The Discreet Bourgeois

Possessed by an urgency to make sure all this stuff I love doesn't just disappear

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Sleepy Hollow – a neglected masterpiece

I love the films of Tim Burton. He is enough of an auteur to warm the heart of the least caheriste among us.  If those mid-century film-critics, many of whom went on to be directors in their own right, revered films by directors whose personal style was immediately evident, they would have to look no further than Burton. There is no mistaking whose vision is behind masterpieces like Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd, The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride and such noble failures as Alice In Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Dark Shadows. I haven’t seen his Batman films nor his Planet of the Apes, so I can’t categorize them, but I will be happy to watch them someday.

Sleepy Hollow is one of his best and most typically Burtonesque.  I fear it is somewhat forgotten now, so this post is sleeve-tug to remind you about it.

Earlier in the year, I made a mental note to revisit Sleepy Hollow as part of my personal Hallowe’en horrorfest. I had seen it when it came out. I remembered really liking it, but didn’t remember much about it outside of the fantastic Burton atmospherics.  When I mentioned to a few people that I was going to rewatch this, the reaction was always the same: “Oh (pregnant, thoughtful pause) that was really good.”

And it was.

Like many Burton adaptations, the plot of the film has next to nothing to do with the original Washington Irving story. Character names and location are about all that survive.   What does survive is the gothic creepiness.

The atmosphere of 17th Century Dutch upstate New York is gorgeous.  The settings and costumes in this film are more subdued than in other Burton features, where they tend to be more Rococo.

The quirkiest element of the film is figure of Ichabod Crane, played by Burton stalwart, Johnny Depp.  Crane is no longer the awkward gangly schoolteacher of the Washington Irving story.  Here he is an expert detective coming to the town of Sleepy Hollow from New York City, determined to prove that his new ‘scientific’ methods will be able to solve a series of ghastly murders (read: beheadings) that have plagued the town.  His superiors in New York are only to happy to get this pest off their hands and to send him to the Boondocks, which he is equally unwanted.

Gradually, his quirkiness and unorthodox methods yield results.

Adding to the atmospherics and ghastly fun is (who else?) Christopher Walken as the murderous Headless Horseman.

But wait!  There’s more!   The great Miranda Richardson is on hand as the embodiment of (*spoiler alert*) cold-blooded revenge.


Please watch this if you haven’t seen it, or if you haven’t seen it in a while.  It is so satisfying and Johnny Depp is so quirky and so pretty and a damn fine actor.

While you are it, have a look at a completely different Tim Burton masterpiece, Big Eyes.  




The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Original Cast Album: “Company” (D.A. Pennebaker)
  2. The Getting of Wisdom (Bruce Beresford)
  3. Written on the Wind (Douglas Sirk)
  4. Young Ahmed (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
  5. The Curse of Frankenstein (Terence Fisher)
  6. Sleepy Hollow (Tim Burton)
  7. The Mummy (Karl Freund)
  8. The Witch (Robert Eggers)
  9. Carnival of Souls (Herk Hervey)
  10. Horror Hotel (John Moxey)


1- Company was a seminal show for me growing up.  I played my LP within an inch of its life.  I remembered seeing the Pennebaker documentary and was amazed to see these (in my mind) legendary performances actually happening in the recording studio. Watching it now the nostalgia is intense but the whole enterprise seems so much in the past.  To see the singers and musicians all smoking during the recording makes it as remote as Victorian England.

2-The Getting of Wisdom was another film in Criterion’s Australian New Wave. It really suffers from having a very unappealing heroine as its center.  Compared to its contemporary The Devil’s Playground, another story of young people in a repressive school situation, The Getting of Wisdom is so flat.

3- I am glad to have finally seen a Dardenne brothers film. Young Ahmed tells what could have been a sensational story: the radicalization of a young Belgian-Moslem boy.  Because of the objective stance it takes, you are more involved than if had been filmed as a polemic.  The end is unexpected and thrillingly satisfying.

