Wednesday, August 16, 2017

When Sherlock Holmes rose from the depths.

Remember all the times that Sherlock Holmes was falling apart?

"His iron constitution, however, had broken down under the strain of an investigation which had extended over two months, during which period he had never worked less than fifteen hours a day . . . ."

That was from "Reigate Squires." But "Dying Detective," The Sign of Four, even "Empty House, in it's way, all have Watson telling us of times when Sherlock Holmes was at a low point, a place when no one would have expected anything from a person in such a condition. Worn out, deathly ill, drugged, or even dead, in each case Sherlock Holmes comes back to be . . . well, Sherlock Holmes.

Logic, reason, and truth are all brought to bear on mystery and ignorance of a situation to win the day. Even when things look darkest for him personally, Sherlock Holmes rises to help, rises to make things better for the rest of his fellow humans.

In a life of looking to Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson for inspiration, I don't think I've ever found him wanting. A really good book can be like that, and Holmes and Watson are in many good books. But you know that.

This morning, waking up and looking at the goings-on of a country trying to find its way around a particular source of grief, mistrust, and an incompetence that's far too easy to just call "evil," a Sherlockian like myself is apt to turn in the direction of 221B Baker Street and say, "What have you got for me, Sherlock?" And like a golden nugget in a pan full of river silt, something shines up at me and reminds me that this is a stream worth panning.

Conan Doyle channelled John H. Watson, M.D. starting a hundred and thirty years ago, and the words he put on paper then still shine today. Sherlock Holmes could find light in darkness then, serve as an example of a person rising to find answers from their lowest ebb, and inspire us to do likewise, and he still does so now.

Reason. Truth. Attempting to help. Even though Sherlock Holmes was a man whose intelligence and personality made it hard for him to relate to others at times, he still knew what he had to do when the time came, and he rose to do it. And occasionally, he rose from some pretty dark depths.

A Sherlock Holmes fan named Nicholas Meyer and a composer named James Horner once combined talents to create a scene that lives in my mind to this day, the battle of the Mutara Nebula. A very simple trick, both as a part of the story and of the film, gives the viewer a glorious moment when a beaten and damaged starship rises up from behind its foe to seize the moment and win the day. The orchestral score of that moment is brilliant and brings the full emotional punch of it to bear.

If the Canon of Holmes had a soundtrack, I think we'd hear more than a few of those moments, and this morning was a good morning to remember they exist.

Sherlock Holmes rising to deal with what needed to be dealt with -- its a spirit that we are blessed to have passed along to us to this day, a day when we definitely need to look to better days ahead.

Monday, August 14, 2017

When one Baker Street isn't enough.

Sherlock and Sherlockians provided the best parts of the past weekend, I think.

My friend John Holliday, a great Sherlockian whose reclusive and mysterious nature means he's only been seen by a scant few Sherlockians, came to town for an Irish pub lunch and hanging out in the Sherlock library. (I have the good Carter as a witness, in case you should ever think he's a Tyler Durden figment of my imagination whom I named after a famous gunfighter.)

And the 221B Con commanders all went down to Atlanta to research the new hotel for this year's con, and the con's Homeless Network tweeted some great pics of what we can expect there come spring. As I had to tweet on Saturday, the reminders of all the love and inclusion that swirl around 221B Con were a healthy inoculation against the hate on display in one corner of the country, and a reminder that there are good, good people here in America, as well as those who act otherwise.

But when Sunday night came, and the last moments of the weekend brought that weary lack of accomplishment blues that come as the clock runs out, I found myself picking a book out from down in the pile near my bed, one I picked up at an Indianapolis horror convention, of all places, a few years back:

Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets, edited by David Thomas Moore.

I dearly love that title, so much that I almost wish I'd come up with it myself. But as this was a three-hundred-and-some page paperback, what I found inside was merely fourteen stories of alternative universe Sherlocks and Johns, and yet . . . it was enough.

