Friday, January 15, 2021

Puzzles and gentlemen thieves

 We haven't had a good gentleman thief in a while. Especially one with a history involving Sherlock Holmes. Or "Herlock Sholmes." That's why it was a nice little treat to discover Lupin on Netflix on the same night I broke open my new "Piecing Together the Canon" jigsaw puzzle from Baskerville Productions.


This new Lupin is inspired by the original fictional character by Maurice Leblanc from the early 1900s, who put Sherlock Holmes in his Arséne Lupin stories until Conan Doyle griped and Leblanc had to change the name. It was an ambitious goal -- putting one's main character, a criminal, up against the greatest detective. The best of the gentleman thieves pull off their elaborate heists with flawless perfection, and even when the plot is uncovered, slip off to some distant beach or other sunny shore. And Sherlock Holmes doesn't really mesh with that.

The closest thing to a gentleman thief in Sherlock Holmes is probably John Clay of "Red-Headead League." He has a truly wonderful heist planned, and could well have been off on that distant shore with a fortune to live out his days on . . . well, if not for Sherlock Holmes. Professor Moriarty is supposedly the master planner, but we never see those plans, and he distances himself far enough his crimes to lose any cool factor associated with them. (Did he plan John Clay's heist? He's certainly never getting credit for it if he did, Granada not withstanding.)

The thing is, Sherlock Holmes is closer to the gentleman thief than any of his opponents. He is the gentleman detective, who, occasionally might dabble in crime as needed. And he pulls off his solutions to cases with the panache of a gentleman thief finishing a heist, both very similar to stage magicians in their doing the seeming impossible, but without that veneer of false wizardry.

Side-topic: It's interesting to look at the place of Penn & Teller among stage magicians. While others encourage the thought that they might be performing "magic," the Las Vegas duo never leave the audience without the sure knowledge that it's merely trickery and stagecraft, on purpose. Sherlock Holmes would approve, I think, passing up so many chances to be thought of as a worker of miracles. But back to gentlemen thieves.

No, let's switch to two-sided jigsaw puzzles. Sounds ridiculously hard, the two-sided jigsaw puzzle, if one has never attempted one before. Seems like it would take a veritable genius, a wizard of jigsaws to solve one, right? Take a close look at the picture above. Notice how the pieces are, for the most part, in color? One of the sides is in color, which makes the job a little easier. Yet there are still completely black and white pieces on the color side. But given the two-sided jigsaw puzzle, one quickly notices a detail that one ignores on a standard puzzle: the cut. On the front-facing side, the cut rounds down. One can tell one side from the other simply by touch . . . at least in this case.

The benefit of the two-sided jigsaw puzzle is that it's two Sherlock Holmes puzzles in one, and that's still a pretty cool thing. And like a Sherlock Holmes mystery, not as impressive once certain facts are explained to you. Also, doing a puzzle on a topic one knows well is always good fun, as that little extra edge of going "This 'Bos' piece definitely goes with the 'comb' piece!" makes for some pleasant moments.

So it's Lupin and Sherlock Holmes puzzles for more than a few evening's entertainment for a while.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Adventure of the Disappearing Sherlock Holmes Musical

 Listening to However Improbable, usually a Sherlock Holmes read-through podcast, doing an episode about the film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, they hit a fact on the outset that I did not know: Billy Wilder originally envisioned The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes as a musical. One of the hosts exclaimed how much she would love there to be a Sherlock Holmes musical, especially this movie as a musical, and I went, "Oh, yeah, there was that one musical . . ."

And now, I'm not talking about the one fabulous musical segment of Holmes and Watson, nor any of the bits in The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes's Smarter Brother. No, I'm talking about that full-on Sherlock Holmes Broadway musical Baker Street. Remember Baker Street? No?

Most of us forget about Baker Street at some point, if we ever knew of it. I have two different vinyl albums of its songs, and I constantly forget about it.

It was called “the hottest Broadway musical of 1965 on its original cast album,” getting rave reviews from the critics according to that same album.  Although it seems to have largely disappeared from the theater scene these fifty-five years later, in 1965, Baker Street was supposedly setting box office attendance records, but the fact that it closed after 311 performances before the year was out, however, makes it seem like the initial attendance dropped off after pretty quickly. 


The play is the usual mish-mash of Sherlockian elements: Irene Adler, Professor Moriarty, and the Baker Street Irregulars all get stage time. It starred Fritz Weaver as Sherlock Holmes, Wallace & Gromit's Peter Sallis as Dr. Watson, Inga Swenson as Irene Adler, and had the first Broadway parts for both Christopher Walken and Tommy Tune.


