Movies of My Yesterdays: The Seven Percent Solution

holmes

I knew when I chose this month that it was going to be a five-week month. And yet, poring over an exhaustive list of Sherlock Holmes adaptations, I found that, once I eliminated the films I’d seen, the works that were not theatrical feature films, the ones that were not part of series I’d already covered, the releases too fresh to approach, and the silent and foreign films that had too little to recommend them, time and again I came up with only four to cover. And then one turned out to be a remake of the same script. While it’s disappointing that so few passed my filter, having a fifth space to fill affords me the opportunity to close my series on the character that has meant so much to me and the culture that I’m partially a product of with a personal reflection that can touch on the whole of my history with Sherlockiana.

Sherlock Holmes was about as ingrained in my childhood as nursery rhymes. Aside from environmental references, and The Great Mouse Detective‘s pastiche, my introduction to the stories themselves may have been with the cassette tape of Jim Weiss performing children’s adaptations of some of the short stories that I recall being my favorite of the Jim Weiss tapes we had, but it’s the earliest I can cast my mind back to now. In particular, his versions of The Speckled Band and The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle have stayed with me. Later, as I’ve previously discussed, Wishbone was for a long time the biggest children’s show in my life, and while The Hound of the Baskervilles may have been cut down too much, the most faithful handling of Irene Adler I’ve ever seen was in Wishbone’s take on A Scandal in Bohemia.

I’m just as concerned as readers no doubt are that this is going to become an exhaustive list of every encounter with Holmes I’ve had, but I’ll try to keep it brief. I had a brief fling with Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, but eventually decided that it didn’t translate well to science fiction, and may have been the genesis of my antipathy to the “it’s always Moriarty” trope. Growing up in a reading household, I got my hands on canon Doyle earlier than I had the capacity to properly read it, especially as the most readily available copy was heavily annotated, which didn’t mix well with my attention span. Jeremy Brett didn’t have quite the presence at home that David Suchet and Joan Hickson did, or even Ian Carmichael, but he was there.

The Seven Per-Cent Solution. Herbert Ross Productions 1976.

And then Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan came out on DVD. This may seem like the wildest of digressions, but what happened was that in the bonus features, I learned that the writer/director Nicholas Meyer had gotten noticed for writing a book called The Seven Per-Cent Solution. A book which had for all my life sat on the bookshelf right next to the television that I’d never paid much attention to. I suddenly paid it quite a lot of attention. In short succession, I read it and his two other Holmes pastiches and then somewhere in there learned that Solution had been adapted into a film, which is why Meyer had been able to get into the movie business.

While I enjoyed the novel immensely, I left the movie with the sense that something had been off about the story, including the novel. Eventually I realized that what had rubbed me the wrong way was that it seemed to treat the characters like toys from the toybox to play with. “Let’s have Sherlock Holmes meet Sigmund Freud! A grand adventure with the World’s Greatest Detective and the World’s Greatest Psychologist!” In short, it felt like some of the more grating kinds of fanfiction.

That feeling puzzled me. Fanfiction as I knew it was published by authors online. Write, post, move on. But this was a dead-tree novel. It had, at least as I understand it, a kind of blessing from the Doyle estate that a lot of apocryphal Holmes stories never got. It was as close to new canon as one could get. Eventually, through working out this crisis of Holmesian faith, I came to realize that the difference between fanfiction and official works is much more fluid than I thought. Indeed, franchised works have been known to solicit fanfiction as writing auditions. I’ve seen fanfic writers go on to publish their own original works and I’ve seen others get hired to write official derivative works. I’m sure I’ve encountered fanfiction authors that go on to write mainline official works, but I can’t think of one right now.

Returning to this film now, I think the chief reason the movie failed me where the book did not is that by necessity, it dumps the pastiched prose, which goes a long way toward removing the feeling of “A Sherlock Holmes Story”. Collapsing the story into two hours also brought to light how little the plot concerns itself with unspooling a mystery. The first full half or more is about Holmes reaching rock bottom, the plan to help him, and the recovery process. By the time the mystery presents itself, it seems an accidental intrusion to the study of a side of the character Watson would have been reluctant to bring to light.

Additionally, the movie’s need for blustery action sequences exposed two further problems: the red herring chase into the stable finding them in danger at a moment where Holmes is in a theraputic trance was the clanging moment when I realized back then how much more in love the story is with Sigmund Freud than with Holmes. So much of the movie is a Freud and Watson adventure enabled by Holmes’s addiction and then his intellect. I don’t recall if the stable scene is in the book, but I do know the final chase and battle was, and I regret to say it seems rather low stakes for such a thunderingly exciting sequence. I don’t mean to denigrate the worth of the abducted lady, but usually in movies a breakneck chase and rooftop swordfight with an evil baron has world-shattering stakes. Indeed, a glance at the book summary reminds me that in the novel, there were political implications that postponed World War I. Ultimately, I feel the movie could have done with either more intrigue or much less. The scandalous character study would have made a fascinating film all on its own.

Such is the legacy of Sherlock Holmes. There are many interpretations of the man. Sherlock Holmes has infinitely many faces. He may be a cold logician, a student of criminal psychology, a master observer, a passionate force for justice, or even a cocaine fiend. All of these qualities are present in different measures across all incarnations. What is constant is that he is, by whatever measure is relevant to the time of the work, the world’s greatest detective, and for whatever reasons we find to latch on to, we love him. There will never be an end to the tales, and so there will never be an end to the character. Perhaps Holmes will return to this blog sometime, through some reevaluation of a work, or through discovery of one not previously considered. But for now, it’s time to give him a rest. Good night, Mr. Holmes.

