never his principal aim, even in his own barber-shop. He becomes a commodity-supplier as a by-product of his over-arching aim in life; which is revenge.
Finally, of course, the cosy business enterprise is terminated quite suddenly. It’s worth speculating whether this could have been averted if only it had occurred to Mrs Lovett to diversify into glue-manufacture. That way those inconvenient (and incriminating) finger and toe-bones might also have been gainfully processed into a utility; with the useful side effect of destroying the evidence more completely.
Sadly this failure to diversify resulted in …….. ah, but that would spoil the ending!