"A Scandal in Hobohemia" by Jamie Wyman turned Baker Street into a carnival, where ex-military man Jim Walker first encounters carny Sanford Haus. It was a colorful new world to be swept into, securely anchored by the knowledge that underneath their guises, these were two old friends.

The second tale, "Black Alice," by Kelly Hale, brought back the familiar names of Holmes and Watson, but place them a full century before their rightful place, the same yet different.

I don't review books very often here in the blog, as I don't finish most books in a timely manner, and don't like to talk about those I don't finish . . . not sure who's fault that is in a particular case. But in this case, just getting started with Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets was such a particularly welcome tonic of distraction at the end of mixed bag of a weekend. (Burying bodies from the household serial killer can be soooo depressing on top of everything else. Don't know why we let him live here.)

And a good reminder of just how much fun Sherlock Holmes and John Watson can be at the end of the day is always worth a mention.

Ennui.

Sherlock Holmes was so against boredom that he couldn't even say the word.

"It saved me from ennui," he replies  to Watson's compliments at the end of "The Red-Headed League."

Bored by social events. ("Noble Bachelor.") Bored even with his own explanations of his own deductions. ("Blue Carbuncle.") Bored with crime. ("Wisteria Lodge," "Copper Beeches," etc.)

Like fellow genius Rick Sanchez (who just might have had a deerstalker on for ten seconds in this week's episode of "Rick and Morty"), Sherlock Holmes is just so good at what he does that it just isn't fun at a certain point. He certainly didn't retire in 1903 to keep bees because crime and mystery had been eradicated from the world.

No, Sherlock Holmes went, "Gee, what's more interesting than crime? I know, bees."

And, sorry, bee-lovers, but bees more interesting than humans? Have a little species pride here. Bees only get anywhere close to equally interesting as humans if you've so mastered humanity's every move that they might as well be a predictable hive. Sherlock Holmes's retirement is actually such a diss on the human race that it's amazing he has human fans.

Oh, I shouldn't watch "Rick and Morty" the first thing on a Monday morning. Did I mention there was a character composed of a million bees on this week's episode? Sherlock Holmes might have liked that guy . . . since he seemed to head in that bee direction for retirement and not hanging out with Watson and the kids, or hunting up Irene Adler, or doing something for Mycroft . . . which, oh wait, he did do after he got sick of the bees.

And don't get me started on Mary Russell. She's imaginary.

Sherlock Holmes in retirement, without Watson to either admire his efforts or bring him down a notch, is pretty dull himself. "Let's squash a jellyfish with a rock!" dull. Oops. Sorry, jellyfishes. Crossed a line there.

Mondays. What are ya gonna do? Let's be on the side of Sherlock Holmes and go anti-boredom this week. Because otherwise . . . well, things get kinda dull.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Five. Orange. Pips.

Let's talk about "The Five Orange Pips" this morning, and contrast it with the modern day.

Not in terms of its writing. Not in terms of its Victorian detail. Not anything about Sherlock Holmes.

No, let's talk about how the Ku Klux fucking Klan had a sense of shame in that tale.

Now, I probably should apologize for using "fucking" in a Sherlock Holmes blog, where mannered British-isms might seem the order of the day, but we're just at that point here. I woke up this morning to read of torch-wielding Klan types in the news in 2017. And if that doesn't make you want to say, "Well, fuck that," you probably shouldn't be reading anything I write.

The entire reason "The Five Orange Pips" works is because Conan Doyle wrote the Ku Klux Klan as what it was . . . a secret society. Their threatening message, those five seeds from an orange, was remarkable in its ordinariness, a threat that the casual onlooker wouldn't see as terrifying. The Klan of that story worked in the shadows, made deaths look like accidents or suicide, and basically avoided the light like the cockroaches of evil they were.