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Pumping Iron

yesterdocs

Pumping Iron.  White Mountain Films 1977.
Pumping Iron. White Mountain Films 1977.

Before watching the movie:

Way back in the beginning of this blog, when I was still feeling out what it was and what it covered, I reviewed one documentary. And in the years since, I have had one lonely post in the Documentary category (and one in Mockumentary, which I made a subcategory, but that’s another story).  I like documentaries. I’m just never in the mood to watch them, and I swiftly came to the idea that this blog should only cover scripted films. Maybe I’m better equipped to discuss scripted cinema, maybe it comes more easily. But lately documentaries have become a bigger part of my life, and I’ve been piling up docs in my to be watched list. I decided it was time to do something about it. So this month, not only am I reviewing four documentaries on this blog, I’m also trying to watch a total of at least 20 in the entire month, which I’m keeping track of on Tumblr.

I should probably discuss a little bit about this particular movie, even though I’ve gone on about the theme of the month for one whole Schwarzenegger. I get the sense it probably would have been forgotten if it hadn’t been the screen debut of a model about to become an actor known for being buff and not saying much. I don’t think I knew before now that it also profiles Lou Ferrigno, who also transitioned into acting in roles on his physique. It sounds like Arnold is more of the bad boy superstar of the movie, while Ferrigno has a more, perhaps sympathetic portrayal. They might be positioned as rivals in the narrative, or they might just be competitors in the same circuit, but the former seems more likely unless I’m missing an option for how the narrative may be constructed.

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Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke

Cheech and Chong's Up In Smoke. Paramount Pictures 1978.
Cheech and Chong’s Up In Smoke. Paramount Pictures 1978.

Before watching the movie:

I don’t entirely get stoner comedy. No doubt, that’s because it’s the only real contact I have with stoner culture and you’re meant to consume stoner entertainment while stoned, so pretty much anything would be funny. But then there’s an element of making fun of how dulled the cognitive reflexes are while under the influence that would probably be funnier sober, so I guess it’s more about having fun with the lifestyle.

I’m fond of Cheech Marin’s comedy work, though I came in from a very different angle than most people (children’s edutainment). Tommy Chong I’ve really only encountered through Cheech & Chong, apparently because he had a rough time keeping his career afloat after Cheech split off to pursue acting. In most of their work together that I can remember, he seems like, if not the straight man (because high people are funny), the one who was there so Cheech had someone to play off of.

So… road movie about being high. I want to like it, but I can’t come up with much reason to express why. Continue reading

Bugsy Malone

Bugsy Malone. Paramount Pictures 1976.
Bugsy Malone. Goodtimes Enterprises 1976.

Before watching the movie:

I stumbled across this maybe decades ago, I believe referenced in an educational book about movie making, which noted that there was a movie that cast all child actors in grown-up roles, requiring all of the sets and props to be custom-built at a child scale. That obviously stuck in my mind, but I never followed up on it. Recently I watched a movie that made an offhand reference to this movie, finally looked it up, and here it is.

I had no idea before I looked it up that it was a musical. This sounds fantastic. A G-rated gangster movie musical with a completely child cast, starring Jodie Foster and Scott Baio. I mean, it could go horribly wrong, but what reputation I’ve been able to glean about it suggests not.

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Alien

Alien. 20th Century Fox 1979.
Alien. 20th Century Fox 1979.

Before watching the movie:

This is definitely not part of the Movie Monster Month series. Because it’s a new month, of course.

I have the impression that this movie basically invented Sci-Fi-Action-Horror as a subgenre, or at least is why it’s so predominant. I don’t dislike that combination, but I do mind that it seems to have choked out the alternatives, at least through the 80s and 90s.

But anyway, this is very ingrained in culture, so the scariest part is that I haven’t seen it yet. Ripley is up there with Sarah Connor (in Terminator 2) for awesome female heroes, and John Hurt’s most famous role is as the guy who explodes. There’s a walking backhoe fight. (That’s Alien 2 I think) These are things it’s impossible not to know.

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King Kong

King Kong. Dino De Laurentiis Company 1976.
King Kong. Dino De Laurentiis Company 1976.

Before watching the movie:

Yes, this is a remake. The second remake, if an Indian version made in the 60s that stands little chance of appearing here counts. And no, I haven’t seen the original yet. I haven’t seen any version before now. This is mostly a matter of what was available, and while the newest version is old enough to be considered, I’m more attracted to this one. Just by its era, I expect it to be more accessible than the original, while still feeling more classic than current. Then on top of that, it has a particularly notable cast. Fay Wray was at the top of her career in 33’s King Kong, but she’s popularly remembered for little else now. Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange, and Rene Auberjonois are all still fairly well known today, and I’m looking forward to their performances.

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The Amazing Captain Nemo

The Return of Captain Nemo. Warner Bros. 1978.
The Return of Captain Nemo. Warner Bros. 1978.

Before watching the movie:

I try to stick to movies with a theatrical release, but I’m not sure this had one, as it was written as a three-part television pilot. I do know that it brings Captain Nemo to the modern era, and it stars Jose Ferrer as Nemo and Burgess Meredith as the bad guy, and the contrast between great cast and silly concept caught my curiosity and attention, and I could not leave it on the shelf.

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