As I pointed our in a past Watsonian Weekly, Watson is disrespected immediately at the start of the play, where the client immediately refers to him as “Dr. Watkins or something of the sort.” It also plays with Watson’s wound giving him a live “Oh yes, I picked up a Jezail bullet in my . . .” at which point Holmes cuts him off before we find out where. 


The play does have Canonical details aplenty to delight the Sherlockian, but it also has chorus lines of dancing girls playing native Americans, which might not go over quite so well today.


Irene Adler, Professor Moriarty, and Dr. Watson all get their own songs, Watson ironically singing that all he wanted in life was to be a married man. Sherlock Holmes is getting distracted by his growing crush on Irene Adler, so the hetero-norm of Baker Street is far different from what Billy Wilder would have toyed with in his Private Life musical. (Though in the movie, as is, Holmes can still seem pretty straight, though the "However Improbable" podcasters definitely have a different opinion.)


Irene Adler seems more often Holmes’s partner in Baker Street than Watson is, and [SPOILING IT!] at the very end of the play, Sherlock Holmes leaves Watson to supposedly go look for Moriarty in America, something the Will Ferrell Holmes and Watson also seems to have paid tribute to Baker Street with, except in this case, Holmes is going alone, intimating that he’s going to hook up with Irene.


It's not a badly written play, but the staging is very ambitious, requiring a little more than a local repertory company probably would want to do. And, personally, I don't think the songs hold up at all, which doesn't give anyone the motivation to put it on in 2021. 


Baker Street made its splash in 1965 and then faded into Broadway history records. I haven't met any Sherlockians who are fans of the thing, and anyone who saw it live must be pretty old at this point and aren't talking it up. I hope we get another, one day, that we can talk up as the years move on.


Baker Street, however, didn't seem to be it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Bad jokes or Sherlockian chronology, you decide!

Vaudeville Watson:  "What's the difference between @#%&$ and a Christmas goose?"

Vaudeville Holmes:  "One of them is most unimpeachable!"

••••••••••••••••••

Vaudeville Watson: "How is getting a loan on a beryl coronet better than #$%&@ holding a leadership position?

Vaudeville Holmes: "Because the security on the beryl coronet loan is unimpeachable!"

••••••••••••••••••

Vaudeville Watson: "Say, Holmes, when you were out chasing the Hound of the Baskervilles, it seemed to me that you were a lot like @#$*%$ $%#&#!"

Vaudeville Holmes: "Oh, really Watson, why is that?"

Vaudeville Watson: "Because you both had two tinned-peaches!"

Vaudeville Holmes: "If you go for the Ikey Sanders joke, I will kill you."

Vaudeville Watson: "But Holmes, Ikey Sanders only practiced what he peached!"

(Vaudeville Holmes starts beating Vaudeville Watson with his deerstalker.)


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The mechanism of the BSI

 As a rule, I don't congratulate those who are awarded membership in the Baker Street Irregulars each year. And there's a reason for it, beyond my personal history with that particular practice and managing to get myself un-congratulated within two months my own induction. It's because if we should congratulate anyone each January, it's the Baker Street Irregulars.

The Baker Street Irregulars began as a party by a celebrity inviting his celebrity friends to dinner. It's a great way to start any organization, because everyone who looks up to those celebrities is going to want to join the club. And even after those celebrities fall from the public eye, people can explain to their friends how and why those folks were celebrities and re-celebrate them. 

Would the Baker Street Irregulars be what it is today without the Morleys, the Queens, the Asimovs? As a Sherlock Holmes fan group of no-name fans, just happy for each other's company? A truly objective observer would have to say "no," I think, and the club might actually have been the better for it.

In earlier times, when travel to New York City was not so easily done and half the population was barred from attending in any case, the ratio of great Sherlockians in America to BSI members was pretty easy to keep balanced. You had to have a certain level of investiture in the hobby itself to want to make the trip, and it was a lot easier to get an invitation. You could practically get one BSI from every local scion society make it a bit of an unofficial congress. But with the rise of mass media, the word got out to Sherlock Holmes fans that might have never connected with the BSI before, and demand outgrew supply for membership in the club beyond all possibility of keeping up.

And the Baker Street Irregulars dinner became an awards dinner.

Without the awarding of the shillings, the BSI dinner can be a dry and lackluster event, with rituals like the "Buy-laws" and the Musgrave Ritual that have been repeated to the point of meaninglessness. One of them was even written as a joke, and suffers the flaw of any joke told annually for eighty or so years. Every year, it seems, the head of the group mentions how the awarding of new memberships is is favorite part of the evening, and he's right. It's the one part of the evening that Sherlockians always talk about the next day, without fail, often to the exclusion of anything else that happened that evening.

