Saturday, October 29, 2016

The silk purse from the sow's ear.

I think every pastiche or fanfic writer in the world just got a bright, golden ray of sunshine.

Sherlock Holmes has been an amazing character for well over a century, with the ability to carry an otherwise mediocre story among his other powers, we all know that. But we've also know that Sherlock Holmes alone can't do all of the heavy lifting. He needs talented re-creators behind him, taking what Conan Doyle gave us and re-interpreting it with skill and innovation.

And we don't always get that. We get a lot of crap written with characters named "Sherlock Holmes" and "Watson." We get crap made into TV shows. We get crap made into movies. We get crap made into novels, and plays, and radio drama, and any other style of story you can imagine . . . including jokes.

Around 2004, Sherlockians everywhere were being pestered to death with a particular joke . . . "the tent joke." (Not going to put a link here -- google "Sherlock Holmes tent joke" and you can see how universal it is.) Before the Downey Jr. hit movie, before the Cumberbatch TV series, the most popular incarnation of Sherlock Holmes was, quite literally, a joke. You couldn't escape it. If anyone knew you liked Holmes, they had to tell it to you, and traditional joke repositories like Reader's Digest all had to include it. And, honestly, it was a good joke . . . the first time you heard it. The tenth time? The hundredth time? The three hundredth time? Pure torture.

But now, a dozen years later, some very talented film-makers have actually adapted that torturous bit of comedy into a quite beautiful little film.

Elemental (mi querido Watson) is perhaps the best example of someone making a silk purse out of a sow's ear that I have ever seen. Maybe it's the prettier language being spoken, so I'm not hearing the words I've heard so many times before. Maybe it's the casting, which gives us one of those better-looking Holmeses that sells these days and a primo Watson. Maybe it's the perfect scene setting, giving you just enough set-up without giving the joke away.

Thanks to Elemental, I might be revising my opinion of the Sherlock Holmes tent joke. Yes, the gawdawful endless repetition back in the mid-2000s did it no favors. But at its heart, its a good joke.

Which goes to show how true talent in a field can redeem anything. Those who think I hate on CBS's Elementary far too much should take hope . . . I hated the goddamn tent joke so much more than I ever did that silly show. And here, someone with a true vision of the thing has communicated it in a way that redeems the old joke.

So pasticheurs, fan-fic writers, TV show creators whose work has been criticized, take heart. Maybe someday someone will lovingly take some work of yours that has been maligned and turn it into something so undeniably beautiful that even its fiercest critics can see the light.

If it worked for the tent joke, it can work for you.

(Big thanks to Sherlockian drama expert Howard Ostrom for turning us on to this one!)

No comments:

Post a Comment