Monday, April 09, 2012

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #19--Sleepy Hollow (1999)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

Beware Sleepy Hollow.
At the turn of the 18th century, New York City Constable Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is just beginning to introduce his colleagues to the scientific approach to criminal investigation using homemade primitive tools and potions. Laughed out of town, he is sent upper state to Sleepy Hollow, where he will use his "experiments" to solve the mystery behind a series of random beheadings. Upon arrival to this quiet village, Ichabod meets an odd cast of characters who tell him the legend of the headless horseman (Christopher Walken), an evil Hessian who rises from the dead to collect the heads. A squeamish man of science, Ichabod must forget reason and face his fears to solve this case.

Do it with style!
Tim sets up a shot at The Tree of the Dead.
Sleepy Hollow marks Johnny's third collaboration with Tim Burton. As with the previous two (Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood), they shared a common interest and vision for it. "It's the type of movie that I used to like to watch all the time and actually made me want to make movies," Tim said. "It has a good healthy mix of excitement and [being] slightly scary but funny all at the same time. That is always interesting, trying to mix all those things together." Johnny agreed: "I used to watch all sorts of horror films as a kid. I loved them. I was obsessed with them and wanted to recreate that classic style of horror film acting." (Think of Vincent Price and Peter Cushing.) Sleepy Hollow turned into an admirable salute to Hammer Horror Films, which both Tim and Johnny grew up watching.

The film's fantastic supporting cast includes Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Christopher Walken, and a bunch of memorable character actors--all of whom, reviewers noted, have great silent-movie-era faces. Because of their great faces, Tim began treating the film like a silent movie, despite all the dialogue, letting the actors convey things without saying them. Christopher Walken actually modeled the headless horseman after Lon Chaney's "Wolfman" character. "My figure is a little like me: After a day of chopping heads, he just goes home and has dinner," he joked. "My forte seems to be psychotic, twisted people. He's very like that." (I love that he does nothing but growl.) And, Tim even got Christopher Lee ("Drakula" of the Hammer Horror Films) to give a cameo. "That was a real honor to have him play this part and sort of set the tone for the film," he said. "It's amazing to watch this person work, this person who's inspired you. He has such a power to him."

Ichabod Crane was originally written as an unattractive fellow, and Johnny was all for using a prosthetic nose and big ears. Thankfully, his director talked him out of it. "Tim was very smart in thinking that we didn't need it, that there were other ways," Johnny explained. "I think, ultimately, he was right to show an Ichabod Crane who--on the surface--is kind of stoic and likes to think of of himself as a sort of manly man. But, in fact, he's very fragile, sensitive, and flawed." For his inspiration, Johnny gave Ichabod Angela Lansbury's "Murder She Wrote" super-sleuthing talents mixed in with the squeamish fears of a little girl.

"Johnny is so kind and such an amazing actor," Christina Ricci, who also worked with him in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, said. "He takes risks and does things that other actors wouldn't do because of their vanity. He's willing to make a complete fool out of himself for the performance." Tim explained, "Johnny was excellent at pretending you know what you're talking about when you haven't a clue. He's also a very good physical actor. He understood--when you look at people like Peter Cushing--these actors in these kinds of movies, where there's a kind of style. It's almost like animation poses, where movement is very much a part of the character. He's very good at that." Johnny is really funny in this movie.

Based on Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," this is a story that everyone involved remembered as a kid, either from the classic book or the Disney cartoon. Tim stayed true to the story and its fairytale feel. But, built from scratch in the English countryside (or in studio), everything from the village homes to the haunted Western Woods are unmistakably Tim Burton's vision. Everything is a little off, twisted, eerie--and fantastic. "I think Tim, first and foremost, is an artist. He has an artist's approach to every facet of the film," Johnny said. "Everything within the frame is of great importance to him--the composition of the shot, the colors, the movement." When I first saw photographs of the set during filming, I immediately started bouncing off the walls to see the finished product. "Tim is so incredibly visual," Christina Ricci said, "His movies are just really beautiful but strange, and for this kind of movie, that's exactly what it needs." Miranda Richardson agreed, "When you walk on to a set that Tim's made, it's extremely magical. It's like another world. It's very exciting to see his beautiful drawings realized in full." Simply put, Johnny said of Tim's Sleepy Hollow, "I want to live there."
Sleepy Hollow was nominated for a bunch of awards. It won an Oscar for best art direction/set decoration, and Johnny won a Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Actor of the Year (Horror).

Nothing brings the family together like a Johnny Movie.
Released on Thanksgiving, my entire family was around to be dragged to the theater during Sleepy Hollow's opening weekend. Everyone liked this one, lopped off heads and all.
The Kitties revisit Sleepy Hollow.
As many of you may know, I participate in, which gives a word for artistic inspiration each week. One week, Illustration Friday's word was "hollow," and I couldn't think of anything else but this movie. (I really can't help it.) Here's the drawing I came up with for it back then:

[Sleepy] Hollow (July 10, 2009)
(Illustration Friday: July 10, 2009)
After watching the film for Johnny Kitties, I'm still in love with Tim Burton's Tree of the Dead, but more Kitties wanted to be involved in the illustration. Here, Ichabod, Katrina (Mini) and Young Masbath (Marc Pickering/Simon) look on as the horseman reclaims his head and sets toward his resting place with some company, Katrina's stepmother (Miranda Richardson/The Mother Kitty). Tim considers this a happy ending for all.

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp--Film #19--Sleepy Hollow (1999) [January 28, 2012]

Johnny kept busy in the '90s.
If you haven't noticed already, Johnny's a pretty prolific guy with interests all over the place. Since I missed mentioning some of his side projects and extra-curricular activities at the time, here are some highlights from the 1990s.

-- Introduced Neil Young singing his Oscar-nominated song "Philadelphia" at the 66th Annual Academy Awards.

-- Participated in The Help Album, a charity recording benefiting The War Child Project targeting such war-stricken areas as Bosnia and Herzegovina. Johnny plays guitar on a song called, "Fade Away," with Oasis and friends.
-- Formed a band called P with Gibby Hanes, Bill Carter, and Sal Jenco. They record and release an album on Capitol Records.

-- Met French model/singer/actress/soul mate Vanessa Paradis: "It was love at first sight," Johnny said. "Vanessa, to me, has been a kind of miracle."

-- Portrayed one of his literary heroes, Jack Kerouac, in an American Masters documentary called The Source: The Story of The Beats and The Beat Generation
-- Received an honorary Cesar--the French equivalent to an Oscar--for his body of work. 
-- Was honored with a star on The Walk of Fame.
-- Became a father to daughter Lily-Rose, born in May, who magically, instantly, and noticeably made Johnny a calmer, happier person: "My daughter, the birth of my daughter, gave me life. I'm sure I smiled before, laughed before, but now I can really feel it."  

Bring on the 2000s!
Next month, Johnny fills up on Chocolat.

(Sleepy Hollow images © Paramount; P cover art © Capitol Records; The Source cover art © Fox Lorber; photos of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis at Sleepy Hollow premiere and Johnny Depp's Walk of Fame star © unknown.)

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