The Chapel Feralous


Sweeney Todd February 7, 2008

Filed under: art,film,modern history,music,mysteries,mythology — feralbrown @ 7:41 pm

Sweeney Todd

“There’s a hole in the world
Like a great black pit
and the vermin of the world inhabit it
And its morals aren’t worth
what a pig could spit
And it goes by the name of London.”

“No Place like London” by Stephen Sondheim from Sweeney Todd

One last thing I should put up here, and then I think I’m up-to-date so far, and continue updating this from the present…

On the Australia Day weekend, Tegan and I went to see Sweeney Todd- The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I’m a massive fan of Tim Burton, and am also quite partial to *most* of Johnny Depp‘s and Helena Bonham Carter‘s movies (they’re just two of those quality actors who choose good stuff, IMHO), so even though I knew it was a musical, I just had to see it. It was totally worth it!!! If you’re into dark Victorian aesthetics, this is definately a must-see on the big screen! The cinematography is wicked… really transmits that nitty-gritty, dark, grimey scum/slum London vibe. The storyline was excellent, too… I can’t stand it when I know where something is going, which more-often-than-not leaves me feeling at least a little disappointed by most movies, unfortunately. There are several little twists, particularly near the end that really drove the story home!!!

The character Sweeney Todd is one of those old English folk-villains of sorts (much like the various Headless Horsemen -one of which is a bone fide ancestor of mine!!!) who appears as a vengeful and murderous character in a number of penny dreadfuls (the first being “The String of Pearls” in 1846) and urban myths.  The story has also been adapted and re-adapted a number of times for the stage.  He was, apparently roughly based on a real-life character, though!!!

Sweeney Todd was the only child of a pair of silk industry workers who labored in their home in the slum of Stepney. His parents were both alcoholics who placed a desire for gin above everything else in life, and Sweeney quickly learned where he ranked in order of importance to his parents.

He wasn’t alone in this regard. Gin, which had recently been introduced to England from the Netherlands, was increasingly becoming the true opiate of the masses. William Hogarth, whose etchings frequently took on a moralistic tone, reveals the upper-class attitude toward the liquor in his artwork, Gin Lane, which features a half-naked drunken woman oblivious to her child, who is falling head first to the ground out of her arms. In the background of Gin Lane, buildings crumble from disrepair, and the devil operates the local pawnshop, which, along with the undertaker’s, represents the only thriving businesses in the district. An emaciated, half-dead skeleton of a man sits in a drunken stupor across from his inebriated wife.

Made from cheap corn and fermented juniper berries, gin was partly responsible for the rising crime and lower life-expectancy in London, where gin mills frequently advertised “drunk for a penny, dead drunk for two pence, clean straw provided.” Beer, wine and sherry were much too expensive for the laboring classes, but Hogarth, in the antithesis to his Gin Lane etching, created another artwork, which shows happy, healthy beer drinkers in a clean, safe neighborhood where the only ramshackle shops are, of course, the undertaker and pawn broker.

“Gin was said to be the drink of the more sedentary trades,” wrote David Hughson in his 1806 History of London. “It was essentially a disease of poverty, so cheap, so warming and brought such forgetfulness of cold and misery.”

Colin Wilson reports that in the year following Sweeney Todd’s birth, eight million gallons of gin were consumed in England, with Londoners responsible for 14 gallons each. As gin consumption increased, so did crime and cruelty. “Pity was a strange and valuable emotion,” wrote Christopher Hibbert in The Roots of Evil. “Unwanted babies were left out in the streets to die or were thrown into dung heaps or open drains; the torture of animals was a popular sport. Cat-dropping, bear-baiting and bull-baiting were as universally enjoyed as throwing at cocks.”

Sweeney Todd obviously did not enjoy a happy childhood, which ended all-too-quickly when he was forced to go to work helping his family load silk threads onto bobbins for the clothing mills. The Todds would never be able to afford the clothes they were making. Flax and wool, not silk, formed the basis for their wardrobes. And their wardrobes, meager as they were, were all the Todd family owned. “The poverty and distress of some of these people is inconceivable; very generally a family in every room with very little bedding, furniture or clothes. The few rags on their backs comprised the principal part of their property,” a contemporary writer said about the silk industry workers.

Young Sweeney grew up in the shadow of the infamous Tower of London, which in his youth had been converted into a museum and the Royal Zoo. Haining reports that Sweeney spent as much time as possible in the tower, where he was fascinated by the displayed instruments of torture, the stories shared by Tower workers, as well as by the cruelty which the zookeepers inflicted on their imprisoned pets. His penchant for violence was further enhanced during the 1758 Silk Workers Riots, where impoverished workers infuriated over the importation of cheap calico, went on the warpath and attacked women wearing the inexpensive cotton cloth imported from India.

By all accounts, contemporary and historic, Sweeney was loved by his mother, beaten and ignored by his father. His mother’s affections, however, weren’t returned: “I was fondled and kissed and called a pretty boy,” he testified in court. “But later I used to wish I was strong enough to throttle her. What the devil did she bring me into this world for unless she had plenty of money to give me so that I might enjoy myself in it?”

The defining moment in young Sweeney’s life occurred when he was 12 or 13 years old. It was one of the coldest winters on record in London, and hundreds of poor people were freezing to death in their homes and on the streets. For his parents, the call of the gin mills was stronger than their dislike of cold, and one evening they went out and left Sweeney Todd alone at home. They never returned.”

From the “Truly Weird and Shocking” section of …MORE HERE

I won’t go too much into it, though, because I don’t wanna give too much away, but, if you can handle humorous evil that breaks out into song every few scenes, check it out while it’s still at the movies!!!

After the movie I had the hugest craving for a meat pie, and to ‘ave a lissin to Lady Sovereign‘s “My England”… REALLY!!!

It ain’t about tea and biscuits. I’m one of those English misfits.
I don’t drink tea I drink spirits, and I talk a lot of slang in my lyrics.
There goes a horse, horses for courses, nah more like corpses on corners,
and Staffordshire Bull Terriers and late night crawlers.
Police carry guns not truncheons, make your own assumptions.
London ain’t all crumpets and trumpers, it’s one big slum pit.

We ain’t all posh like the queen, we ain’t all squeaky clean,
Now do the Tony Blair, throw your hands int the air now everywhere,
We ain’t all squeaky clean, we ain’t all posh like the queen,
Now do the Tony Blair, throw your hands in the air now everywhere,
This is the picture I painted my low down, this my London that I call my home town,
It’s where I’m living and this is my low down,
This is my England I’m letting you know now!

No I don’t watch the Antiques Roadshow, I’d rather listen to Run the Road.
And smoke someone’s fresh homegrown,
And not get bloated on a plate of scones,
Cricket, bowls, croquet, nah PS2 all the way, in an English coucil apartment,
We don’t all wear bowler hats and hire servants.
More like 24 hour surveillance and dog shit on the pavements

Big up Oliver Twist, letting us know the nitty gritty of what London really is,
It ain’t all pretty, deal with the realness, it’s all gritty, deal with the realness.
Ohh the changing of the Queen’s guard, that’s nothing for me to come out of the house for,
Tra la la, I’d rather sit on my arse,
And have a glass of Chardonnay, nah,
We ain’t all Bridget Jones clones, who say pardon me
More like gwanin mate. You get me…


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