Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Edward Scissorhands, The Ballet

Last weekend I went to Brooklyn for a performance @ BAM. We attended Matthew Bourne's dance translation of Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands. Despite Bourne's reputation as a controversial hit maker, this production is decidely lacking in edge. It turns out to be a faithful overly kid friendly 'cut and paste' adaptation. There are a few plot simplifications to accomodate a theatrical performance (due to their physical nature they can't have as many sets or scene changes) but otherwise it's a kissing cousin to many recent film-to-stage transitions which don't so much rethink the movies as simply stage them.

By now you know where I stand on this issue. If you're adapting a work of any sort from one medium to another it must be sufficiently rethought or it becomes a disposable awkward copy. I was expecting to see Tim Burton's most significant work rethought as a ballet but the production didn't feel commited to the dancing. This version is more of a movement piece. You come away feeling like you've seen a mimed version of Edward Scissorhands rather than a dance version.


There's two significant changes to the 1990 film's story and though they aggravated me considerably they also felt like something Tim Burton would approve of given his recent filmography. Just like Burton's new version Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this one adds father/son backstory. You don't need it. Magical tales are usually best when they're unexplained, giving your imagination room to move. I don't need to know why Vincent Price and Johnny Depp were playing Geppetto & Pinnochio style parent/child issues writ fantastical. I like that it was painted in whimsical large strokes.

The other change came at the end when Edward escapes without actually killing his jock attacker. I assume this change was made since nobody believes anyone can handle mixed emotions anymore --best that everything be easy to digest and leaning towards cheerful. Most old fairy tales and even, it turns out, new ones don't pass the modern test anymore: too grim. Everything must be infantilized. No one must be upset at any development.

I don't mean to imply that this production is terrible so much as unsatisfying. The production team does do a witty job rethinking Burton's fun cookie cutter suburbia and the famous romantic ice statue sequence transfers as well as you would imagine: it was already a non-verbal dance piece. Here it's just amplified and the topiary statues come beautifully to life. But mostly this production just left me longing for my DVD player and another look at Burton's remarkable early career peak. I've never thought of Edward Scissorhands as an "actors movie" or a "screenplay" movie per se (though I do think Depp's indelible creation was Oscar worthy) but I found myself missing the actors obedient puppy simplicity and Dianne Wiest's maternal warmth and carefully sugared line readings. Danny Elfman's famous score was ever present but the movie's less celebrated audio wonder -- that perfectly succinct dialogue --was greatly missed.

"Hold me."

"I can't"

Time to watch the magical film again.


Edward Copeland said...

What's crazy is I've heard there are plans in the works to make musical versions of Cry-Baby, Benny and Joon and Don Juan de Marco. Are they planning to stage everything Depp has made? Personally, I can't wait to see the Broadway musical incarnation of The Brave.


and you know they'll try Pirates... when will the cycle end. Donnie Brasco?

Beau said...

Burton's best. Alongside 'Batman Returns', (no, I'm not kidding.)


for a long time i thought of Batman Returns as much better than it gets credit for being but i've cooled down on it a little. I still think it's the best Batman film period (yes including the much newly loved Begins) but it still has some trouble spots.

i can never get enough catwoman though.

Damian Arlyn said...

Personally, I've always thought that The Nightmare Before Christmas would make a good stage musical. Of course, it would have to be expanded, lengthened and Danny Elfman would have to write a few more songs, but since you can never have too much of a good thing, I wouldn't complain. :)

alexgirl said...

That sounds like a Hot Mess.

Can I just say: I saw an operatic adaptation of David Lynch's Lost Highway at Columbia a few weeks ago. Wow. Just, wow. I'm too tired to get into it now, but it was laughably, stupefyingly, mind-numbingly bad.

Glenn Dunks said...

My fave Burton's are Edward and Batman Returns and, yes, Sleepy Hollow.

WickedScorp said...

Very nicely put. I also found the new pieces of music glaringly bad and limp up against Elfman's sweeping original work. They should have gone all or nothing there. I was also very underwhelmed by the production design. Burton's works are so visually driven and here all the set pieces look kind of cheap and cobbled. The performer who portrayed Joyce is the show's brightest spot; she is a hilarious vamp. I didn't hate it but was disappointed.

Beau said...

you know, sleepy hollow, for all the bad rep it gets, is actually a very decent film. great style, great flair, great escapism.

i've never actually caught on to 'batman begins' for one reason or another. it's decent, don't get me wrong, but i didn't walk out of the screen proclaiming it to be the end-all be-all of 'batman' themed films.

'returns' just had that deeply rooted dark comic edge to it. so disturbed and demented that it exceeds even the strangest of burton's work. and pheiffer was incandescent in that flick, just... one of those performances to rank alongside depp in the first 'pirates' where it just makes the film so much better than it has any right to be, on account of the actor's total dedication and submission to the role. excellent.

i still get a kick out of watching honey bunny backflip, pause, (the looks on DeVito and Keaton are priceless),
and that single, perfect 'Meow'.

Glenn Dunks said...

I love, in Returns, the way the camera moves and the massive gothic cityscapes and, yes, Michelle Pfeiffer in, dare I say, her best performance? Pretty neck-and-neck I guess with Baker Boys, but still...

My favourite bit though is when, and my mind is a bit fuzzy cause it's been a while, the Penguin's acrobat henchman (?) backflips across the stage and steals a baby and then jumps into the manhole. The way the acrobatic dude can be seen really far back just getting closer and closer. Aagh. I need to watch that again.

gabrieloak said...

I really liked Bourne's Swan Lake but I skipped Scissorhands because it sounded unnecesssary. I guess I'll wait to see Bourne's take on Romeo and Juliet.

Digital Narhwal said...

I heard that a cd by the rock band lovedrug matches up perfectly to the movie edward scissor hands on shuffle. I think the cd is called everything starts where it ends.