Friday, May 09, 2014

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #44–Dark Shadows (2012)

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

We've talked about it for many years, but this was the first project that I ever remember Johnny saying he'd wanted to play this ever since he was a little boy. It was one of those things where the show had a lot of impact on us. Johnny, Michelle (Pfeiffer), and I were there at the time it came out, and we just recall it being a very strong, interesting property. Tim Burton on bringing Dark Shadows to the big screen

From Liverpool, the Collins family emigrated to Maine and built their new life in the fishing business during the 1700s. The family's good fortune takes a tragic turn when Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) ends his brief affair with servant girl Angelique (Eva Green), who hones her witchcraft to exact revenge. Following the untimely death of his parents, Barnabas Collins inherits and keeps the family business afloat. But seeing his true love Josette (Bella Heathcote) fall off a cliff to her death proves too much to bear. Though he falls after her and crashes into the rocks below, Barnabas survives because Angelique turned him into a vampire on the way down. After transforming him into this monster so that he can suffer eternally, she decides to lock him in a coffin and bury him, giving him a quiet, compact place to think about how he's wronged her. The lesson here is don't upset the help.

Nearly 200 years later, a construction crew discovers Barnabas's coffin. He frees himself from the box and finds that the world has changed. The town of Collinsport is no longer headed by his family but by Angelique, whose influence has reached nearly all corners. It's 1972. The Collins family home is in disarray and occupied by only a few remaining distant relatives, a psychiatrist, and a nanny. Always devoted to family, Barnabas commits to adapting to this new era, rebuilding the business, restoring the tarnished family name, and dealing with Angelique once and for all. Dark Shadows is Tim Burton's comic tribute to the 1960s soap opera, celebrating the generations of weirdos that comprise the Collins family history.

This has got to be better than Twilight.
Talking it out with Tim Burton
I'd never heard of Dark Shadows, the soap opera, but the idea of it was intriguing! I was excited to see this movie, primarily because I knew that Dark Shadows was a show that Johnny and Tim Burton both watched as kids. I'm sure it took a bit longer, but it seemed to me that Johnny suggest they make a movie together based on Dark Shadows and about five minutes later, it was done and previews for it were showing up everywhere. (In reality, Johnny first brought up the idea to his director on the set of Sweeney Todd, and it took some time before all the right people got involved and everything clicked into action.)

When I saw my first Dark Shadows preview on TV and discovered that Tim Burton decided to make it a comedy, I was a little disappointed. If anybody could make a scary vampire movie that I could stand to watch without having nightmares, it's him and Johnny. The previews seemed goofy, and my vision for the project was shattered! The original show was a drama, and its loyal fans were angry about the change, but I still had faith. I had nothing to compare it to, and  they had their reasons for sticking a 18th century vampire in the 1970s. "Barnabas extols the virtues of family and rejects people who are insincere and selfish. We wanted to pit this selfless family-first hero against the Me Decade," Producer Graham King says. For Tim Burton, the '70s were the most awkward time in his life and seemed the perfect decade to plant a vampire. "The '70s were weird then, and they're weird now," he says. And how could you not use these two elements to make a comedy? Whatever happened, I was sure Dark Shadows would be a unique experience.

What's to love?
This movie is funny! Capturing the spirit of the original soap opera's campy melodrama, everyone teeters on the edge of really bad acting in this movie, and I love it! "It's a tricky tone, and we all recognize that," Tim Burton says. "When we talked about Dark Shadows, part of the appeal was the weird nature of all the elements that went into it. It was very serious, but it was on in the afternoon, on a daily basis. There were certain reasons why we loved the show, but  you couldn't necessarily adopt to a film. It was the weirdest challenge to get the acting tone and the soap opera nature of the tone. That's a weird thing to go for in a Hollywood movie." For Johnny Kitties, I ended up watching Dark Shadows twice on DVD before figuring out what I wanted to draw as tribute. By that time, their overdramatic conversations were cracking me up! In fact, the more I watched, the more moments I caught that tie the story together, and the more I laughed. My advice to you is to watch Dark Shadows more than once. Give it a chance and it will grow on you.

The stars are out. The exciting cast includes Michelle Pfeiffer as the current matriarch of the family Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, Chloe Grace Moretz as her teenage daughter Carolyn, and Jonny Lee Miller as her slimy brother-in-law Roger. Some familiar faces, like Christopher Lee and Helena Bonham Carter, are in this movie too. "I don't know how flattered Helena was to be offered the role of an aging alcoholic psychiatrist, but somebody's got to do it," Tim Burton jokes. Newcomers Gulliver McGrath as Roger's son David and Bella Heathcote as both Barnabas's long-lost love Josette and the nanny Victoria, are impressive, but my favorite casting surprise is Eva Green as Angelique. Best known as a Bond Girl, Eva Green always dreamed about working with Tim Burton and dropped another project to take the role in Dark Shadows. Good choice! She's fantastic as a disgruntled witch seeking revenge! (Diehard fans of the Dark Shadows soap opera will find the original Barnabas Collins, Jonathan Frid, who makes a cameo and his final film appearance in the party crowd.)