4-  I pride myself on my memory for details of movies, so imagine my surprise when absolutely nothing of The Curse of Frankenstein was familiar to me at all.  It certain isn’t deathless cinema, but it has all the hallmarks that make Hammer horror films so delicious especially around Halloween: intelligent and involving stories, beautiful production values, reliably controlled hamminess of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, the obligatory gore.   Hammer always satisfies

5- A separate post on Sleepy Hollow is coming

6- I had heard a lot about The Witch.  It quite bowled me over. First of all, it is stunning looking and the atmospherics of the wilderness in early Colonial America.  Isolation is always a successful trope in horror films, but this combines the isolation with a smug and crippling religiosity and this makes for fantastic horror.  The end is one of the most discussion-worthy conclusions to a film I have seen in years.   I think it is brilliant, many commentators say it is a cop-out.  They’re wrong.  Let’s discuss.

7- It wouldn’t be Halloween without watching Carnival of Souls and Horror Hotel. I look forward to them each year the way other less fortunate people look forward to It’s A Wonderful Life.


The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)
  2. Big Eyes (Tim Burton)
  3. The Smallest Show On Earth (Basil Dearden)
  4. Carol (Todd Haynes)
  5. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp  (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger)
  6. Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa)
  7. The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci)
  8. Homicidal (William Castle)
  9. Vacation From Marriage (Alexander Korda)
  10. The Scarlet Empress (Josef von Sternberg)


1- I found Arrival be intriguing until at the end, a whiplash revelation plunged the whole enterprise into a depressing place.  Amy Adams is so wonderful in everything she does. More of her please.

2- I have never met a Tim Burton film I haven’t loved.  They are all so quirky and so heartfelt at the same time.  I loved Big Eyes. Another great Amy Adams showcase. An old-fashioned, unashamed Hollywood happy end, too.

3- Finally, a gay-themed movie that doesn’t fall into the Celluloid Closet cliche, and also is not a fluffy silly comedy! Carol is a beautifully modulated love story of two women in the 1950s. Gay identity is a big part of the story, of course, but what makes it so satisfying is that it is not the only part.  These are multi-dimensional characters. Interesting meditations on class differences. And, amazingly, a beautifully delivered happy ending.  Cate Blanchett should get a lifetime Oscar for the look she gives in the final frame.

4- The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was a film I saw 40 years ago and remembered loving.  This time around I still liked it a lot, but found that the idiosyncratic elements that the Archers bring to their films, which I once found thrilling, now struck me as a little forced. I really enjoyed seeing it again and was sad to think how Deborah Kerr is almost forgotten today.

5- Seven Samurai was one of the first Japanese films I watched.  Year and hundreds of Japanese films later, I still like it, but I find that I am more partial to the modern-era films by Kurosawa.  High and Low and Ikiru satisfy me more deeply than the Samurai era films do.  But hell, was an enormous accomplishment this film is.  I want to watch it again soon with the Criterion commentary track turned on.  There is so much to see in every frame of this movie.

6- The Death of Stalin hilarious and eventually tedious but how wonderful to see Michael Palin as Molotov and Steve Buscemi as a priceless Krushchev.

7- I remembered The Scarlet Empress being a set designer’s fever dream of Expressionist insanity.  This time I grooved on the weirdness (the sets, Sam Jaffe’s loopy performance), but I found the whole thing didn’t hang together as a complete work of art.  The sum of the whole was less than the part

8- The Smallest Show On Earth is one of those tiny, delightful British comedies from right after WWII filled with quirky, lovable characters, cozy atmosphere and amusing plots.  Lest I make it seem like a slight entertainment, let me stress that I have thought about this film every day since I watched it a few months ago.


The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (David Gelb)
  2. Love Among The Ruins (Massimo Ali Mohammad)
  3. My Cousin Rachel (Roger Michell)
  4. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick)
  5. Mr. Thank You (Hiroshi Shimizu)
  6. The Ghost of Yotsuya (Nobuo Nakagawa)
  7. The Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton)
  8. Carnival Of Souls (Herk Hervey)
  9. The Leopard Man (Jacques Tourneur)
  10. The Ghost Ship (Mark Robson)


1- Everyone told me that Jiro Dreams of Sushi was amazing. It just seemed like the typical hagiographic programs one sees about chefs. It was nice to see Tokyo scenes, though.