And at this point, with such a limited supply of memberships being doled out, those awarded are usually people that the average Sherlockian thinks already were Baker Street Irregulars. Their place in our hobby has already been so established that by bringing people like Ashley Polasek or Steve Mason into the club, the BSI is actually validating itself, not them. While maybe not celebrities to the general public, such folk are celebrities to their fellow Sherlockians, and thus the original celebrity-boosted aura of the Baker Street Irregulars still gets perpetuated.

Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, if it is done honestly and without pretense. Converting the BSI dinner into an annual Sherlockian awards dinner might be a refreshingly self-reflective bit of honesty. This year, there was so much pushing of BSI publications at the event that it seemed a bit like a publishing company's corporate affair, and that's not going to make anyone's night. Just going full-on awards show might raise the entertainment bar a bit, the topper of which this at year's event was that very strange appearance by Mrs. Hudson.

Separating the awards shillings from the membership would also give them a path to opening the club up a little bit. Not every member of the Academy has to attend the Academy Awards. Getting members into the group earlier in their Sherlockian careers rather than later might not be a bad thing. But I digress. And I am aware that there is a certain devoted-to-ritual element within the group that looks at any new idea as anathema, especially from the outskirts of the cult where we get a little too bored with the same-old, same-old a little too easily. But, hey, trying to be optimistic and positive here!

So let me close with this offer of congratulations, in the appropriate direction:

Congratulations to the Baker Street Irregulars for adding some new, and very nice, feathers to their cap this year. And good luck with next year, to them and to us all.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Next year's Sherlock Holmes Day weekend

 Having seen what a January Sherlock weekend looks like without a geographical center, the Sherlockian world has definitely added still more arrows to our social quiver. And we all have hopes for next year, with vaccines rolling out as we speak, and look forward to things getting back to normal. The thing is, when we go back, we now have an opportunity for "normal plus" with all that we've learned.

So, if all goes well, is next January just "Party in New York for those who can! Screw the rest of you!"?

I don't think that has to be the case.

We don't know what this year will bring, to be sure. But those of us who can say for sure that we're pretty sure we won't be in New York next January in any case can start discussing what we might have for our fellow non-travelers on that weekend. And for those who are still going to New York? Broadcasting events even though they have in-person attendees would be great for expanding knowledge of, and drawing future participants to some events as well. Things don't have to be either-or, if there are willing volunteers to run Zooms off-site.

Way back when the Friday night dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars wouldn't allow women, the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes created a second event for that night so more people had something to go to, a natural evolution of the weekend, which has continued under various names ever since. After this year, is it time for a third event as a continuing part of that evolution, for those who can't get to either of those? (Admittedly, Friday evening limits it to mainly participants from the US and Canada due to time zones, of course, but one step at a time.)

Even though this is that post-weeekend time when projects abound and one doesn't want to over-commit, it might be time to start thinking about that. As a habitual non-attender of the New York weekend, I'm pretty sure I'll be in the same place next year that I was this year. I'm also going to definitely be increasing my Zoom skills even if I'm vaccinated and getting out to other weekends in other cities. So this isn't just a "someone should do that" situation. I'd be interested in having a conversation with anyone who might see this as a worthwhile endeavor to get involved in, as there are a lot of possibilities. And we've got a year.

We've seen how many strange new things that a single year can bring to our lives. Maybe in 2021, we start making sure they are strange new good things.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Calling all Sherlockian chronologists!

With all the gatherings and special purposes of Sherlockians spotlighted this weekend, I couldn't help but notice that a certain faction was not appropriately represented. Primarily because said faction has traditionally been a lone wolf subculture of Sherlockiana, a place where every member is actively trying to prove themselves right and the other members wrong. I say "members" here even though we don't yet have a club, which is why a couple of us thought it was time to put out a call once more and start such a thing.

In other words, HELLLOOOOOO Sherlockian chronologists!

We know you're out there, trying to keep a low profile so as not to attract too much attention to one of those art forms that might keep you from getting invited to the cool kids parties. And we know who the real cool kids are, don't we?

Yes, anybody can wear a bow tie, but Sherlockian chronology comes from the soul.

Now, my friend Vincent Wright of Historical Sherlock has put forth this idea before and had a few takers, yet didn't have the time to put such a thing into motion. And having decided that 2021 is my year for Sherlockian Chronology, having made my last pilgrimage through the Canon for those purposes around the turn of the millennium, the idea seemed to dovetail with what I was going to be working on anyway. And the aforementioned sage of modern chronologists is on board as well.

The thing about Sherlockian chronology is that we all have to tread over the same ground to get to the finer points, and it feels like there are certain basics which we can help smooth the road for our future chronologists on. Decades ago, first Andy Peck, and Andy with Les Klinger for a second edition, gathered the dates from previous chronologists in what today would basically be an Excel spreadsheet, because not everyone had the works those dates originated from. What that set of tables didn't give you, however, was the rationales for those dates, many of which could be summed up with a key point or two. And that was just for the works by chronologists who did the complete Canon. 

