Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Wrap-up!

We did it. They didn't think we could do it but INDEED WE DID. We have not only read two novellas by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but an entire collection of short stories. From my paperback copy, we have now read over 500 pages of Sherlockian wonder and only a fraction of that is awkwardly about Mormons causing havoc in America.

So we decided to honor The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by giving out prestigious awards before we continue onto The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Below are the accomplishments and judgment we are giving to Doyle for his mighty collection of stories. We definitely spent more than 30 seconds thinking about these.

Coolest Mystery:
Austin: “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” It has to be. All of those exotic animals and the resolution is a method that is equally insane and brilliant

Leigh: "The Case of the Engineer's Thumb." This felt complex and crazy enough to actually have happened.

Silliest Moment: 
Austin: It has to be Sherlock Holmes randomly hanging out in the coke den. This prestigious Victorian detective just hanging out there and refuses to make a big deal out of it.

Leigh: All of the "Red Headed League." That whole story is just one silly moment after another. If I HAD to choose, the finale when they're chilling out in the basement waiting for the bad guy to show up.

Best Outdated Word:
Austin: Pip! Pip!

Leigh: EJACULATED! teeheehee Carbuncle and Beryl are also in the running but ejaculated is just so funny when taken out of context. 

Character We Most Want to Come Back:  
Austin: If I recall we only saw her once in the dozen stories and that is the very sweet Mrs. Watson. I liked her a lot in The Sign of Four and she could have a nice dynamic in the adventures aside from just giving the greenlight on the sidelines.

Leigh: As much as I hate people using her as Holmes' romantic interest, I would like to see Irene Adler come back to be her awesome self.

Character We Most Wanted to Throw Out a Window: 
Austin: There are plenty of dickish villains but if I have to pick one for pure irony's sake I'm going to go with Mr. Rucastle from "Copper Beeches" because being seen from a window was a key part of his plan.

Leigh: This one is a tough one because there are a lot of bad guys in this book that I just want to hit in the face with a brick but I think the one I want to smash their face in most is Dr. Roylott from "Speckled Band." Murdering your stepdaughters just because you want their money because you are a worthless piece of trash? OUT THE WINDOW FOR YOU!

Most Improbable Story:
Austin: “The Red-headed League.” No question.

Leigh: "The Man with the Twisted Lip." Seriously, COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR PARTER. If anything else, this one taught me not to marry someone unless I knew what they did for a living. 

Underrated Story: 
Austin: I had a lot of fun with "A Case of Identity" especially how that was Doyle breaking away from pattern and giving Holmes a darker ending.

Leigh: I'm going to have to pick "Engineer's Thumb" again. It isn't a popular one for adaptations and I enjoy that Watson was the one to start off the mystery.

Worst Story: 
Austin:  I didn't hate a single story but I was the most frustrated with "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb" because it was a Sherlock-light story and it didn't really need to be.

Leigh: "Orange Pips." I just didn't care as to why we were solving the mystery. It was more of a mystery than others, I'll say that but I was more interested in what the uncle did to get such scorn from the KKK.

Best Story: 
Austin: I didn't think I would go this route but reviewing the set, none have the epic quality and unexpected character turns as "A Scandal in Bohemia."

Leigh: "Scandal" because it shows that Holmes is human and can be outsmarted and that's something that readers need reminded of when idolizing a fictional character.

And you're welcome, internet! That concludes our coverage of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes! Before we venture into Memoirs, we are going to cover a special modern novel entitled The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz so all of you should read that by next week. Then we will be reading “Silver Blaze!” Get excited and thank you for reading!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Book Review: "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" (1892)

“Crime is common. Logic is rare. Therefore it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell.”
-- Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”

Leigh: I love the Victorian Era. There is something that has been romanticized about it that just makes me want to be a proper lady looking for her fainting couch. Of course I know that if I had been born in that era, I would more likely be working in some terrible factory for shillings a week and that's usually when I stop longing for the days of yesteryear. 

Copper Beeches is one of my favorites because it seems more like a mystery to me. It has some of that romanticism that I was talking about but at the root of the story is a true mystery to me. Violet is offered a too-good-to-be-true job and asks Holmes for advice since she doesn't have any close friends or relatives to go to and Dear Abby hadn't been invented yet. You know what else hadn't been invented? Google. When ever I get an offer that seems too good to be true, I Google the person who offered it, the institution they represent, the history of the institution, everything. I make sure everything is good as gold before I agree to it. Violet wasn't so lucky so she got stuck with a job in a house full of mean people. Mean, rude, evil people. I might be over reacting but locking your daughter in a room so she can't see her boyfriend? Rude.

Sure Violet might not have been able to find this out but she might've been able to see that Jephro's daughter hadn't tweeted in a few weeks and that she suddenly disappeared. If her last tweet said this: 

@AliceRucastle: Can't wait to see my boo tonight! He's the love of my life and I don't care what Daddy thinks!

And then she doesn't update ever again? Something might be wrong. Of course this is all what ifs since the internet hadn't been invented yet. 

What do you think, Austin? Would you have taken the job? And what do you think about Holmes acting as Dear Abby? 