The true Ku Klux Klan of decades before was more of a terrorist organization, burning and lynching so their works would be seen by the public, even if they were not. Their hooded robes hid their faces, as they knew that society was not behind them. They knew their agenda was not something that would stand the light of day.

And now, thanks to whatever factor analysis might cite . . . growing poverty, false entitlement, the inability to get a girlfriend . . . we're seeing a version of the Klan that, even if it doesn't use that name, wants to announce itself publicly with torches and uncovered faces. And just as much a threat in those torches as the five orange pips . . . the threat to burn the changing culture that so offends and frightens them. A changing culture which is people.

Despite what one blithering idiot might be saying to the world this past week, we don't burn people.

We. Don't. Burn. People.

The stories of Sherlock Holmes have always been a source for nostalgia, a longing for times of horse-drawn conveyances and guiltless tobacco smoking, etc. But I never thought I'd see the day when they'd also be a source of nostalgia for a secretive, sneaky Ku Klux Klan, that at least seemed to have a sense of shame about its evil nature.

And yet here we are. Time to pull a Sherlock Holmes and send those pips in the opposite direction, don't you think?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

"John, Sherlock. Watson, Holmes."

There was a single cry of frustration on Twitter today that caught my eye, amid the feeds thousand other reactions today, and it didn't have the word "nuclear" in it. (Sorry to use the word, just emotionally time-stamping this blog.) It went like this: "STOP CALLING THEM SHERLOCK AND WATSON 2k17."

In a single line of protest, one could see so much of the current state of things Sherlockian.

Sherlock and John. Holmes and Watson.

Two men with two different forms of address, those two styles connoting source material, generations, approaches to their relationship, time periods . . . a virtual rabbit hole for deep-diving, but then Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson have always been an incredible cavern for exploration to those who "catch the distant view-halloah" as the Starrett poem says.

Even as I've come to use both given names and surmanes of the pair as the spirit moves me, those names still bring distinct pictures to my head.

"Holmes and Watson" are older gentlemen. The fellows you saw in every adaptation pre-2010, regardless of who the actors were. Even all the art of that time placed them as near-senior-citizens an ungodly percentage of the time.

"Sherlock and John" are younger, vital men. The age where men are actively coupling, whatever direction you want to take that, and they can actually still run with all the speed of youth. They are the age that A Study in Scarlet always handed us, yet no one seemed to want them to be.

One set of names is properly Victorian, the other modern casual, yet once you go "Sherlock and John," the two tend to remain on a first-name basis even when you return to the Victorian era. It's a cultural retrofitting that I suspect we'll never return from, unless a new Victorian age takes over . . . and these days, you just never know. Crazier things have happened.

One can even almost understand why the offending combination of "Sherlock and Watson" occurs -- "Sherlock" is the more distinct of the detective's two names, and "Watson" the more distinctive of the doctor's. It's a mismatch, to be sure, but you know how ham-handed the non-Sherlockians have always been with our favorite sons of Britain. (The phrase "No shit, Sherlock!" popularized over-familiarity with Holmes long before he and John were on a first name basis. And pretty rudely at that. Sherlockians definitely didn't start that trend.)

And as old school as my roots run, I really like that I've gotten comfortable calling the boys Sherlock and John. It's like we've all gotten to know them a little better. After a century or so, I'd say, as a fan culture, we have. Not everyone's preference, even now, I know, but not every shift in societal norms over time is an omen of the end times. Sometimes, it's just a sign that something brand new is actually happening for a valid reason.

We're kind of lucky that Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson have hung around long enough for us to get to this point with them. And where they go from here? Well, anyone that gets to see that will, I hope, be luckier still.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Really? John Watson's Island, season two, begins!

