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!

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