Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In-Class Movie: "The Solitary Cyclist" (Brett, 1984)

“The case is clear enough against you, and all I ask are a few details for my private curiosity. However, if there’s any difficulty in your telling me, I’ll do the talking, and then you will see how far you have a chance of holding back your secrets.”

--Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist”

Austin: Now that we've reviewed “A Study in Pink”, I want to bring up the BBC series again as a point of comparison. Don't worry internet, this isn't about Elementary. It's about the Jeremy Brett led series, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. We are now watching the earliest episode for us, with "The Solitary Cyclist" being the fourth. When we last reviewed him in "The Resident Patient" and that showed a more prickly Holmes than we were used to with Basil Rathbone, it's nothing compared to this.

In this episode, Sherlock Holmes is an asshole.

And the episode is better for that.

"Hush. Still my turn to speak."

This episode has plenty of the plot problems we had in the story earlier this week--oh man the wedding scene in particular is just crazy to watch. Yet it was always fun because of Brett. Many people looking for a warm hero would probably be put off by him, but since not every Sherlock Holmes is like this, I'm all for a break into a very grumpy area. 

It's the cruelty towards Watson, the aggressive attitude he has towards the case and the plenty of jabbing sarcasm. That's where the writers seem to focus because the one-liners are really great. Nowadays, this is the strength of plenty of episodic TV shows. People will join in week after week, not necessarily because of the mystery set-up but because they like the characters walking around this world. (Bones, NCIS, every single USA show, etc). It's clear that this version of Sherlock is an inspiration towards the type of characters Benedict Cumberbatch could play. How far he could go with being unlikable, but still a charismatic hero. 

Did Brett save this for you or was it all sorts of crazy? Is it unfair to compare him to Cumberbatch? Or after that fist-fight scene should we go back to comparing him to RDJ?

Leigh: I was pretty vocal in my not liking Brett (or at least I was in my head) when we reviewed him but I have to say that I somewhat enjoyed this one. It definitely still had that air of a knock off of a knock off that a teacher would show in school one day and would only show this version because they happened to have it in the library but if I would've had to watch it in class, probably when there was a substitute teacher, I would've paid attention instead of trying to sleep or drawing. Brett definitely saved this for me though. Before his assholishness seemed out of place and rough, but in this episode it felt appropriate. (At this point, I would just like to say that Chrome recognizes "assholishness" as a word.) The writers tried (although I think, failed) to show that Holmes was busy so therefore a bit more stressed than normal which would make anyone prickly. I have to say that I definitely enjoyed the parts with Brett more than the parts without...Except for that bar fight.

Speaking of that bar fight: Worst bar fight ever. Just. Ugh.

"Through clever deduction, I've analyzed the best course. I'm going to punch you in the nose."

But the poor filming and choreography and fighting skills of the actors isn't what we're talking about here. Maybe they decided to spend their budget on craft services instead of a fight instructor. You ask if this scene would be more appropriate for Robert Downey Jr. and I have to say that I think any of the Sherlock Holmeses we've seen to this point would've had fun with that scene. Sure, RDJ paired with Guy Ritchie would've made that a main plot point that was a significantly larger portion of the episode (and better choreographed) but I think that Cumberbatch would've done a great job with it too. I definitely would like to see Rathbone take a jab at it and see if he can't add some spice to that scene.

Both "fight" scenes in this episode seemed lackluster to me. They took one of the most exciting parts of the whole story and made it bland and boring. Someone was shot? Really? Are you sure? Sorry, I was yawning at the time. And the added bar fight wasn't all that exciting either. Sure there were a couple of punches but I felt the scene afterward with Watson and Holmes was much more entertaining.

What do you think? Did the cheese factor ruin it for you too? And how about how they portrayed the mystery? Did the direct adaptation work?

Austin: It's amazing how much cheese I'd tolerate. The fight scenes didn't bother me because I was amused by their placement in the story than the execution. Maybe it's watching all of the 60s Doctor Who, but I'm really tolerant towards cheaper British productions. I think there's also something to say about British actors. Since so many are formally trained, they give it their all in scenes like this. Brett puts up his dukes like he's in a Shakespeare play. There is no winking at the audience.

Yet that all depends on the focus. I brought up BBC's Sherlock because I respected the hell out of Martin Freeman's performance as Watson even more after seeing this episode. Since Sherlock in this is such a dick, it's important to see how people react to him. So why did this Watson stick around him? Yes, he's brilliant but you could read about his exploits in the paper. Why tolerate this?

In "A Study in Pink" we see Watson get annoyed. He finds it ridiculous that he had to be called over just to pick up a phone from the table. It's a waste of his time and his patience and we see that. This Watson just took every punch like he has been doing this for years and years and ending the friendship would take too much work. So in yet another edition of Losing Respect For This Adaptation's Watson, I found myself recognizing that this was a very flat character especially when standing next to such a charismatic one. Part of that is definitely the writing, but a lot of that was the performance in this episode.

"Watson, move more to the left. You're covering part of my tie."

With a role like this, how important is it for you that people recognize the absurd acts? Or does that get to be a bit to self-congratulatory of characters keep responding how CRAZY and QUIRKY he is?

Leigh: Wikipedia says that Jeremy Brett did a lot of Shakespeare so It is impressive that he took that fight so seriously. I wouldn't have been able to do it without that wink to the audience. I guess we can agree at this point that Jeremy Brett is a better actor than I am. (My only acting roles are as extras in student films. But I was good at being an extra, dammit!)

If you can play this scene seriously, you can do anything.

You bring up a very good point. I am always saying that Watson has to have a reason to stay with Sherlock Holmes and yet I don't think this Watson has a reason. We've only seen two episodes for the blog but even the introductory episode is Scandal in Bohemia. The show jumps right in to the canon and doesn't allow the audience to see this Watson and this Holmes meet. I think if they did though, Watson would've run away and they wouldn't have become the characters as we know them. Brett's Holmes is constantly rude and mean towards Watson and gives him the smallest bit of nuggets of "good job" when he does something correctly as Watson sits there making a very British, "Well, I never..." look. I don't feel like this Holmes appreciates Watson and the characters are just there to fill the roles and not create a deeper relationship between the characters. I think this show as a whole is more about telling the stories of Sherlock Holmes and not necessarily about Holmes and Watson. 

Martin Freeman adds a bit of depth to the character that is lacking in a lot of Sherlock Holmes adaptations because he does get upset and frustrated with Holmes and is still enamored by him. David Burke's Watson acts like a puppy who just got yelled at for stealing a cookie when he didn't. He takes it and apologizes for it and still sticks around. This is a type of loyalty that we appreciate from the Watson characters but we don't see why he's loyal. (I am reminded of this video.) This relationship reminds me less of Holmes and Watson and more of Bella and Edward. I think we can both agree that we don't want that.

Next time we go back to school! Damn, we really should've timed this better so it would be when normal school people are going back to school...

And now Austin with the final word…

Austin: What else can I say but “assholishness”?

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