Saturday, April 4, 2020

The 2000 Three Garridebs Project

Among my other Sherlockian skills is one I call "bad at running a scion society." Maybe it was the timing or just my own self-absorbtion/maybe-ADD, but along the way, between the Hansoms of John Clayton losing it's founding show-runner and the final meeting, we did get in a few attempts at something different (Which may have been the real issue -- to run a society, somebody has to be into holding a routine together, and not always reinventing the thing. But I digress.) One of those events was a video production of "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs" done in one-take after a single table read by the group's members. I suspect it was inspired by that very schlock-inspiring 1994 film Ed Wood, in which Johnny Depp's title character was always satisfied with the first take of everything.

What I do know for sure was that the title card was inspired by 1999's The Blair Witch Project, another adventure in video schlock. Here's the cover of the pamphlet that we handed out with copies I had made of the tape.

The production was an impromptu one, at the January 2000 meeting of the Hansoms of John Clayton, held in the mansion that housed the offices of Converse Marketing. It as a historic site, built in 1881 and restored by Converse, and a beautiful site for filming a Sherlockian production. Of course, had we spent any time in costuming, learning lines, etc.

"As with all great films, The Three Garrideb Project began with two producers and an idea, an idea that Peoria's oldest and most venerated Sherlockian society contained the pure thespian talent necessary to bring one of Sherlock Holmes's most dramatic cases to the video screen." This, of course, is pure puffery. The late Mike Cook, pictured at the podium above, worked at Converse Marketing and was always a wonderful resource for the Hansoms. I would almost kill to have the  wonderful spinning wheel of the 60 cases he built, with Basil Rathbone's magnifying glass focussed in on the case it stopped at. He also built that lecturn he is standing behin. I do still have that.

"From the first, they spared no expense, recruiting the musical talents of Robert C. Burr for the movie's haunting score and the artful camerawork of Jean King to give the film a lush, vivid look." More puffery, of course, but I don't think many Sherlockians appreciated Bob Burr's keyboard skills. He had a baby grand piano and an organ in his living room, and he and his girlfriend Lucy often played duets. Jean King, the video camera operator, is, of course, my mother. (Yes, I'm the sort of mama's boy who has her video his exploits. Explains a lot, doesn't it?)

Of all the actors, I think Suellen Kirkwood gives the best performance as Nathan Garrideb, though her late husband Ron's Watson has his moments, as do Bob's "Killer" Evans and Richard Laredo's Sherlock. Sue is the last of the Hansoms we're still in contact with, showing up at the library discussion group every now and again.

As I mentioned before, Converse Manor is a beautiful place. It had a Victorian elevator and pipes running water through the outer walls to cool it in summer. It also has a ballroom on it's uppermost floor.

As with any meeting of the Hansoms of John Clayton, once the official meeting was done, we always ate refreshments that were basically a late supper, and movie-filming night was no different.

It was a nice evening during the latter days of the Sherlockian society, and the video is now on YouTube which you can find here.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Tiger Kings of the Canon

"When the troubles broke out he would be friends both with the lion and the tiger . . ."
-- Abdullah Khan, The Sign of Four

Every now and then, a Netflix documentary series runs wild among its viewers, and this month a little thing called Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness infected the populace staying at home to avoid spreading the infection of worse. And, like every other trend, the Sherlockian mind is going to quickly turn its themes toward the details of the Holmes Canon. And, boy, oh, boy, does this one have some places you can go.

Tiger King quickly gets into the peccadillos of big cat fanciers, how much they love to play with the cubs, and how they use the cats to impress their preferred potential sexual partners. Of course, that's not happening in the Canon, right?

Have you met John Watson?

John Watson, the guy who meets a girl he likes and within forty-eight hours is telling her his old war stories about tiger cubs? If the man had a cell phone, he'd have been whipping out selfies of him and the tiger cubs. One might think Watson's love of tigers stops there, but how many times does he compare the man he loves best to a tiger? "Holmes sprang at his throat like a tiger." "Holmes sprang like a tiger on the marksman's back." "With the bound of a tiger Holmes was on his back." Even when Holmes is jumping Watson, we read, "In and instant, with a tiger-spring, the dying man had intercepted me."

There were, of course, those folk of the Canon who much more closely resembled one of the private zookeepers of the Tiger King series. Grimesby Roylott kept that menagerie on the grounds of his Stoke Moran estate. "He had a passion also for Indian animals, which are sent over to him by a correspondent, and he has at this moment a cheetah and a baboon . . ."

