Monday, October 29, 2007

sleepy hollow

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tim burton's 1999 film version of washington irving's the legend of sleepy hollow is fast becoming my favorite halloween film.

starring johnny depp, christina ricci, miranda richardson, + michael gambon, the film features a decapitation roughly every five minutes, each one more cinematically elaborate +, well, 'fun,' for lack of a better word, than the last.

when i first saw the movie in a theatre, i enjoyed it but was mildly disappointed with it. parts of the movie drag, none more than the multiple confrontations that follow the revelation of the headless horseman's 'secret.'

but the movie has grown in my estimation with each subsequent viewing. it is startlingly beautiful entertainment. the recreation of the 18th-c. new england town of sleepy hollow, suggests carpenter's gothic + the color illustrations of howard pyle. the film visually cites disney, currier + ives, hitchcock, + bava ... not to mention burton himself, as elements of the movie deliberately recall beetlejuice + the nightmare before christmas.

depp gives his expected charming performance, as usual a pastiche of other actors' performances, most noticeably (for me) several nods to roddy mcdowall--particularly as he was in disney's the adventures of bullwhip griffin.

ricci has less to do, in a role obviously conceived for a more conventional (+ passive) beauty (someone, say, like winona ryder), but she is lovely + convincing as an aloof blonde with undertones of witchiness.

but the star of the movie is the 18 on-screen decapitations. hardly gruesome at all, certainly nothing compared to se7en or csi post-mortems, + filmed with energy + imagination. the ones that don't make you smile leave you with an enduring chill, but more heart-wrenching than gut-wrenching (like the best hitchcock).

reviewing this fine film on dvd--twice in the last two or three weeks--has only whet my appetite for what burton-depp do with sweeney todd: the demon barber of fleet street, due in theaters this christmas. hopefully, sweeney will spin burton back into true form (after disappointments like planet of the apes + big fish, less so charlie + the chocolate factory).

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