Were such a work to be gathered today, it would be out-of-date nearly immediately, as new ideas on things like Watson's marital state are occurring all the time. What Sherlockian chronology now needs is a community effort, and an ongoing watch of developing thought as the field advances. (Sounds pretty puffed up and serious, there, doesn't it? C'mon, it's still Sherlock Holmes play, with history involved as needed, calm down.) It time to see if we can gather together and have some fun with this [expletive deleted]. 

We've got some definite ideas on what that gathering of the minds will look like (not if person, or even on Zoom), but first it would be good to see who is out there and might like to admit that they've got a little chronologist in them. You can reach me at bkeefauver on gmail if you're interested, and you can also take a little time to think about it as I'm sure the topic will come up here again as things move forward. It is the end of the big January weekend, a time for rash project choices, so be careful! 

This little effort is overdue, however, so I know I'm ready for it.

"It's time for some Sherlockian chronology!" -- Potential motto for potential something.

Onward.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Back to the Gaslight Gala!

 It had been a while since I was at the Gaslight Gala, usually a Friday night favorite, a bit livelier than the more ceremonial Irregular dinner, so I love that they have the chance to pick up BSI folk this year. When the slideshow ended and David Harnois was about to start hosting, Michael McClure did a fine job of representing his home state of Illinois by sticking his tongue out at the camera. (We're just trouble here in downstate.

Since I've already fumbled a comment on toasts this weekend, I will carefully say that the trend in toasts to small papers does allow for a varied succession of speakers. It would be interesting to hold a symposium of toast-length papers and just see how many speakers one could line up on a Saturday -- though there is probably no Guinness record for Sherlockian symposiums.

A bit of reader's theater with David Harnois and Charles Prepolec doing "How Watson Learned the Trick" fit the bill for a Zoom event perfectly enough, with Charles's perfectly coiffed moustache starring centerstage.

A little musical performance from Karen Wilson to the tune of "Modern Major General," which is perfect Victorian era material, and then we get a five minute break . . . and at normal Sherlockian events I don't get a visual reminder that I need to wash dishes after the event is over.

Jessica Schilling's toast to Josiah Amberly is delivered with such liveliness that she deserves a special call-out, despite my current reticence to speak of toasts. Her microphone betrays that she's into some form of voicework, even if it's just podcasting, and it shows. Cindy Brown notes a cello or somesuch instrument in the background in the chat, deducing she's a musician. Somebody needs to get her on a podcast. 

The Groaner Quiz by Carla Coupe and Steve Mason was the best and worst thing at any Sherlockian event, and I applaud their courage and determination in putting us through FIFTY of the most awful Canonical title based puns . . . wait, is Michael McClure talking about Violet Hunter's underwear for his toast? Well, that was a good follow-up to that quiz, for sure. They're rolling now, as Mary Alcaro tosses a "beech" pun into the intro to her Canonical reading. (Side note: From what I've seen of her name in various places, I thought Mary Alcaro was a much older person. A sign of an accomplished individual, I must deduce.)

The event is winding up with the song "In Holmes and Watson's Time" which is introduced with a "I can't remember the last time I heard this sung," when it's been so long since I've been in NYC that they were singing it when I was there last.

And we get a link to the after-party, in which Monica Schmidt will be shuttling another melee into breakout rooms after the initial mass gathering. Her skill at swiftly converting people to co-hosts to move into breakout rooms has become much admired after the afternoon breakouts at "Lost in New York."

The thing about breakout rooms, unless there's some celebrated individual that you want to hear discourse, the larger ones are just not as much fun. Six or eight folks without that sort of conversation dominator one drifts away from at a live cocktail party is usually ideal, and gives you the chance to meet someone new, catch up with someone you haven't seen in a while . . . a bit like you would do at a live function. With Zoom breakouts you have to have a little luck since there isn't the potential for so many combinations of conversation groups -- you have as many as you have, and can't grow smaller or larger as needed, breaking off from a larger group with a subgroup, etc.

Tonight, though, it seemed to work out pretty well for the little group I wound up with, and at one point we even started cobbling together a Sherlock Holmes mystery involving grocery stores and long haul truckers (which might, admittedly, need converted to markets and wagon drivers of the Victorian period to not go full-on Elementary, though, now that I think about it, it is totally an Elementary pastiche waiting to happen).

In any case, the weekend just gets better and better, and we definitely have some real heroes managing our shared Zoom environments to make all these things happen. Let us not forget them when this time is over -- though somehow, I think they will still be leading an online side of our community that crosses boundaries that used to hinder us before we were forced to overcome them. 

There's a lesson there, I think.