Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hucksters, opportunists, and judgmental me.

When Guy Ritchie and company decided to make a big budget Sherlock Holmes movie a few years ago, they were taking quite a gamble. Sherlock Holmes hadn’t been close to being a major pop culture figure for decades. True, Jeremy Brett’s Holmes and books like Laurie King’s series had a decent following among the mystery crowd, but Sherlock was far from a sure thing at the box office. We didn’t know if Ritchie’s Holmes would succeed or fail, but he was betting on his skills and those of his cast, and I was happy to see him do it.
Not long after, Stephen Moffat, Mark Gatiss, and company decided to make a TV series about Sherlock Holmes in the modern day. The very concept was nutty to a lot of fans, and inconceivable to the standard pasticheurs mind. Sherlock Holmes was a Victorian – no way would he work in a serious modern piece. Moffat, Gatiss, and their crew were taking a big chance, and I was happy to seem them do it as well.
Now, after very successful second acts by the Ritchie and Moffat/Gatiss breakthrough franchises, we’ve entered an age where hucksters and opportunists are rushing to take advantage of the wave that those two efforts started. True, some of what we’re going to be seeing is folks whose newfound enthusiasm about Holmes, as a result of the breakthrough Sherlocks, is greater than their level of skill. But in a lot of cases, we’re starting to see creatively lazy entrepreneurs taking advantage of the latest fad.
Fans take a lot of flak for negative reactions to new uses of their favorite characters, for not being accepting of change, and some of that criticism is deserved. But consider this: fans also are the first people to find their love of a thing exploited, time after time. Fans get used by promoters. They get sold worthless products that trade off name over quality. Their obvious weakness for a Star Trek or Sherlock Holmes is targeted by the lowest forms of commercial life.
So is it any wonder some of us get cynical and jaded?
I’ve bought enough crap with the name Sherlock Holmes attached to it over the years that I consider my huckster radar to be pretty well tuned. The wave of youthful enthusiasm for Sherlock Holmes of late is quite infectious, and as a result, I did recently get suckered into one more horrible pastiche going against those instincts. So if I seem a little judgmental regarding any Jonny-come-lately Holmeses from here on in, let us say I’m am not without my reasons.
The hucksters and opportunists are coming. Get ready.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Omens of the anti-Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes Week is finally here and the internet is abuzz with omens of the anti-Holmes to celebrate! Lovely quotes for a fanboy to get all snarky about!

“What we have is a name that means something and a mythology that means something,” creator of CBS’s Elementary, Rob Doherty was quoted as saying this week about the new show.

Of course, the fact that Watson was a male room-mate chosen to save a few pounds and not a hireling “sober companion” of the opposite sex . . . well, that part of the mythology apparently didn’t mean something to Doherty. And giving Sherlock Holmes a living and interfering father . . . well, that won’t affect the mythology at all. 

Ummm . . . yeah.   

“New York is perfect for our Sherlock,” Doherty also was quoted as saying. “For all his British ‘otherness,’ this is really where he belongs. The city is very much a reflection of his inner life.”
New York City is what is in Sherlock Holmes’s head? London isn’t where he belongs? So much for that part of the mythology meaning something.
And one last Doherty quote: “We officially have a plan for our Moriarty.”
Ah, here’s a glimmer of hope! Despite the strange-sounding nature of Moriarty having an official plan, it looks like our old friend Professor Moriarty will be out to kill Sherlock Holmes again, for the third time in a year or so. And you know what they say . . .
The third time’s the charm. If this goes the way it looks to go, I know who I’ll be rooting for!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The awkward Sherlockian.

The recent rise of our man Holmes to the surface of popular culture is a-rockin’ my old school Sherlockian world a bit these days.

It used to be that Sherlock Holmes didn’t come up much in my everyday social life. When I was with other fans, sure, he came up a lot. We spoke a common language, and life was easy. Either I was with Sherlockians or I wasn’t. Maybe I wasn’t the best Sherlockian ambassador to the world outside our little hobby, but it all seemed to work out.

But now, with the new wave of popularity, I can be at a party and someone introduces me with something like, “This is Brad, he likes Sherlock Holmes, too.”


A lifelong obsession with Sherlock Holmes, decades of study, discussion, and experience, has just been matched up with someone who saw a couple of movies and, if I'm lucky, the PBS TV series. Maybe they even read a few of the short stories back in junior high. This is basically a very good thing. Sherlock-talk good!