Nothing says relaxation like turning off your brain at the end of a hard day, flopping on the couch, and turning on a sitcom with a laugh-track that even takes the work out of voicing your merriment. But for the summer blogger, a serious evening's relaxation must go one step further: Converting episodes of the classic sitcom Gilligan's Island into a Sherlock-based comedy called John Watson's Island. Last month saw the end of the first thirty-six episode season of the show (Ah, how long things ran in the sixties!), and this month begins season two:

37. The Grice Patersons from the Isle of Oof-ah. A family of primitive Scots from a neighboring island show up and encounter John Watson in the jungle. After many comical communication errors, Mycroft informs John that they want him to marry their daughter, having come to the island in search of a mate for her. Mycroft interprets that John must past a marital test of manhood first, involving a caber toss and a hammer throw, and that Watson should do it so the Scots will help them get off the island. Lestrade offers to help John practice, but while tossing the caber, Lestrade accidentally kills the bride-to-be's mother. According to Scot islander custom, he must then take the mother's place in the family. After wacky attempts at Scottish maternal duties, Lestrade's new husband decides divorce is best and takes his daughter away from the island to get as far away from the Scotland Yard inspector as possible.

38. An Admirable Queen. When a newspaper washes up on the shore with a headline about the winner of the Miss British Empire contest, Irene becomes furious, as the winner was her understudy in the last opera she performed in, who also replaced her as star when she became shipwrecked. When Sherlock says that Irene is still the most beautiful woman on their current island empire in an act a rare chivalry, John argues that Mary might be the more handsome woman, and Mycroft then proposes that Inspector Lestrade is really the most handsome of all the castaways. Professor Moriarty proposes a beauty pageant to settle the issue. Since Moriarty is the only one without bias toward a particular candidate, he is asked to judge the contest, which sparks all sorts of hijinks as the castaways sabotage each other's chances. Moriarty finally decides that they all look so foolish that he is the only fitting queen of the island and places the crown upon his own head.

39. A Scandal in New San Pedro. Don Murillo, the Tiger of San Pedro, arrives at the island after being thrown off a steam launch by countrymen carrying out his exile. Murillo declares the island "New San Pedro" and announces himself the new dictator of the island nation. Mycroft explains that this is a democratic island in which every castaway is a member of the parliament that chooses their prime minister, and Murillo, realizing he cannot win such an election, starts promoting the merits of John Watson as prime minister, sure that he can connive his way into a spot as Watson's top advisor. No one thinks Watson can beat such brainy candidates as the Holmes brothers and Moriarty, but when the "smart" votes are split so widely between them, John Watson wins the election with three votes. (Sherlock's, Mary's, and Don Murillo's.) John has a whole weird dream about being king of the island, yet a puppet to Don Murillo, and wakes convinced to resign, only to find that Don Murillo has been mysteriously murdered during the night, which Moriarty confesses to and everyone laughs, deciding they don't need a government after all.

40. The Developed Footage. When John Watson discovers a downed hot air balloon with an aerial camera, the castaways decide they can repair and re-inflate the balloon to carry the camera back to London with pictures of them and a note to summon a rescue. After much debate and many humorous modeling sessions, the castaways decide to dress primitively to show their desperate straits. But after the letter asking for help is placed on the balloon, Watson decides to change something, accidentally releasing the balloon as he grabs the letter. When the camera makes it back to London, the geographers who funded its mission declare it a great success, as the pictures they find seem to be of a new tribe of primitive Britons living as they did before civilization. The geographers all then agree that those innocent natives should be left alone to live their lives.

41. The Gold Circle. Another newspaper washes ashore in a water-proof trunk, this time announcing that the missing John Watson is the winner of the Irish Sweepstakes. Professor Moriarty announces that his pub is now an exclusive club for the island's wealthy, whom he calls his "Baker Street Regulars." John, finding himself a bit lonely in the club, writes IOUs for 50,000 pounds to Irene and Mary, then later one for Sherlock, who passes it to his brother when he gets tired and is going to bed. Lestrade just comes in saying he had to investigate a complaint he had about the establishment, and Sherlock has a crazy dream about the old West and a town that only lets rich Americans in. Reading the new newspaper over his breakfast, he points out that it was John O. Watson who won the sweepstakes and not John H. Watson, and Moriarty opens the pub back up to everyone.

