Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In-Class Movie: They Might Be Giants (1971)

“From the point of view of the criminal expert,” said Mr. Sherlock Holmes, “London has become a singularly uninteresting city since the death of the late lamented Professor Moriarty.”

--Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder”

Austin: I had never heard of this movie until it popped up on Netflix earlier this year. I'm shocked that being in the mystery community so long I never heard anyone talk about it. Perhaps because it's not entirely a mystery movie but we can get to that soon.

It is the story of Justin Playfair, a respected judge played by the tour-de-force actor George C. Scott. Before the film started Playfair suffered a nervous breakdown and now resides in a mental asylum where he believes he is and has always been the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. His delusions aren't helped when he is assigned a personal psychiatrist, a woman by the name of Dr. Mildred Watson. 

"I don't care what the fashion section says, Watson, this look is in."

The rest of the film is the two of them going around 1970s New York City as he looks behind shadows and meets lovable strangers as he tries to stop that criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty.

I thought about this film a lot while reading "The Adventure of the Empty House" because as Sherlock was telling his dramatic tales to Watson I couldn't help but wonder.....are we even sure Morairty exists? Our trusting narrator never met him and until we meet Moran in the flesh, this all could have been in the mind of Sherlock Holmes. This movie plays upon that concept and incorporates Don Quixote legend into this delightful tale.

Now we have plenty to talk about regarding the roles of their "Sherlock" and Watson especially with their parallels to Elementary. But first let's talk about the movie as a whole. I find it captivating in a way that only 70s cinema could be with a gorgeous script and a very ragtag production. (Lighting is a constant foil in this movie.) What did you think? Should this even count as a Sherlock movie?

Leigh: I had some issues with this movie. The first started with Playfair. The characters name, not the actual character. Playfair. And he was a judge and a lawyer who only wanted to help society. Really? REALLY!? You couldn't come up with anything better? Playfair. You just decided to stick with that? Come on. 

Now to be honest, I was bored with this one. I couldn't get into it. I actually stopped at one point to go and take a nap. I had to force myself to finish it. The idea is interesting, a man who goes insane and thinks he's Sherlock Holmes while his brother is trying to steal his money. But then there's a doctor, a psychologist, who gets roped into the whole thing. Instead of trying to cure her patient, she goes along with his delusion for the sake of the movie...? This is where the whole thing kinda breaks down for me. She knows that this man had a mental break and is no longer sane and yet she goes on an equally insane trip around New York. And then makes dinner for him? After admitting she can't cook? While wearing a bridesmaid dress? I don't quite understand this plot or why or what the characters are doing most of the time or what the point of it all is. It really seems to me like a wacky farce without most of the humor. 

"What's crazy about wearing a wedding dress....?"

Generally in RomComs, there's a moment when the girl/boy gets frustrated with the girl/boy and hates them and then something happens and then they realize how much they love them whether it be an article they wrote for a paper or a bet that they called off with their friend, and then the girl/boy goes to be with their loved one and happily ever after and all that shit. But there wasn't that moment in this movie, or at least not a defined one. Watson is upset with Playfair and his ridiculousness of being Holmes but then next thing you know, she loves him. Did I miss something? 

I watched the whole thing and all that I got out of it was that Rue McClanahan needed more lines.

Austin: What........?

I found this movie really charming from beginning to end and laughed several times during it. It had a charm to it like Arthur, one of my all time favorite movies, where a charming eccentric can impact a grittier world than most comedies. This one played upon something I've found fascinating in geek culture nowadays. As we continue to value hero characters (Sherlock Holmes, Batman, Superman, The Doctor, etc) it's not their gadgets that people are attracted to but their values.

This movie asks just because Sherlock Holmes is fictional, why can't Playfair (I like the name!) be Sherlock Holmes. If he follows the creed of Sherlock does not make him Sherlock? Ultimately this film is all about Don Quixote. This isn't an original observation; it's literally discussed in my favorite moment of the movie.

Dr. Watson: You're just like Don Quixote. You think that everything is always something else.

Playfair: Well, he had a point. 'Course he carried it a bit too far. He thought that every windmill was a giant. That's insane. But, thinking that they might be, well...All the best minds used to think the world was flat. But what if it isn't? It might be round. And bread mold might be medicine. If we never looked at things and thought of what might be, why we'd all still be out there in the tall grass with the apes.

Dr. Watson doesn't fall into the RomCom tropes because this isn't a romantic comedy. Her role is Sancho Panza and she goes through the same mental struggles as him. The twist on that is she is a lot more educated therefore her struggles are more interesting. (I SAID IT.) Basically her arc is to denounce her profession because what harm does this madness create? Is life more satisfying mad than sane? Also just like Sancho is allured by Don Quixote, she's attracted to Playfair. Unlike a Watson character, her role is not as an equal in the crime-solving field but as a follower of someone charismatic and interesting.

Does that reduce her role as a woman character? I don't think so. She's a professional, she's intelligent, she's curious, she's fun and she's the one who actually goes through a character arc in a movie.

Also George C. Scott is awesome. PER USUAL.


So even though you had a problem with the romantic plotting of this, why are we allowing these two to get together and we are afraid that Sherlock/Watson may hold hands in Elementary? Is it because these two are really Quixote/Sancho or is there something else at play?

Leigh: I have not read Don Quixote but after watching this movie and mulling over why I didn't like it, I think I figured out why. It's Equus but attempting to be funny. (Leigh would like to state that she's only read the play, not seen a performance of it.) The plots are similar; Psychologist is assigned a patient who is crazy and then the crazy person convinces the psychologist to be crazy (I'm of course over simplifying it but you get the idea). I love comedies. 80% of what I watch are comedies followed by nature documentaries and then mysteries for this blog. But I liked Equus a lot more. A LOT more. The psychologist's descent into Crazyville is more complex and better verbalized and more believable in Equus than Dr. Watson's in They Might Be Giants. It really does seem like a switch. One minute she wants to save this patient from his own psychosis and then the next she's encouraging him to walk around New York solving crimes and then she starts chasing the windmills with him. I don't really believe her eventual insanity. Becoming insane isn't that easy and it doesn't happen that quickly. I don't believe her willingness to go with it.

Speaking of crazy, why does everyone else in the movie believe he's Sherlock Holmes? Does this question the sanity of everyone or is just that Playfair happens to come across only the crazy people in New York? I don't think Rue McClanahan believes him, she's following him as a symbol of defying her husband but everyone else calls him Holmes and I don't understand why. Is it normal for people to take on alternate personae in New York? 

I agree that George C. Scott was superb. He's one of those actors that I would watch read the phonebook and be totally enthralled every minute of it.

While doing research on this movie, because that's what I do, there was an article said that this was wrongly publicized as more of a RomCom when it isn't. I have to disagree, this movie feels like a RomCom more than it does just a fun romp in insanity. It doesn't feel like a straight comedy because there is that romantic element. Now why is it okay for that romantic element to be there where we dislike it in Elementary? Because this isn't Sherlock Holmes and Watson. The majority of the movie, Dr. Watson calls Playfair either Playfair or Justin. She doesn't call him Sherlock Holmes until the end of the movie. And even when she does believe that he's Sherlock Holmes, I don't believe that she thinks she's Watson as we traditionally think of Watson. I think she still thinks she's herself, she's just succumbed to the idea that Playfair is Holmes. 

Next time we deal with some dancing men and I will try not to make a million Safety Dance jokes but I can't promise anything. 

And now Austin Lugar with the final word!


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