Austin: What I love about Doyle stories is that people approach a private eye for very odd reasons. Sam Spade is called in to track someone down, Phillip Marlowe hunts down murderers. Sherlock Holmes is called in to wonder if this job is any good.

This one is a fun one because if it was made today there would be many jumps to wrong conclusions. "He wants me to wear this blue dress while I work..." "It's a sex thing. Your call." "He wants me to cut my hair." "He probably just saw Les Mis. It's a sex thing. Your call."

Maybe he's just into that kinda thing...

I also thought this was going to go down the path of Rebecca or Vertigo which is asking the woman to be a creepy recreation of a lost love.

But just like Speckled Band this wouldn't be much of a mystery if the bad guy wasn't super creative with his plan. He could have just yelled at the boyfriend OR he could spend a lot of money and store a lot of hair to make this plan work. Should have added a clause not to confer with Sherlock Holmes in his contracts but that may have raised even more red flags.

Now the question is, does this make for a good mystery? Doyle stories rely on the world being crazy and Sherlock pointing out the logic in the madness. Is that too contrived for an acceptable mystery or does this work as its own fun little niche?

Leigh: Because the story takes place in a world and time where learning private/intimate details was really hard to do, I think this works as a mystery. Remember we read a story about a man who made his living as a beggar and his wife had no clue. It was almost even acceptable to keep your daughter locked up if she were threatening to run off with a sailor. I almost thought it was a sex thing until I had to constantly remind myself that it was published during the Victorian Era where sex didn't exist. (Truthfact: Sex wasn't invented until 1958 by Elvis.)

Because the smaller parts of the puzzle were plausible, I think this works as a mystery. And it's another where the bad guy is punished outside the law. He was mauled by a vicious dog and there was no mention of getting the police for locking his daughter in a room for who knows how long so his only punishment was that he was attacked by a dog that he abused. Not much of a punishment in my book. The idea though sorta plays off of the classic "damsel in distress" but this time the knight in shining armor isn't our hero but the damsel's hero who we never really meet.

And since I've read this one a few times, I am gonna mention something that interests me. Sherlock Holmes, to this point, has been very much a bachelor. He hasn't found interest in ladies like Dr. Watson who found himself his first wife in The Sign of Four. Holmes is very much interested in the game that's afoot. He's interested in the mystery and solving problems and he solving the female sex doesn't seem to interest him. Watson mentions though that Holmes had a twinkle in his eye about Miss Violet but that interest was immediately gone once the mystery was solved. Do you think that Holmes is just not interested in romance or do you think he is a *ahem* confirmed bachelor?

Austin: This was another fun story into what does Holmes focus on. I think his age has a lot to do with his drive towards the mystery. He has this energy, fueled a bit by cocaine, to always be solving these puzzles. That's where we find him comfortable and that's where we find him pushing towards at all times.

Watson doesn't have that passion and his ambitions connect to the pleasures of life. He finds art in these stories and empathy in those he meets. His wife, who is occasionally mentioned, is someone else who brightens his life.

The non-Doyle stories when I have seen Sherlock the most romantic and humanistic are the ones when he is older and the drive is lessened. This is in The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King and The Final Solution by Michael Chabon (which will both be inevitably be reviewed on the blog).

I really enjoyed the opening to this story because it's yet another odd conversation between Holmes and Watson before the client arrives. These are always my favorite parts of the stories because it's without the dramatic drive of the plot and it's just them being weird friends. It's almost like the openings to The Mighty Boosh in Season One.

In this one Holmes offends Watson for his enhanced tellings of his stories for the sake of his publications. He's not very upset but states rather coldly that they could have been served better as lectures than adventures. Perhaps the oddest thing from within this fiction is that Watson printed this conversation--even though he did provide a good argument.

Anywho, this concludes the first collection--The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes! I'm excited because now we're venturing to stories I never read as a kid. Next week we shall sum up our thoughts on Adventures in a fun way in our usual Tuesday/Wednesday slot. Then on Friday we'll review a Basil Rathbone movie since we've had so many weeks of weird adaptations.

But if you're playing along--And you should!--we'll be reviewing our first novel the week after next. We'll talk more about it soon but pick up a copy of The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz and have it done by February 19th.

Leigh: Yay!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

In-Class Movie: Double Feature!

Sherlock Holmes took it up and opened the bureau. “It is a noiseless lock,” said he. “It is no wonder that it did not wake you.”

--Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet”

Austin: First off to everyone I want to apologize for the delay. I had a family emergency so the brief hiatus is on me. We're going to try to return to a regular schedule with the final story of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes to be reviewed soon.

Anywho, this time we had a very fun lineup that I was looking forward to. We're going to take a look at two bizarre silent interpretations of Sherlock Holmes. The first was "Sherlock Holmes Bafffled", a 30 second short from 1900 that is the first filmed adaptation. The next is the beloved classic "Sherlock, Jr."

First up, "Sherlock Holmes Baffled." This is an unusual short for Holmes in many ways. For one thing, there is unsolvable magic and the second thing Sherlock Holmes doesn't solve anything. He kinda saves his stuff but barely. This was mostly just an exercise in jump cuts. He did smoke though!

