Friday, March 29, 2013

In-Class Movie: "Silver Blaze" (1977)

“But there goes the bell, and as I stand to win a little on this next race, I shall defer a lengthy explanation until a more fitting time.”
--Sherlock Holmes, “Silver Blaze”

Austin: For many years I only saw Christopher Plummer as a smiley actor. In The Sound of Music and The Return of the Pink Panther he displayed authority, but even when the character wasn't supposed to I saw him as a very warm figure. Now late in his career, I find him to be a much more complex actor where he can play the lead in "The Tempest" or Tolstoy in The Last Station, a cold businessman in Inside Man and his Oscar winning tragic performance in Beginners.

I was very excited to see how he would play Sherlock Holmes because when this was filmed it was right in the middle of those two eras of his career. The result is, oddly, as if Plummer was standing with one foot on either side of the line. On one hand, he is dressed and told to act like the developed iconic look of Sherlock Holmes. He's wearing the coat, the hat and if he isn't speaking he is probably smoking out of a sophisticated looking pipe.

Then on the other hand, this is a darker take on Sherlock that really doesn't match his costume. When he reads the seemingly endless montage of newspaper articles about a missing horse and murdered trainer, Sherlock's only reaction is to crumble up the newspaper to suppress his rage. From that, there isn't a moment to introduce our hero or Watson they have to get into town immediately in order to stop such evil. 

Damn this Sudoku, DAMN DAMN.

Yet despite this is only a 30-minute TV movie, that rage doesn't hold. For near the end once Sherlock has figured it out, he is a bit giddy as he is keeping his discovery a secret. Then when he reveals everything, his eyes become darker once again. After he's completed his voice-over where the film shows what happened, he's back to laughing and having a glee towards mystery and dismissal towards the police.

Part of this will come down to the very strange filmmaking, but as Christopher Plummer's first time as the great did he do? And trust me, we'll get to the rest of the movie. 

Leigh: My only experience with Christopher Plummer is from The Sound of Music and I only saw that for the first time maybe 4 years ago. (Side note: We have a friend of the family who we call Grandma Arnold for reasons that my mother has told me numerous times but I can never remember, who has made it her life mission to not watch The Sound of Music. She's in her 60's and she said at this point it's just impressive that she hasn't seen it.) To me, he's stern, but as you said, warm. He has a great combination that all movie dads should have. 

This movie was...interesting. I felt as if Plummer was told to do one thing but really wanted to do another. There are moments in the short film that seem like he's playing two different characters almost or like Sherlock Holmes is legitimately crazy and suffering from sort of personality disorder. One moment he's brooding like we seen when he doesn't have a case and then the next minute he's giggling like an Anime schoolgirl. There are two fighting forces here either the director and the script, director/actor, director/director, director/studio, something that just isn't making a consistent role for Plummer to play.

Austin quickly Googled "Sherlock Holmes anime" and refused to search deeper for a crazier photo.

Plummer playing this role though, no matter how schizophrenic it might be, was amazing. When he was brooding, he was the broodiest brood that ever did brood and when he was playful he was childlike. He did these two extremes very well and sadly, made the whole movie watchable.

So what about the rest of the movie? How about the weird mood music? And can we agree that we need to see Nick Offerman as Watson now since the actor who played Watson in this adaptation looked EXACTLY like him!

Austin: I forgot to mention this, but yes I thought Christopher Plummer was good! He's an actor who naturally displays a high level of authority, which could just be because I saw Sound of Music a lot as a kid to the point where I still respond to whistles.

Okay, yes Nick Offerman looked a lot like this Watson, but you know that it would be more interesting to see his Sherlock Holmes. Never before has the great detective said so little words. The Watson didn't make too much of an impression on me because he just looked around a lot and occasionally commented on a knife. Yet I couldn't help but notice that he also looked like Nigel Bruce. Once again, they were playing upon a popular image of what Sherlock Holmes was in the 70s.

At every moment the film was trying to pretend to be what had happened before, but with an extra layer of edginess. Things are filmed in weird close-ups and the camera shakes a bit to add another level of danger. The grittiness is constrained by an obviously low budget, but it's also constrained by them never properly telling the story. Our exposition was that silly newspaper montage, but those headlines are repetitive. The only information we get is that a horse is missing and a man is dead. No other set-up. Then everything else is done so quickly as if everyone's running around saying "We only have 30 minutes! We only have 30 minutes!" Which could be more than enough time. Veronica Mars episodes are 42 minutes and they always have a subplot which fills that time.

Hey Plummer, ever just think about having the background move faster instead of the foreground? Xoxo
So there is not any character development for anyone but Sherlock. There is not the fun sense of location that I was hoping for when we reviewed the short story earlier in the week. Even the famous line "the curious incident of the dog in the night-time" was shortened to "the curious incident of the dog." By the time we get to the staple of TV mysteries, the a-ha, I struggled to remember when a lot of those things were introduced in this version. The short film was going so much for unfulfilled style in order to hopefully be picked up for more films, it forgot to tell any sort of story.

Am I being too harsh? I don't really hate hate this movie, it's just so darn bizarre.

Leigh: In defense of the movie, "curious incident of the dog in the nighttime" might not have been as popular in the 1970s as it is now since there is a novel named after it. I could be wrong seeing as we are talking about a quote in a movie that was made 10+ years before I was born. 

Watson didn't do much in this short film but I put that on the fact that everything else seemed so rushed. They were trying to hurry everything along so much that there really wasn't time to breathe between lines. The fact that Watson sat in the background like an extra was annoying since he contributes quite a bit in this actual story. But here we just have a Nigel Bruce/Nick Offerman doppelgänger standing around looking stern all the time. 

I was disappointed in the location of the filming too. England is known for its landscape and what we got looked like someone's farm just on the edge of town, far enough away from the city but close enough that they could go to the cinema if they wanted. I wanted rolling heather moors like are in the story but at one point the are standing what looks like a mud patch. Nothing was pretty or even breathtaking. It was bland and boring. Maybe they couldn't afford on location filming but Monty Python did it for Holy Grail, I don't see why these guys couldn't do it either. (Anyone who is a Monty Python fan, I recommend watching the Making Of documentary that is on the Holy Grail DVD. Michael Palin and Terry Jones to back to the locations they filmed and whine about how awful it was to film.)

We're probably judging this too harshly because of what else we've seen that was made before this one that was done so much better. It probably isn't THAT bad. It is weird and kooky but not bad. 

Next time we see Sherlock Holmes do absolutely nothing and no one is murdered. It's actually more entertaining than it sounds!

And now Austin Lugar for the final word...

Austin: Neigh!

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