It's a Tim Burton movie! Based on its previews, I worried that Dark Shadows would be just too silly, but I was pleasantly surprised that it has a healthy balance of comedy and drama. It looks and feels like a Tim Burton movie all the way through. Yes, there are a few too many "I'm-an-out-of-place vampire-stuck-in-the-'70s" moments in this movie, but it also has its creepy moments with a Gothic backdrop and special effects that only Tim Burton could imagine:
  • Johnny's vampire look incorporated Nosferatu's creepy fingernails! "In every film I've been lucky enough to do with Tim, there's always some form of torture," Johnny says. "The nails were Tim's idea." (If you want to see a good vampire, rent that classic. Nosferatu may be silent, but it will still scare you!)                                 
  • The ethereal ghosts in this movie reminded me of the beautiful undead characters Tim Burton created for The Corpse Bride.
  • My favorite touch is that Angelique's bewitching beauty literally starts to crack under pressure. Seeing her skin turn to eggshells as she gets more stressed brings new meaning to age wrinkles. 
  • The Gothic family mansion is the perfect setting for the over-the-top, questionable family members who live there. (When I first saw the mansion's grand staircase and window, I knew–for better or worse–I had to include it in the Johnny Kitties tribute.)
It's a family affair. While Dark Shadows was not well received by critics, as a fan, I love that I can instantly tell that this film is a distinctive Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration. In fact, Dark Shadows marks their eighth movie together since they met more than 20 years ago. "I feel as though he's my brother," Johnny says of the director. "It's a weird understanding, this kind of shorthand we have. I truly understand him, I think, just as well as anybody can. He certainly knows me as well as anybody can." I can pinpoint jokes in the movie that they must have come up with themselves, from the closet stash of macrame to the Alice Cooper cameo. "None of us get their jokes," Helena Bonham Carter says. "But they get their jokes, and they're laughing, so whatever." (This may be my favorite quote ever.)

Also, this is the first time I read the opening credits of a movie and recognized nearly everyone, cast and crew, from previous projects. Are these all signs that I 1) know too much about Johnny Depp and Tim Burton and 2) watch too many movies? "A film family is a family, and it's a beautifully dysfunctional family," Tim Burton says. "It's kind of positive on one hand, but everyone has their issues, too." In any case, it's clear that this family effort was a labor of love!

Cat fight!
I think the end of this movie is my favorite part. That's when Angelique is fully exposed as the witch she is, and she and Barnabas battle it out.

44. Dark Shadows (2012) [February 1, 2014]

Here, Angelique (Ashes) is literally cracking up, but she's still poised for a fight. Elizabeth (The Mother Kitty) is prepared to defend her home, but the home may be turning against her since Angelique  awakened it in her special way. (Notice the snake banister ready to attack and the portraits laughing at the chaos.) But even Elizabeth's daughter Carolyn (Lily), whom Angelique cursed into a werewolf, is coming down from her room to help save the family. I added Josette (Mini) to this scene just because I liked the ghosts in this movie. Who's to say she wasn't there watching?

Don't you want to know how this turns out? Rent the movie to find out.

What else was going on?
I'm not sure when Johnny sleeps, as he seems busy all the time, everywhere. Here are a few other things he put on his schedule around this time:
  • Play with my friends! Johnny started showing up for his friends' (e.g., Patti Smith, Bill Carter, Aerosmith, Marilyn Manson) concerts, special events, and album recordings to play a little guitar on the side. The most exciting one for me was his appearance at the 2012 MTV Movie Awards, where he picked up some golden popcorn (just for being awesome all these years) and played with The Black Keys (because he and they are awesome). 
  • Revisit 21 Jump Street. I was torn when I heard that Jonah Hill was making a movie based on 21 Jump Street, but I had to see it because I heard that Johnny and other members of the original TV show cast  might make cameo appearances. The previews made me laugh out loud, so I was excited by the time the movie was released.....Oh, it's good. You have to see it for yourself. 
  • Stop in on Family Guy. Johnny showed up in cartoon form as Edward Scissorhands in a Family Guy episode called "Lois Comes Out of Her Shell." It's a very quick cameo that's a bit underwhelming after all the media attention his forthcoming appearance received. I actually think the best part of this episode is Stewie's evil pet turtle. 
  • Meet a Beatle! Johnny and Paul McCartney are friends!!! Can you believe it? Well, actually, yes, I can. Of course that would happen. In 2012, Paul McCartney asked Johnny and Natalie Portman to star in his video for "My Valentine," during which they present the song through sign language and Johnny plays guitar. Paul McCartney directed the video and released three versions because he's an overachiever: one features Natalie Portman only, one features Johnny only, and one has both Johnny and Natalie together. In 2013, Johnny also showed up (with a zillion other celebrities) in another cool Paul McCartney video, for "Queenie Eye." And, earlier this year, when Paul McCartney won a Grammy for "Cut Me Some Slack," the song he wrote with Dave Grohl, Kris Novoselic, and Pat Smear, he said, "I blame Johnny Depp because he had given me this little cigar box guitar that I was wildly excited to play!" Johnny and Paul McCartney are friends!!! 
  • Read and write. If you're a Johnny fan, you know that he loves to read. He reads about everything and always has four of five books open at the same time. So, hearing that he was starting a publishing imprint with his friend author/historian Douglas Brinkley wasn't surprising but nevertheless ridiculously exciting! The imprint shares the name of Johnny's production company, Infinitum Nihil, and is part of HarperCollins Publishers. "I pledge on behalf of Infinitum Nihil, that we will do our best to deliver publications worthy of peoples' time, of peoples' concern, publications that might ordinarily never have breached the parapet," Johnny said in a statement. "For this dream realized, we would like to salute HarperCollins for their faith in us and look forward to a long and fruitful relationship together." The first book release was Woody Guthrie's long-lost and only novel House of Earth. Coming in 2015 will be The Unravelled Tales of Bob Dylan. So, add these to your library queue or go support your local bookstore, and start reading. 

What's Next?
Johnny gives Tonto some flair and reigns in The Lone Ranger

Copyright credits: All images from Dark Shadows © Warner Bros. Pictures; photo with Tim Burton © unknown; photo with The Black Keys © Jeff Kravitz/Film Magic; photo with Paul McCartney © unknown; Johnny Kitties illustration: Melissa Connolly. 

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