Now for Sherlock, Jr which is one of my favorite Buster Keaton films. Now it is not directly a Sherlock Holmes film but he is an influence on our hero to be to cool brilliant private detective.

He has his little book of "How to Be a Detective" with simple instructions that begin with "Search Everyone." Although Holmes doesn't have a traditional checklist, they do correspond with his ability to analyze his surroundings.

There is something special I think Buster Keaton is saying about Sherlock Holmes. To him, Holmes only exists in the extraordinary. It's the heightened reality that we can escape to where someone can be that swave and brilliant. That is what the hero wants to be, not a private eye who has to wait in a car for hours for a stake-out. That's not Sherlock Holmes.

I can chat forever about this short but it's time for you to talk. What did you think of "Baffled"? Also what do you think Buster Keaton thinks of detectives, in particular movie detectives? Also are you familiar with Keaton that much?

Leigh: So Sherlock Holmes Baffled. What an interesting little piece. I find it difficult to talk about older films like this because of how advanced technology has become. It's a very short clip really of a mystery that isn't solved, like you said. We have a very dumb Sherlock Holmes, which is very odd for a "traditional" adaptation. But since this is considered the first film adaptation, would this then set precedent for all others to follow or would they have to break this idea that Holmes can't figure out the Jump Cutting Caper?

And then we have Sherlock Jr. I admit that I only saw this for the first time last year and when I saw it, it was the first time I had seen anything with Buster Keaton in it. For a pop culture nerd, I am severely lacking in some aspects. And while this has very little to do with Sherlock Holmes, I still found it really enjoyable. It might not be an adaptation but it does use the ideas that Holmes is known for and shows that he is popular and might be gaining popularity. I don't know how defined the mystery genre was when Sherlock Jr. was released but maybe it was an attempt to say it was a mystery without confusing audiences and without being too serious because one thing is for sure, this isn't serious. And of course we have to mention the frame-tilting elephant in the room. While it might not have inspired other Sherlock Holmes adaptations, it certainly has some similar ideas to that big blockbuster Inception (another movie I haven't seen. I have a thing about movies.)

They both used the Sherlock Holmes name but are they even inspired by Holmes or are they inspired by the mystery genre? And should Christopher Nolan thank Buster Keaton or not? (The answer is yes, he should.)

Austin: If you haven't seen Inception, I have a feeling you haven't seen The Purple Rose of Cairo, Woody Allen's wonderful movie about a movie character who walks off the silver screen so he can finally meet the woman in the audience. Basically all the great directors know that Buster Keaton is amazing. [Random trivia: Can anyone name a Buster Keaton homage from Arrested Development involving Buster? You'll win nothing!]

The mystery genre wasn't as popular in cinema during this time but will become a huge thing in a handful of years. Either way, I don't think the Keaton character would be as interested in that aspect. It's looking at the heroics of Sherlock Holmes, the adventure and exotic elements that Doyle plays upon not necessary the intelligence.

Take a look at the brilliant billiards scene. Perhaps Sherlock Holmes would have figured out the bomb would have different dimensions than the regular pool ball, but the Keaton hero is more interested in looking cool in his suit and be a great pool player.

You wish you were this cool

At the end, the day is still saved and he gets all that he wants. Even as he follows line by line the actions of the film. Perhaps if James Bond was created at this time, Keaton would be reading How to Be a Spy.

We haven't reviewed them formally yet but you can see a similar thing in the Robert Downey Jr. films. There Sherlock is an action star and that symbol is romanticized. Elementary romanticizes the "quirky" aspect. Here are two early shorts that played upon Sherlock Holmes as this international superstar and that became what people wanted to be.

Am I off-base? Or is there something that connects Sherlock Holmes to the great heroes of fiction that makes people want to emulate them?

Leigh: No, I think you are on point! Especially with the more current/popular adaptations, Holmes isn't seen as a nerdy know-it-all but he's seen as a rebel and sex idol.

Nekkid Sherlock Holmes is nekkid

And I honestly thought it was more of a recent development thanks to Mr. Naked there, but you make some really great points. Holmes is an incredibly complex character that can be cool and cruel and cynical or he can be charming and charismatic or another positive "c" adjective. He's what a great character should be; multidimensional. I think this trait is one of the main reasons that the character has been around for so long, is still so popular and is in so many various adaptions. Elementary, as you said, focuses on the quirky, RDJ is the sexy, and Cumberbatch is the super-smart one. With their powers combined...

Holmes is such a diverse and complex character that as a writer, you can do pretty much anything you want with him. Want to make him solve crimes in 21st century London? Done! Want him to be a dumb actor playing a role? Done! Want him to save the world from the brink of war? Done, sorta. Much like the character of Holmes, the role of Holmes is much like a chameleon, he can change to fit what ever the role requires. I think that is the reason for his survivability in the ever-changing canvas that is popular culture. You can't have a stale, one dimensional character and expect him to last more than a season on network television. 

Next time we see why you should always google your future employers and finish up The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes! Are you excited, because I am!

And now Austin Lugar with the final word!

Austin: Shh!