42. The Grossest Episode. When Professor Moriarty says his calculations of London sewage production from overpopulation is causing the Thames to rise, Mycroft decides the castaways must build a new hut on higher ground. All the castaways have ideas on how to improve the new construction, which they call 223B Island Street, and their solo efforts each wind up counteracting some others. The one part that does manage to get built is a crow's nest, from which John Watson spots a fleet of huge filthy prison ships headed for downriver for Australia, causing the river to rise and freely dumping waste overboard. Moriarty's theory disproven, they all retire to 221B Island Street and listen to Sherlock Holmes tell the story of the Gloria Scott one more time.

Well, when the seasons are that long, all the episodes can't be winners. (Have we had a winner yet? Winner implies contest, as well as that it's all over. Perhaps we need to declare a winner.)

Stay tuned for more John Watson's Island! (Or change the channel to one of those showing Sherlockian porn, as the stories are probably a lot better!)

Monday, August 7, 2017

The great composers of Sherlock Holmes.

Way back in 1996, Varese Sarabande produced a CD of music called Sherlock Holmes -- Classic Themes from 221B Baker Street. It led with Patrick Gowers's theme music from the Jeremy Brett series, which was state-of-the-Sherlock back then, and wandered through the musical filmography of Sherlock Holmes, hitting Stephen Sondheim, Miklos Rozsa, and Henry Mancini before it was done. Very cool for 1996. But twenty years have passed, and Sherlock Holmes really needs a two (or three) volume set now if he is going to be represented on vinyl or CD.

Seeing Hans Zimmer including a little Sherlock Holmes in a program of movie music he was doing inspired this little reverie. Zimmer's music for Robert Downey Jr.'s time as Sherlock has a marvelous feel to it, capturing Holmes in a way unlike any before him. (And got an Oscar nomination for score.)

We also now have the work of David Arnold and Michael Price on BBC's Sherlock, which won an Emmy award, as well as Sean Callery's theme for CBS's Elementary, which may not have won an Emmy but did get nominated.

There are some serious contenders for composer of "best Sherlock Holmes music" these days. Folks with some serious credits to their names coming in to do very good work. But being completist collectors, a modern compilation would surely not stop with those heavy hitters.

We'd also like to see a track from Chris Ridenhour's soundtrack to "Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs," as it is affectionately known, from The Asylum films. (The guy did the Sharknado music, as well as a boatload of other such films.)

John Barry's score to They Might Be Giants needs representation. I mean, John Barry! Even if you forget Bond films, he was winning BAFTAs before most Americans knew what BAFTAs were.

And while that earlier CD I mentioned, did have a Henry Mancini track from Without A Clue, what about Mancini's work on The Great Mouse Detective, which one could argue had more real Sherlock Holmes than Without A Clue. Definitely need some of that on there!

An while we're talking animated, Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century has a theme song that's an earworm which will not be denied. Eric Allaman is the composer credited with the show's music, and he also did the music for Sherlock Holmes and the Incident at Victoria Falls, so he definitely deserves inclusion.

What else? A bit of Colin Towns from Hands of a Murderer? Madeline Khan singing with Gene Wilder from The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes's Smarter Brother?  (With all the fuss over Eurus Holmes of late, how can we forget Sigerson Holmes? And damned if I wouldn't pay to see Eurus and Siggy in a movie together.)

 The music that's been created for and inspired by Sherlock Holmes over the years is a deep, deep rabbit hole, and one that deserves collecting in its own right. Actors may stand front and center for any Sherlock Holmes production, but the music . . . ah, the music is always what takes a production over the top. And Holmes has had some great stuff, even when the Holmes in front of it wasn't necessarily so great.

Perhaps one day, we'll see it all gathered in one place for a long, thoughtful tour of his tunes. I sure hope so.