Not to be a fan of very large ego (about to prove same), but it’s a little like dropping a high-performance speedboat into a park pedal-boat lagoon. If the speedboat does its normal thing, calamity will ensue. There’s a reason the crazed fan tends to come off as geeky – we aren’t used to dropping into “idle” at the mention of the object of our obsession. And yet, that’s exactly what is called for in such a moment. Do not rev the engine and start spewing Holmes trivia. Do not bring up past glories or gripes in a circuit most people have never heard of.  Do not over-correct the few details they may have picked up wrongly right away. At that moment, one just has to look to the lowest common denominator between “boats.”

Speedboat, meet pedal-boat. Isn’t being in water nice?

Perhaps the first step in socializing awkward cult Sherlockians like myself into working Sherlock into normal life is to come up with a default mantra, so we don’t start overthinking right away in such situations.

“Sherlock Holmes is cool.“

“Sherlock Holmes is cool.”

“Sherlock Holmes is cool.”

Only needs to be said once, in reality, but internally, it can slow the racing engine until it can be slipped into a lower gear with a question such as, “Which Sherlock do you like best, Downey or Cumberbatch?”

From there, normal conversation can proceed, and maybe even get somewhere close to the more esoteric Sherlockian planes. Maybe. It would have been nice if all this popularity had happened when some of us were younger and more flexible.

Oh, wait, it did. That’s why some of us are at this party, having followed the wave of the 1970s. There’s just some rust that needs to be knocked off the old engine that we might not have known was there.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Miller's supposed genius.

For those of us with any pessimism regarding CBS's upcoming Elementary take on Sherlock, the show's star Jonny Lee Miller continues to offer fodder for doubt.

"I always feel that characters that have got problems and issues to deal with are more fun to play," Miller's latest quote harmlessly begins. But then he concludes with "Especially when you're trying to balance that with a supposed genius."

Let's get this straight: Miller is getting into the character of Sherlock Holmes supposedly thoroughly enough to act the part in a weekly series, and yet he thinks of Holmes as "a supposed genius"?  I guess we'll have to see how the character of Sherlock Holmes balances with Jonny Lee Miller's supposed acting ability.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Defenders and avengers.

Processing the Aurora theater tragedy has been a very different thing. This time it wasn’t in some far-off foreign marketplace which most of us aren’t familiar with. This time it was in a movie theater showing the sort of film most of us go to see. The inseparable link to the Batman in it all has had me considering our icons, probably as a distraction from the horror of it, and brought up one particular aspect of my love of Sherlock Holmes. So be distracted with me for a moment.

Batman’s universe has always been a place of tragedy, from his parents to his sidekicks to the city of Gotham itself. Horrible things happen in the Batman’s world because he is an avenger and needs something to avenge.  If you compare him to Superman, whose powers allow him to see trouble about to happen and race to defend people against it, you can see that the rise in Batman’s popularity has been born of our pessimisms. Once we hoped science and social change would improve our lives and protect us. Now, it seems we just have resigned ourselves to the world being a broken thing and just want Batman to hand out the beatings. Superman comes from a mindset that good men will always be more powerful than evil and defend us. Batman pits darkness against darkness to avenge what has already gone wrong. Ironically, this summer’s blockbuster movie The Avengers was really about defenders of our world, despite one line thrown in specifically to justify the name.

So when you think of Sherlock Holmes, do you think of him as an avenger or a defender?

The mystery genre, which we always place Holmes in, would tend to tell you he’s an avenger. Mysteries, as a whole, tend to be about murders and finding out who the killer was, so he or she can be brought to justice and receive the punishment that society doles out as its polite version of vengeance. But Sherlock Holmes? So many of Holmes’s greatest cases contained no murder whatsover. He stops a bank from being robbed of its gold. He settles a conflict between a singer and a king that could have led to bad things for both. He helps a man learn to trust his wife again. Sherlock Holmes even stops murders from happening.

During the sixties, posters for A Study in Terror tried to advertise Sherlock Holmes with the slogan “Here comes the original caped crusader!” Ironically, they were using the popularity of the light and comic Batman of that era to promote a dark Holmes film about Jack the Ripper. At the time of that poster, Batman was a defender on television and Holmes, in the Ripper film, was the avenger. But with his powers of observation, enabling Holmes to see potential trouble the way Superman’s telescopic and x-ray vision did, the original Sherlock Holmes was as much defender of London and England as an avenger of it.

What will Holmes be in the future, as our culture molds the legend to serve its needs? We shall see. I’m hoping he’ll remain a defender. Defenders serve as a shining light for our hopes, our aspirations, and our ideals of what society can be . . . a better place to look in a time of tragedy.