There was the "Tiger of San Pedro." There was "Tiger Comac." And then there was the man whom Sherlock Holmes fears the most in the entirety of the Canon, the man whose presence kept Sherlock Holmes out of London for three years. The tiger hunter, Sebastian Moran. His "bag of tigers" was "unrivalled." So determined and deadly was he that he once "crawled down a drain after a wounded man-eating tiger." Sherlock Holmes reverses Moran's tiger-hunting techniques to capture the predator, but does this weird monologue on Moran's bloodline which includes the line "You will see it often in humans," like Holmes is . . . dare I say it? . . .something apart from homo sapiens. Like a tiger of a man, perhaps? Did Sebastian Moran know exactly what/who he was hunting, before his prey captured him?

Metaphors can take us to fantasy all too swiftly, but the image of the tiger runs throughout the Canon of Sherlock Holmes, and Watson seems to be at the center of it all. Waiting in the dark for a night-time vigil in "Black Peter," Watson's mind goes straight toward the big cat: "What savage creature was it which might steal upon us out of the darkness? Was it a fierce tiger of crime, which could only be taken fighting hard with flashing fang and claw . . ."  There might be a rampaging circus lion, as well as a lion hunter in later stories, but the tiger still dominates the big cat side of the Sherlock Holmes legend.

Which brings me back to that Netflix Tiger King.

If you spent any time with Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness it's pretty easy to go, "Man, those big cat people are freaky!" But there's an aspect of the documentary that also could make you think we might be kind of lucky that video cameras don't follow Sherlockians around a whole lot. When you grow a community of enthusiasts, you're going to have some eccentrics. And some very unusual stories. And maybe a few suspected murders. But books are a whole lot less video-friendly than tigers, so we're probably pretty safe from that for a little while.

But, just to be safe, let's not start murdering people, disappearing, or hiring killers any time soon, Sherlockians. The Cumberbatch generation has been pretty suspected-murderer-free so far, as far as I know, and that is a very glad trend.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Culverton Smith's Bullcrap Disease

There are things that we just take at face value in the Sherlockian Canon. We focus and overthink on many a point, but there are a lot of things that few of us stop to think about until something in our lives points us in that direction. So let's talk "Dying Detective."

Victor Savage is murdered by his uncle, Culverton Smith, supposedly with a disease.

The transmission method for this disease? Sharp spring in a joke box pricking the finger.

Like certain folk of the modern day, the writer and people of the story try to tell us this disease is the fault of the Chinese people, which demonstrates how little we've really moved on from the prejudices of the Victorian era. But apart from that business, how was this disease supposedly spread in whatever land it came from? Was there a fad of spring-loaded joke boxes?

This supposed disease seems to need to be introduced right into the bloodstream, but how many blood-borne diseases can live on a steel spring for a day or two?

Remembering tetanus fears of years past, which came up whenever a barefoot kid cut their foot on a rusty nail or piece of glass, one might compare the spring-loaded disease to tetanus, but with tetanus it wasn't the sharp object so much as the bacteria-laden soil around it. Put that rusty nail in a box for a few days, would it still have been as deadly?

Sherlockians have attempted to identify the disease Culverton Smith had weaponized in that manner also used to connect someone like Irene Adler to a more historically based figure like Lily Langtry, but as close as they've come, no direct hits. Smith's disease is like Grimesby Roylott's snake or Professor Presbury's serum of langur, something that seems very much to come from some alternate reality where things work a little differently.

Stepping back from what we are told in the story for a moment, taking the basic facts -- Steel spring pricks finger, victim dies -- the thing starts to sound more like a poison than a disease. And how often in earlier times, did murderers use poisons to kill their victims and blame it on illness? If you listen to murder podcasts at all, you start to notice that happened quite a bit.

Of course, a poison that causes as many disease-like symptoms as we see in "Dying Detective" might be unusual, but we don't really see those symptoms in that story, do we? We see Sherlock Holmes pretending to have symptoms, just to satisfy whatever crazy ideas Culverton Smith (not a real doctor) had in his head to get him to confess.

At a time when we're all refreshing our memories on how diseases are transmitted, the whole steel-spring-in-a-box murder method in "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" starts to look a little more shady than even a shady murder weapon should. But, like Culverton Smith, I'm no doctor. And those guys are a little too busy right now to be thinking about such silliness as joke-box germs of the Victorian era. But it'll be worth another look when time is available, to be sure.

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Madness of the Remote Sherlockian

Welcome to the world of the remote Sherlockian.

It may be a little early for a complete adaptation to that role, but as someone who has been living that life for years, welcome! The crazed hermits of the Sherlockian world twitchingly bid you enter our world of creeping madness!

Think that's a little hyperbolic? Hey, you don't get called "the worst person in our hobby" for nothing, y'know! I've got a resume to back it up, as well as a Peoria tradition.

