Archive for Sherlock Holmes

The Sunday Intertitle: The English Coast

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , on July 24, 2016 by dcairns

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The English coast? Well, that narrows it down a bit. (Since Britain is an island, saying someone is on the coast doesn’t really help locate them.) The film is SHERLOCK HOLMES (1916) and it’s an American film restored from a French print, titles translated, so maybe that explains the oddness. To the French, “the English coast” would mean the bit facing France.

Miraculously rediscovered, and restored with funding from the team behind the BBC’s Sherlock, this is initially stagey and stodgy, with a great deal of longshot lipflapping in drawing rooms, but it’s fascinating and fun nonetheless. William Gillette as adaptor and star does a good job as the world’s first consulting detective, looking a bit like Clive Brook or Jeremy Brett. As the story unfolds, the camera actually starts to move — rather than simply following people about, it will often set off on its own and let them join it at their own speed. This is quite enjoyable.

The intertitles do exhibit that regrettable trait of early silent films, spoiling the action by telling you what’s about to occur. I would have thought this approach, visible in the famous Edison FRANKENSTEIN, would have gone out of fashion pretty quickly, but here it is in full suspense-killing force.

But the acting is interestingly low-key, and since this is a fairly faithful reconstruction of a play, using the original cast, it probably gives us a clearer picture of early twentieth-century theatre acting than most movies of the time.

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Don’t smoke while doing chemistry, Sherlock!

The Palm Sunday Intertitle: Baker St Irregular

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on April 17, 2011 by dcairns

“It’s really quite simple, Watson. You see, I’m an opium fiend, and I find opium dens the best place to procure my fix of the stuff.”

“You astound me, Homes!”

“Whatever.”

Not really, of course. This is from THE MAN WITH THE TWISTED LIP, produced (and presumably directed) by Maurice Elvey in 1921, in which Eille Norwood plays Holmes — I enjoyed the way he sits.

Maybe Holmes wasn’t ideally suited to silent cinema — I even find the Barrymore version a little dull. The Great Detective’s cogitations require an excess of title cards to be elucidated, or maybe it’s just that the filmmakers concerned didn’t figure out enough strategies to make his thought processes visible. At any rate, there’s no excuse for the way this one begins, with a flurry of title cards stacked end to end, minus any actual intervening scenes. I’d have guessed that parts of the film had been lost and the titles reconstructed from censor’s records (about the only use film censors have ever served), only the titles look as old as the surrounding footage, when some eventually appears. Until further research confirms or disproves my suspicions, I’m looking at this as further proof of the British cinema’s traditional over-dependence on verbiage at the expense of visuals. Very honorable exceptions are of course made for Hitchcock, Asquith, and a few others…

Holmesick

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2011 by dcairns

Guy Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES may be one of the few films to contain a spelling mistake in its title shot — not counting deliberate mistakes like BIUTIFUL or PET SEMATARY.

The title manifests itself from a news headline, but we can still read the lettering around it — SHERLOCK HOLMES AIDES POLICE. Maybe Ritchie thinks that an extra E will give things an Olde Worlde quality. He should’ve called his film SHERLOCKE HOLMESE. Or maybe he was terrified of having the word AIDS anywhere near his title. Can I suggest a few synonyms, such as HELPS or ASSISTS?

I’m stunned to think of how many hands and eyes this sequence must have passed through without, apparently, anybody taking any interest in it. A later newspaper blunder, showing a photo of Holmes on a newspaper in a period when newspapers could not print photos, is piddling compared to this.

The film itself? About what you’d expect from a movie that dumbs down Holmes to make a kick-boxing action hero out of him. Downey, with a rather uneven Noel Coward impersonation, is amusing. Jude Law plays Watson as a cockney. Mark Strong is authoritative as a baddie, Rachel McAdams is, as ever, like a thin translucent film dropping before your eyes and obscuring your view of the production design. She uses her eyes very well, in one shot: so there’s hope. Elsewhere, she extends the corners of her mouth as if trying to make them meet at the back of her neck, detaching her cranium. Her character is a sufficiently obscure Holmesian figure to make one suspect that one of the huddle of writers actually read some Doyle, but there’s always Wikipedia, so probably not.

The weirdest directorial touch concerns the early fight scenes — Ritchie, always a fan of messing with camera speeds, presents these partly in ultra slo-mo, with a Holmes VO that shows him analysing each punch and assessing the strategic damage it will inflict. Ritchie uses CGI to enhance the impact of each wallop, so we get rippling flesh effects impossible to achieve normally without actually injuring an actor. It’s reasonably impressive, and does at least attempt to address the mismatch between Holmes’s famed intellectual prowess and his status in this movie as an action hero. But after showing this, Ritchie then proceeds to show the entire fight AGAIN, at normal speed, without the VO. How he could ever have imagined this would be anything other than ludicrously redundant is impossible to conceive.

Bernard Hill turns up as a river rat, and looks like he might be about to say something entertaining, but nobody’s thought to write anything.

Me: “It’s a long way down from Captain of the Titanic.”

Fiona: “Wasn’t he in LORD OF THE RINGS too?”

Me: “Yes. As a king. And look at him now.”

Also letting herself go is Bronagh Gallagher, dragged up as a gypsy fortune teller with a small moustache. Good to see her. I’ve liked her ever since THE COMMITMENTS, and always found her oddly attractive, even though her head is the shape of a claw hammer.

Two things I have to say in the name of fairness: the production design (Sarah Greenwood), costumes (Jenny Beavan) and cinematography (Philippe Rousellot) are fabulous, conjuring a detailed, idiosyncratic, dramatic and grungy Victorian London. And Ritchie reportedly won the respect of the whole crew by shepherding the production through while amid a veritable media shitstorm over his divorce from some singer. OK, three things: he shoots action sequences that you can actually follow.

Unfortunately, the climax involves everybody climbing to the top of the Tower Bridge (under construction) for no reason, and concludes by having all the major resolutions occur by coincidence: falling objects defeat bad guys, fortuitous ledges save falling heroines… Might as well just have God swing down on a rope and shove a lightning bolt through the villain. A shame, because star charisma, busy plotting, cool design and frenetic punching might otherwise have seen the movie through, on its own dumbe termes.

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