Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sherlock Holmes, steampunk, and canon

How this sorta-politics blog keeps turning into a movie review blog, I don't know... but it keeps happening.

I finally saw Sherlock Holmes today, having wanted to catch its Christmas opening but being far too busy living actual life with my actual loved ones to indulge in vicarious life with the ever-crushworthy detective. (More about that in a moment.) I was... bemused. Because I liked it QUITE a lot, in spite of a convoluted and hard-to-follow plot (which, like my darling Twilight movies, relies pretty heavily on an informed audience, of which I'm definitely one - but it was still hard to follow), weird casting in the parts of Irene Adler (about whom I say "meh") and John Watson (about whom I say, "FINALLY, a movie where I can like Jude Law!" even while acknowledging how little like the traditionally understood Watson he is), and heavy application of steampunk.

Actually, that last point turns out to be a big reason why I liked it, I think, to my surprise: I thought the steampunk stuff was distracting me until I suddenly realized that I was looking for it eagerly in every scene.

So anyway, what was to like? STRICT ADHERENCE TO CANON on points that don't usually benefit from that attention. I've read six or seven critics' reviews now, and (I love when this happens) except about Downey's performance as Holmes, they don't agree about much. However, one point on which they do seem to agree is that this movie is, like, totally revisionist. I argue that it's Basil Rathbone that's the revisionist (but great in his own way, I'm sure - though it occurs to me that I've never seen any Holmes movie until this one). Go back and read the stories: Holmes isn't fastidious, he's messy. (Tobacco in a slipper?) He isn't prissy, he's blasé about moral lapses. (King of Bohemia has ill-advised affair with Adler; Holmes doesn't bat an eyelash, just goes to work recovering the evidence.) He is a bare-knuckles fighter, as well as an adept of "baritsu." He is likely to appear in disreputable costumes at unexpected moments. He doesn't eat, live, or entertain himself as a Victorian British gentleman of independent means would; he's described by his creator (or is it "his biographer"? Who can say?) as "bohemian" and "eccentric." So when I first saw trailers for this movie, I thought, "Robert Downey, Jr.? Really?" But I quickly came around to, "Swoon!"

Because I've had a crush on Holmes forEVer. My parents had a copy of The Seven Per Cent Solution lying around; I fell into it when I was, oh, twelve, and the allure of the moody druggy Holmes led me to the "trad" Holmes of Doyle - wherein the moody druggy Holmes was visible at the edges of the stories - and those two together led me to the Laurie King Holmes-in-"retirement," the most crushworthy of all, because finally we no longer have to guess at and hope for clues to his emotional climate. Holmes: the best bad boy ever, because he's not really bad, just inscrutable and untouchable.

I also decided, eventually, that I liked the direction and the cinematography a lot: there was not one scene of a sunny London, which makes great sense in the time-context: the sun had a tough row to how in coal-heated London. Ritchie's overcranked and undercranked scenes were disconcerting but effective; perhaps if I watched 24 I'd not be so whipsawed by them, but even though I had to mentally reset myself each time the speed of action changed, I dug the way it looked.

And the Holmes-Watson bromance? First, never say that word again; it's stupid. Second, you know, there was no "gay" there for me, though just about every reviewer seemed to find it. (Please see the paragraph a few up, about how dreamy Holmes is, and then see "projection" in the dictionary, I'm thinking. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Obviously I'm employing it myself, incorporating my own bias.) The scene (SPOILER!) in which Adler, Holmes, and Watson are arrayed in that order along the side of a building that explodes toward them was, I thought, terrific: Holmes, caught between his best friend and the newly returned woman he won't quite admit he loves, makes a typical Holmes snap decision, turns toward one, looks back toward the other, and races for the one - all in slow-motion, and shot confusingly on purpose (I think) so that until he reaches his destination we can't tell which one he's running toward, which one he's wishing he could also save. How is that evidence of Holmes's sexual orientation? He loves both; he can only get to one. The rest of the Holmes-Watson interaction is exactly like the conversations my husband has with his brother - occasional uncomfortable references to an affection they don't want to talk about, lots of ribbing, quarrelling, and punching. What?

And the steampunk. Brass clockworks. A waistcoat lying dusty in the road (you know that thing that appears sometimes in catalogues and women's mags as a "weskit"? A tailored vest? Well, that's a waistcoat. It's how it's pronounced. Silly catalogues and mags). The Tower Bridge under construction - it's ultramodern! It's ultra-retro! It's an engineering marvel rendered with slide rules and a preponderance of hand tools with steam power (hence the "steam" of steampunk) for the heavy lifting. Whoa. It's all so beautiful, so soot-soiled, so romantic, so gritty, so full of portents, manners, cruelty, and quick double-entendre.

I give the movie a big analog 9 or so, cast in brass and tarnished by the sulfurous "fog" of Victorian London. Fun!

1 comment:

CJ said...

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Candra Nazzaro