This whole train of thought came up recently when a friend mentioned the Hounds of the Internet, and the first thing that came to mind was my old friend and neighbor Bob. Bob was a very invested Sherlockian hermit, who avoided NYC like it was a coronavirus center from day one, yet still got into the Baker Street Irregulars based on his contributions to the cause of Sherlockiana, back when the group was a little more about the Sherlockian world as a whole and not so much about just working for the BSI itself. See that comment? That's the comment of a remote Sherlockian right there.

We're disconnected enough that we bitch about things just a wee bit more. Bob steadily and publicly complained about The Baker Street Journal never arriving by the month on its cover date, in the days before the quarterly switched to seasonal cover dates. Did he influence that change? Well, I might question the motives of anyone too quick to say "He most certainly did not!"  The established order hates for anyone to think that such mad hermits influence them in any way. Things do happen for reasons, though, acknowledged or not.

But Bob was a thorn in many a side, and on the Hounds of the Internet, his repetitive horrible jokes and recipes got him booted from the group more than once. He was retired, didn't venture from his house much, and had to do something to cure the boredom, a situation a lot like Sherlockians are suddenly finding themselves in today. Retired Sherlockians who live apart from the urban centers have often found themselves in this state, and with no peer pressures to steer them to a proper course, can come up with the best and maddest of ideas. (Also, once you cross the age 60 mark, you can also get a real "who gives a flamin' fock" attitude" -- that just comes with the age.) We'd probably have had less wacky pastiches pre-internet if not for such retiree situations.

So here we are in 2020, socially distanced, and our remote Sherlockian population has temporarily skyrocketed. How mad will things get? How many out there will start singing "Let It Go" and spinning in their desk chair before launching into the sort of Sherlockian crazy previously reserved for the hermits with self-published books, blogs and multiple podcast channels? Only time will tell.

But, hey, times are tough. Release that stress any way you can. And if you need anyone to look the fool first, just to ease your stepping into the waters of creative abandon, just give a shout-out to your local crazed Sherlockian hermit. They're up and ready for the job!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Robot Dinosaur Redux

It has taken me a while to catch up to an ahead-of-the-pack Sherlockian like Heather Holloway, but I finally have seen something she suggested long ago on Facebook, and I think we've had a taste of that thing we all hoped for . . . a sequel to a beloved Sherlock Holmes movie . . . with the possible issue that the film was made before the movie I consider it a proper descendent of. But that's how it is with things that are ahead of their time.

What am I babbling about this time? Why, 1994's Tammy and the T-Rex, of course! What else?

"An evil scientist implants the brain of Michael, a murdered high school student, into a Tyrannosaurus," IMdb tells us. What it doesn't tell us in that line? It's a robot T-Rex. And where have we seen a robot T-Rex before?

You know.

The 2010 Asylum Sherlock Holmes, a.k.a. Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs.

The evil Thorpe Holmes, elder brother to Sherlock, is a robot-creating genius, terrorizing London with a murderous mini-T-Rex, a gigantic kraken, and a tik-tock girl set to murder the Queen. He's foiled by baby brother, of course, and such a crisis in the largest city in the Victorian world would surely have cause laws against such mechanicals for years to come. And who could even recreate the work of a Thorpe Holmes anyway?

Until almost a century later. A scientist working outside of the law, one Dr. Wachenstein, manages to re-create Thorpe's work with one small problem: How did Thorpe Holmes give his creations such independent life? How did they hunt, attack, and kill without an operator? Dr. Wachenstein solves the issue by implanting a human brain in his robots. Was that Thorpe's secret method? Was his prostitute-stalking mini-T-Rex doing so because he had implanted the brain of Jack the Ripper in it, after the murderer mysteriously disappeared from the criminal scene?

Very few people in Tammy and the T-Rex have last names, so could Michael or the titular Tammy have been descendents of Sherlock Holmes or John Watson? Could their inevitable match have come from those two bloodlines being drawn together again across time?

My headcanon can't seem to help but want to tie the two movies and their robot dinosaurs together in one common Earth. Are there other robot dinosaur movies that take place there as well, all the result of that mad genius Thorpe Holmes's reign of terror upon London?

To paraphrase a very wise man: The multiverse is big enough for us. All robot dinosaurs need apply.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Jeremy Brett quarrel

We all have our favorite Sherlocks and our non-favorite Sherlocks. We love connecting with people on the ones we love, and, well, we also love connecting with people on the ones we don't really love. No one wants to be a hater, but sometimes a Sherlock just doesn't do it for you. It happens.

A lot of people have connected over their lack of taste regarding Will Ferrell's Holmes, and I get that. Not everyone can be cool. That's why Fonzie was the breakout character on Happy Days. (For you future generations: Happy Days was this popular show about the 1950s in the 1970s, much like That 70s Show in the 1990s-2000s. Every twenty years, we have to celebrate/mock our past. But I digress.) Yet sometimes, our dislike of a particular Sherlock does not really connect with our peers, and we find ourselves needing to explain matters.

