Cultural Talk: The Origin of the Story of Todd, the Film Barber

Presumably every friend who has watched Tim Burton and Johnny Depp films will know something about this film called “Sweeney Todd”. The entertainment of the film is more in line with the public’s taste, and the paranoia of revenge and love are both It can make a person irrational, even if he dedicates his soul to the devil. I will not introduce the plot and characters here. There are many articles on the Internet that you can read by yourself. It is recommended to watch the movie first, and then read the article. This is also mine A habit, because there are some question marks after watching the movie, so you will gain a lot when reading the article.

BTW, I bought a 2LP soundtrack vinyl of this video at Xianyu, but it hasn’t arrived yet. . .

Burton’s version from a Broadway play

Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd” is based on the traditional Broadway version of the stage play. The tune we hear today, the line version should be derived from the stage music co-directed by Prince and Sondheim in 1979 Dramas (youtube has privately recorded versions of the audience, and when everyone first searched for the Barber Todd musical/stage play, most of the top rankings were the 1982 version ), and before that, related stage plays (what music? Haven’t heard of that) dating back to 1847, during the serialization of the serialized novel “The String of Pearls” (more on that later), with a public performance by George Dibdin Pitt at Hoxton’s Britannia Theatre, which The play did not premiere at the Frazee Theatre on Broadway in the United States until 1924 (haven’t heard the soundtrack).

Prince, Sondheim

In 1959, Sweeney Todd was also choreographed into a ballet, for which Sir Malcolm Arnold composed his own symphony (you can watch it here )

The predecessor to the Bolton version

Here’s a small digression. Before the Burton movie was released, the world had filmed “Sweeney Todd” 5 times. The earliest one dates back to 1926 and is 15 minutes long. The director is George Dewhurst. The film has been lost, and then there is the 1928 version, silent film, you can watch it.

The dance stage play originated from the British vulgar serial magazine that was popular in the streets back then.

If in the 20th century, the way to know Todd the Sweeney was through stage musicals and movies, then in the 19th century it was through novels. In fact, Todd the Sweeney was born in the British cheap magazine (Penny dreadfuls, also known as vulgar talk in China) serialized novel on “People’s Periodical and Family Library”, titled “The String of Pearls: A Domestic Romance”, also called “The Sailor’s Gift”, the protagonist of the story is the barber Todd, The authors are James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest .


Where does the serialized novel come from? Who is Todd’s original character?

So some friends will definitely ask, does this grotesque novel have historical character prototypes or real stories? I was curious about this myself, so I went through Wikipedia for a long time and found some references:

Sweeney Todd was originally a folklore, the kind of character circulating on the streets of London who frightened children, similar to the “horse monkey” that frightened children in our country. The String of Pearls novel should be taken from folklore.

There are still some people who always believe that there is a true story as the basis. It is said that the Swiss traveler Pehr Lindeström has a diary. This diary exists before the novel “The String of Pearls: A Domestic Romance”. The background of the event took place in 17th century France. In Calais, the structure of the story is roughly the same as that of later novels, but the names of the protagonists are different.

There is also a legend of the barber who was found in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers:

“Val pie,” muttered Mr. Wheeler to himself as he laid out the food on the grass. “Val pie is a very good thing, if you know the woman who makes the pie and do know the stuffing. Pies are not made by kittens; but when it comes to coming, what does it matter? They look like beef, and the pie master himself doesn’t know where they are.”

The creation time of this novel ended in 1837, which was a full 10 years earlier than the novel. Of course, this may be a coincidence. I am afraid that the author has to ask the author whether this story really exists.


Sweeney Todd’s horror story was in Penny dreadfuls at the time, along with a host of other anti-hero villainous protagonists like Varney the vampire (the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula later), spring-legged Jack, and more, while These bad guys are far less perverted than the later Jack the Ripper, Todd kills first!

Extended Discussion: About Penny dreadfuls

The cheap magazines mentioned above are also called Penny dreadfuls in the mouth of the British, and they are also called penny horrible, penny awful, and penny blood. In short, these kinds of magazines are titled with these words, which means their content is vulgar and obscene. , The target readers are the bottom of the society. Most of them have a limited literacy rate. Some are simply illiterate. Violence, murder, witchcraft, eccentricity and other subjects are published in weekly format, the price is 1 pence, and the whole magazine is 8 to 16 pages.

This kind of magazines give me the feeling that the serial magazines such as “Story Club” and “Zhiyin” that were popular in my country once were popular in the north and south of the country, but the content size is definitely much larger than that of our country, but as far as I know, there are also stories on the story club and Zhiyin. Many vulgar things, the price of the story club has gradually increased from 1 yuan to 5 yuan after the 1990s. Do you think they are very similar? This is also a historical similarity! I won’t go into details. The Sun newspaper, which is still popular in Great Britain today, should be the contemporary Penny dreadfuls!

The String of Pearls: A Domestic Romance magazine was called People’s Periodical and Family Library (10 Oct. 1846 – 2 Oct. 1847) and was founded by Edward Lloyd, a guy who ran this mega-circulation magazine. The British “Story Club” made a lot of money, and then he switched to the newspaper industry.

The following picture is the original “The String of Pearls: A Domestic Romance” preserved in the UK:


The historical significance of Penny dreadfuls in British society

penny dreadfuls formed a certain echo and tacit understanding with the Victorian British society with an extremely high crime rate in the 19th century. The writers softened the announcements of various Scotland Yard cases in their novels, and the bad guys read the serialized novels. The criminal experience is applied to reality. Except for the hairdresser Todd, you can see Burke And Hare and Todd’s similar “human flesh trade” in Edinburgh, Scotland. Isn’t this all from the perverted desire for money? So capitalism developed to its peak in the 19th century, as Marx said in Capital:

Capital comes dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt.

Before the universal compulsory education in England in 1880, penny dreadfuls also attracted, stimulated, and helped the public to read text to a certain extent. I downloaded the electronic version of “The String of Pearls: A Domestic Romance” on the Internet. For me It can be easily understood by all foreigners, which shows how popular this kind of magazine was in the British bottom society at that time, and if you try to read Wilde’s works, it will really be called incomprehensible!

In 1890, penny dreadfuls magazines were replaced by cheaper, halfpenny serialized teen comics, Illustrated Chips, which focused on illustrated narratives, and were replaced in the 1930s by American hero comics DC, Mavel is replaced, so human culture naturally comes with the ability to automatically inherit and update it!

The anti-heroes in penny dreadfuls magazines are slowly absorbed into more serious literary works and continue to ferment their evilness. Until now, you will find that many Chinese people watch British dramas, American dramas, or movies, and there is a question mark. Why are the protagonists in Western movies and TV dramas not like my country, they are definitely positive characters, such as Hannibal, Lao Bai in Breaking Bad, etc. This is rooted in the West, and the profound influence brought by penny dreadfuls has a great influence relationship, but in the era of DC and Mavel, the frequency of Americans creating positive characters is still very high, while the British have never created Todd, Spring-legged Jack, Dracula and other bad guys who are so deeply in the annals of history. ,please tell me!

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