When preparing to publish The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: Ultimate Annotated Edition, I did extensive background reading, but one item that escaped my notice was the shooting draft for the 1999 Tim Burton film Sleepy Hollow. Thanks to a link posted on the Halloween blog, The Skeleton Key, that oversight has now been corrected. Some thoughts/observations about the shooting draft…
The shooting draft’s cover page presents some interesting sub-titular info : “Being the true storie of one Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman.” This is a nice callback to Washington Irving’s Diedrich Knickerbocker, a writing persona notorious for the confusion of fact and fiction in his recording of allegedly “true history.”
An early scene in the film (Ichabod’s dispatching north to Sleepy Hollow by the Burgomaster [Christopher Lee]) is conceived more fully in the shooting draft. This “Audition Scene” features applicants (“mostly obvious Cranks and Eccentrics”) demonstrating “Devices for crime fighting and crime solving” to New York City officials. One amateur Inventor shows off a “combination wallet and mousetrap” pickpocketing deterrent, while another Spotty Man ends up trapped inside his own contraption, the “Tompkins Self-Locking Confessional.”
Reading the shooting draft evokes a mental replay of the beloved Burton film; bits of delivered dialogue echoed inside my head. Equally rewarding are the shooting draft’s descriptions of iconic objects/figures. I love the word picture painted of the Tree of the Dead: “Its branches reach far and wide, knotted and gross, like agony captured in wood sculpture.” This looming embodiment of gloominess sports a “vertical wound in the bark, like a terrible suture, now healed” into a “mushy scar.” The grotesquerie of the Headless Horseman–his “putrid innards” and “maggot-infested muscle,” his steed of “moldering flesh”–is also emphasized. Irving’s legendary ghost-or-goblin has been realized as “Hell on horseback.”
In the film, the Horseman’s last exit (carrying Lady Van Tassel off into the Tree of the Dead) provides a macabre spectacle, but this farewell might have been even more frightful if a special effect detailed in the shooting draft was retained: “For an instant, Horseman and horse are transformed, SKELETONS OF LIGHT, entering the tree!”
I couldn’t help but chuckle at the description of Lady Van Tassel and Reverend Steenwyck’s illicit tryst: “On a blanket, a semi-naked MAN and semi-naked WOMAN are in the midst of rough SEX” (I never realized rough sex existed in late-17th Century Sleepy Hollow!). The shooting draft itself makes light of the late night scene: Asked by Young Masbath what he discovered, Ichabod says: “Something I wish I had not seen. A beast with two backs.” The astonished, naive Young Masbath takes the expression literally: “A beast with…? What next in these bewitched woods?!”
One key thematic figure from the shooting draft never made it into the film: The Crane family cat. This striking feline (black with a white paw and glowing eyes) appears in several of the flashbacks to Ichabod’s youth, and at film’s end greets the heroes upon their arrival in New York City: “THE CAT’S EYES ARE HUMAN, INTELLIGENT, KINDLY…They are Ichabod’s Mother’s eyes.” A happy ending is rendered even more felicitous, as the good, guiding spirit of Ichabod’s Mother has apparently survived the woman’s torture/murder by her puritanical husband.
The shooting draft certainly furnishes an entertaining read for completists. And for more on Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, check out my essay “Eerie Rider: The Headless Horseman’s Forays into Pop Culture” in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: Ultimate Annotated Edition.