2- I love Tim Burton’s stuff.  On the very, very long flight to Tokyo I watched several movies and what a treat to see the delightfully creepy, slightly scary but ultimately sweet Nightmare Before Christmas. It helped me initiate this year’s round of horror film watching. I was thinking recently, that even though I am a great lover of musicals, film musicals always disappoint. Not this one!  Wonderful, weird Danny Elfman score.  Adorable trio of singing vampires.  Oogie Boogie.  What more could you want in a musical?

3- I thoroughly loved rewatching Mr. Thank You.  The glimpse into pre-WWII Japan always fascinates me.   Also, I am constantly amazed by the level of feminism in Japanese film. I will leave others to argue whether a feminist film can be made by a man.  The plight of the young girl travelling to Tokyo on Mr. Thank You’s bus, probably in order to be sold into prostitution, is heart-rending but drawn with great understatement.

4- With this year’s round of Halloween movies, I confirmed for myself that what I love more than anything in this genre is a gothic atmosphere accompanied by a romantic spookiness. Nothing delivers that better than the films of producer Val Lewton.  See my article Have You Tried Val Lewton?  

5- In a more gory, but still spooky vein, I was happy to revisit The Ghost of Yotsuya. One of the highlight’s of our trip to Japan  (and one of my main reasons for going in the first place) was a visit to the Grand Kabuki theater.  I did a lot of reading and viewing beforehand to prepare, especially watching NHK World’s Kabuki Kool every week.

So much of Japanese historical film is based on stories that first appeared as Noh and Bunraku puppet plays which then got adapted into more popular Kabuki pieces.  Considering Japan’s great tradition of ghost stories, it isn’t surprising that lots of Japanese films are based on these tales.  They can be haunting like Rashomon and Ugetsu, or scary/gruesome like The Ghost of Yotsuya. Both genres are tremendously satisfying.



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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Bend Of The River (Anthony Mann)
  2. The Far Country (Anthony Mann)
  3. The Wizard of Lies (Barry Levinson)
  4. Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock)
  5. David and Lisa (Frank Perry)
  6. The Marrying Kind (George Cukor)
  7. The Shop Around The Corner (Ernst Lubitsch)
  8. Record of a Tenant Gentleman (Yasujiro Ozu)
  9. Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar)
  10. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children (Tim Burton)


1- I am a great devotee of the Westerns of John Ford, as every think person should be.  Lately I have discovered his runner-up.  The Western of Anthony Mann are as morally interesting as the best of Ford.   His use of James Stewart is as satisfying and varied as Ford’s use of John Wayne.

2- I remember David and Lisa from my childhood days watching The Million Dollar Movie on WOR in New York.  That show would screen the same movie every night for a week, allowing nerds like me practically to memorize films that intrigued me.  I haven’t seen this film in over 40 years, but that repeated viewing helped me to remember it well.  What I remembered most was my feeling as a kid that this was an ‘adult’ movie. Not a risque movie, but a movie for which you would need an adult sensibility to properly appreciate.  I was wondering what passes for ‘adult’ now.  I couldn’t think of many examples.

3- I guess that Pedro Almodovar is the greatest genius making films today.  Julieta is so emotionally powerful, so cinematically interesting, so engaging.  I need to read the Alice Munro stories it is based on to see how he put his own mark on the work

4- Guilty Pleasure: the films of Tim Burton.  There is a great sweetness behind the jocular creepiness that really appeals to me. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children I found delightful.  I could have done without the extended CGI battle scene at the end, but I concede that such scenes are de rigeur nowadays.

5- I had always thought of Strangers On A Train as way up there in the Hitchcock pantheon.  But this time around, I was aware of how he kind of lost his grip on the whole project towards the end.  Don’t get me wrong. It is still amazingly good. Just not The Birds

6- I had heard that Record of a Tenant Gentleman was minor Ozu.  Bosh.  It is as subtle and affecting as anything in his oeuvre.