I’ve been very remiss recently in doing two things: thanking all the people who sent me goodwill wishes via SFX after my surgery – much appreciated! – and also welcoming those who have recently ‘friended’ me on Facebook. There were more of you than I was expecting, but hey, the more, the merrier!
I should be working right now on a feature for SFX, a review for DVD Review and a whole heap of stuff for someone else, but instead I’m messing about on the net and pondering how much I can do tomorrow without killing myself in the process. Much as I adore writing for a living – and I really do, it’s wonderful, I wouldn’t change a damn thing – sometimes you do get that “Sunday night” feeling like you had as a kid when you’ve messed about all weekend and have to do all your homework at 8pm before going to bed. I could argue that I work better under pressure, but I’d be lying. Still, I always finish everything in the end, so I guess it does work in a way.
And speaking of finishing things: a few weeks ago I handed in my latest column to SFX, only to be told that they’re not covering Sweeney Todd so the entire subject matter was moot. I dutifully scribbled another, but it seems a shame to waste the one I’d originally written, so I thought I’d post it here.
I don’t know if any of you have seen Sweeney Todd yet, but I think it’s fair to say that I adored it. And contrary to what you may think, I don’t actually fancy Johnny Depp very much. He’s handsome, oh yes (hell, I’m not DEAD), but I admire him more as an actor. (No, seriously. Whaddya mean, you don’t believe me? Gits.)
Anyway, here it is. Bear in mind it was written to be read inside an issue of SFX. And that I really, really loved Sweeney Todd…
Johnny Be Good
We all know that Johnny Depp is cool. He’s the moody, smouldering, soulful, crown prince of cool. Johnny Depp is so unquestionably, effortlessly and quintessentially cool that the Oscar Academy (who normally wouldn’t know ‘cool’ if a gigantic ice cube walked into their Beverly Hills mansion, sat on their sofa and melted all over their slippers) even swallowed their hatred of comedy performances to nominate him for an Academy Award for bringing Captain Jack Sparrow to rum-soaked life. Environmental boffins are even considering using his cool as a last-ditch plan to save the polar bears when our ice caps melt.
However, the greatest thing about Mr Depp and his phenomenal coolness is this: he uses it on behalf of SFX.
I’m not saying that Johnny knows us, obviously, although he does have a house a few hundred metres up the road from SFX Towers (and a mere two minutes from where I used to live back when Bath was my home. We’d have shared the same corner store if I’d stayed there, although I’m sure our Johnny’s far too swish to shop at a Co-Op). What I’m saying is that Johnny has, in his long and glorious career, picked a startling amount of roles in movies that fall comfortably under SFX’s umbrella. From his breakout stint in A Nightmare on Elm Street to his ocean (and world)-conquering antics in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, The Deppster has been instrumental in bringing fantasy to the masses.
For this, SFX should hail him as their all-time actorly hero. If Depp had ever deigned to appear in Buffy, The X-Files or Doctor Who (though there’s still time!), there would be no argument that he was the greatest actor of our genre. Even without the TV appearances, Depp is still more than worthy of a place in SFX’s hall of fame as an ambassador for fantasy.
Sweeney Todd is another example of how Depp can make our genre mainstream while simultaneously giving a performance so ‘out there’ he spends most of the story circling around Mars. It’s an all-singing – not to mention all-bleeding – musical mausoleum of fabulousness from Tim Burton, Depp’s dark-gothic cinematic soulmate. Growling his way through the movie like David Bowie’s mascara-wearing evil twin, Depp delivers a performance so manic that Sweeney Todd winds up resembling an anti-Oliver, with a psychotic, mass-murdering Fagin at its heart. At time of writing there’s no way of knowing if the film will be a hit, but who wouldn’t want to see a kohl-eyed Depp slicing throats while singing at the top of his lungs about ‘Pretty Women’? Let’s hope the Academy don’t have heart attacks from shock as they ponder whether to fling an Oscar nomination at him this year. [NB: They did. Result!]
Todd is only the latest in a long line of roles in SFXy movies Depp has drenched in his allure. Jack Sparrow’s piratical poncing is now Hollywood legend, but what about his ditzy Ichabod Crane in Burton’s underrated Sleepy Hollow? Stiff-upper-lipped, pleasingly neurotic and masterfully underplayed, Crane is the midway point between Edward Scissorhands’ silent vulnerability and Sweeney Todd’s venomous brooding. Similarly, Depp’s Inspector Abberline, who appeared in the disappointing From Hell, is another twitchy, moody performance of great likeability (let’s not mention the accent, m’kay?), yet another stopping-off point on his road to Todd’s polished Victorian menace.
But Depp can ham it up, too, as he proved with his occasionally terrifying performance in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the drug-addled mayhem of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He exudes quiet charm in Finding Neverland and lazy turmoil in Stephen King’s Secret Window (possibly the only film Depp’s made in which he looks bored). We can only imagine what he’d have been like in Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote; perhaps, one day, we’ll get to find out, and until then we have the documentary Lost in La Mancha to peruse instead.
Strangely, my favourite Depp performance is the one he gives in Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate. It’s not a great film, its creepy ongoing mystery let down by an ending that seems horribly last-minute, but Depp’s thoroughly compelling as an expert in old books who gets caught up in a hunt for a Satanic text. Nobody can turn pages quite like him. Somehow, Depp makes reading a book seem erotic; no wonder he’s so sexy with his full-on Jack Sparrow sword’n’swagger.
With all this behind him, we can only hope that Depp never switches his allegiances to gentle rom-coms or cheap action flicks. He’s a Hollywood heartthrob hero who revels in playing characters who aren’t by-the-book. In doing so, he brings the bizarre into homes which wouldn’t normally give a film like Sweeney Todd a second look. SFX should be proud to name him their hero… and very happy to be his neighbour.