So let's talk Jeremy Brett. Yeah. Jeremy Brett.

Granada Television produced what is undeniably some of the finest adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes Canon ever with their The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Things might have gotten a little strange toward the end of their Case-book and Memoirs runs, but overall, those productions were nothing short of amazing. From the Baker Street sets to the recreations of Sidney Paget drawings, there was so much to love about that series.

But at its center: Jeremy Brett. Yes, I said "but."

I really don't like going here, as I know what a beloved figure he is to so many Sherlockians, but as the matter came up a little while ago on The Final Podblem podcast with much disbelief that a human could find displeasure with Mr. Brett, it seemed like a moment to explain my reaction, and maybe provide a target for folks to release their virus quarantine stress by reacting to same.

In 1984, when Jeremy Brett first donned his top hat and walked into our Sherlockian lives, I was at a high point of Sherlockian enthusiasm. Connecting with the Sherlockian world, writing for journals and newsletters, just in a fever pitch of loving Mr. Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street. My mental image of Holmes had been influenced by Rathbone, Stephens, and Cushing, but largely came from the Canon, and even when pretty boys like Roger Moore and Christopher Plummer played the role, they knew that Sherlock Holmes was one thing above all others: The coolest cat in the room. A genius, asexual James Bond.

He wasn't twitchy. He didn't have weird little facial tics. And when he said the line "Data! Data! Data! I can't make bricks without clay," there were some mother-loving exclamation points in that statement. Jeremy Brett's choices in portraying Holmes were entirely different from my mental image of the character, and set amid an otherwise perfect Baker Street scene, just served as the grit in an otherwise comfortable fit. Were this a less Canonical production, like Elementary, not as big a deal, but to give a Sherlockian at the height of his fanaticism something that is SO close to perfect and then eff it up with some scene-chewing acting that pulled attention where it shouldn't be?

Let's tie it to something that might be more relatable for some: Season four of BBC Sherlock. (And maybe some episodes before that.) Many of those who love Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson were so much more infuriated by those latter episodes because the earlier one were just so very good, and so much what they wanted from the series. They'll hold those grudges for long into their Sherlockian lives, because at a time of fever pitch, they got so very close to that perfect thing they saw in their heads, and their team missed the shot over and over in the final quarter. You just don't get over that stuff, even though it lessens with time. You may even allow that later viewers might not find the issue nearly so awful as it was to you at that time, but it remains with you, as any experience makes you a part of who you are.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. The Doublemeat Palace season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Jeremy Brett . . . who, okay, might not have been as tragic as those other two, but still . . . moments in time we never get back, that could have just been so . . . well, you know.

As generations pass, kids grow up watching The Phantom Menace without knowing what a disappointment it was for some. Sherlockians come into Holmes with Jeremy Brett as a standard starter place. And that's cool. A lot of folks found him perfectly lovely back in the day. I don't insist upon my view of the matter, as I know it comes from my own path to Sherlock Holmes. We all have our paths to how we come to be who we are.

And how about that Will Ferrell, though? Something about the way he just caught some essence of Holmes while still being a Will Ferrell character . . . chef's kiss!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Things Get Weird

Are things a little weirder than normal where you are yet?

Not anything seeming to directly having to do with the circumstances in which we find ourselves, you understand. I mean, we spend a lot of times in our houses normally. But yesterday, a Sunday, when I'm normally just hanging around, working on the Watsonian Weekly, I found myself fencing with a life-size Sidney Paget Sherlock, using a Hello Kitty baseball bat, to the the Beastie Boy tune used in a Star Trek movie.

Things are getting weird.

Later that day, I came up with a bigfoot hoax and recruited the only confederate available to give my clan something to ponder on Snapchat. I don't think it will take Sherlock Holmes to debunk my Rodger-Baskerville-ish cryptozoological scheming, but then, I wasn't trying to take over the Keefauver ancestral estate, either. (It's only existed for one generation anyway.)

Actual photo from Keefauver Hall

Saturday was Swearlock Holmes GIF day, so I guess it wasn't a sudden shift. 

The thing is, this is only the start of the shift that in our axis of "normal." Has it only been a week? After organizing on online dance-off for later in the week, tonight I had to try to hit the mental reset button with a little jigsaw puzzle and Blackbeard's Ghost on Disney Plus. (Did 1960s Disney just go, "Hey, let's make The Ghost and Mrs Muir a buddy comedy!"?) And why are so many jigsaw puzzles art of bookshops? This is about my third bookshop jigsaw puzzle.

Well, tomorrow night, who knows what will happen? Another "Watson House Calls" podcast is partially done, so there might be that. But beyond that? Who knows?

Things are getting weird. But then, I guess they didn't start all that normal here in Sherlock Peoria land, anyway. On we go!