Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sherlock Holmes Primer (DVD & Books)

From the time CBSE syllabus threw "The Blue Carbuncle" at me in VIIIth Standard, I have been huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. Many years later, while at Grad school, a nice boy called Anush Mohandass (The "Colonel") loaned me "Sherlock Homes as published in Strand Magazine" (which I promptly lost after reading). Thanks to that - my obsession with Holmes was renewed and kept me company during the dying stages of my Masters thesis. Having exhausted the original series of books - I found new life for Sherlock Holmes in Dallas. While living in the world of UNIX geeks, where people showed their macho'ness by typing long command line well..er.. commands with a lot of 'grep'ping and pipe'ing - a colleague (another huge Holmes fan) and I dabbled with the Diogenes Club Dallas chapter ( I know!). The club had a description that went like;

There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubable men in town.

My colleague then introduced me to a new world of Holmes Fan Fiction (which gets boring after a while like the way most James Bond fan fictions do) but more importantly he introduced me to the wonderful world of Jeremy Brett. Granada Television had gone on to create a fantastic TV series based on Conan Doyle's works. At the time I read the comprehensive collection of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, I constantly wondered if it could ever be played out visually with the same thrill and quality. A book inherently can offer the reader insight into the wonderful dimension of a character's thought process and takes you through a reasoning and analysis sequence that is hard to recreate in a visual medium. In some cases, not all, the best a visual medium can do is to offer poignant background music. But that does little to compete with the power of a great book. As I read story after story - the visuals that popped in my mind simply had no bounds. If anybody attempted to instantiate those books into a concrete visual, I was sure many would simply disagree with that interpretation. However, Granada's inteerpretation and more importantly Jeremy Brett's interpretation of Sherlock Holmes can only be described as - magic.

A few English actors have a 'style' associated with them. Sometimes, when I see them, I am reminded of why Rajinikanth is so loved. There is a sense of uninhibited flair about them. A unique almost idiosynratic style that distinguishes them as a cavalier character. Pierce Brosnan played that stylish person in Remington Steele. His mannerisms, expressions, the way he opened a car door, shined and held his shoes (remember Rajini-Poornam in Thillu Mullu), held a wine glass, picked up a phone or tipped a waiter - was so cool you'd be ashamed to even try and imitate that. John Cleese brought out a style in Fawlty Towers that I would consider as inimitable. Jeremy Brett's style sweeps you off your feet. He brings an intensity to Holmes that would have had Doyle's approval. At the same time he is sarcastic, contemptuous and so disdainful that you almost feel you should learn to insult as well as he does. There is line that Holmes utters - a loan from Shakesphere;

" Age doth not wither nor custom stale my infinite variety"

My father used that line at the drop of a hat. You should hear Jeremy Brett say it to Watson (at 5:50 minutes in the video) in the darkness as they stalk Professor Moriarty's henchmen. It is said as a ferocious whisper with the appropriate pauses and a style that makes you feel you should try and say it too. In Silver Blaze he makes an observation that - to me - defined the essense of Holmes. Yes, the most popular dialog in Silver Blaze is Holmes response "That was the curious incident" to Gregory's exclamation "The Dog did nothing in the night time". But there is a moment where he says ( at 2:00 minutes in the video)

"You see. The value of imagination. It is the one quality that Inspectior Gregory lacked. We imagined what might have happened, acted upon the supposition, and find ourselves justified."

In effect Holmes defines what we simplify as intuition. And you should hear Jeremy Brett say these line. You will hear sarcasm, derision and regret all at the same time. Brett has a way of pronouncing words that makes you notice. There were times when I paused, rewinded a particular sequence just to hear him say a sentence in a particular way. In Doyle's stories Holmes states his theories on a person's deductive capacity and compares that with the way we instinctively add two numbers (as opposed to manually go about the additive process with our fingers). Such theories were fascinating and certainly worth stating. Parts such as these, which I liked in the stories but that were missing in the DVDs (TV series) were Holmes theories about knowledge. Holmes abhors unnecessary knowledge. While he knows a lot about Chemistry, playin violin and Forensic Sciences - he professed zero knowledge on Literature, Philosophy, Astronomy (he didn't know that the Earth revolved around the Sun) and politics. His theory was that a person's brain simply did not have the bandwidth to support lot of information and needless information ate away at a person's existing capacity/resources. The DVD though it referred subtly to Holmes drug addiction ("cocaine" injections) did not detail it as much as Doyle did.

Books & DVD:
With this holiday season purchase - I believe I have all the Sherlock Holmes Books & DVD sets ever published (Including the Basil Rathbone ones). A couple of DVDs are still in the mail and once I get it my collection will be complete. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 56 short stories and 4 novels. Out of the 56 stories 52 were written as if Dr. Watson wrote them for newspapers. 2 were written by Holmes in first person and the other 2 were written in the regular third person format by Doyle himself. The four novels were 1. A Study in scarlet ( I couldn't find a Jeremy Brett TV adaptation) 2. The Sign of Four 3. The Hound Of Baskervilles 4. The Valley of Fear. The last 3 novels are available in DVD. Additionally available in that DVD are The Master Blackmailer, The Last Vampyre and The Eligible bachelor.
Conan Doyle's short stories were later compiled as the following Anthologies. However the stories in the Book Anthologies and the DVD set differs as noted below. It is dissapointing to note that not all stories were made into TV adaptations.
The DVD contains different stories picked from different places : A Scandal in BohemiaThe Dancing Men, The Naval Treaty, The Solitary Cyclist, The Crooked Man, The Speckled Band, The Blue Carbuncle, The Copper Beeches, The Greek Interpreter, The Norwood Builder, The Resident Patient, The Red Headed League and The Final Problem.
The DVD contained none of the above stories because the "Adventures" DVD took most of the stories. But contains -> The Three Gables, The Dying detective, The Golden Pince-Nez, The Red Circle, The Mazarin stone, The Cardboard Box
The DVD contains The Empty House, The Abbey Grange, The Second Stain, The Six Napoleons, The Priory School, Wisteria Lodge, The Devil’s Foot, Silver Blaze, The Bruce Partington Plans, The Musgrave Ritual & The Man With The Twisted Lip.
There was no Boxed DVD set available in this name.
The DVD in the same name contains Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax, The Problem of Thor Bridge, The Boscombe Valley Mystery, The Illustrious Client, Shouscombe Old Place, The Creeping Man.
We all know how great the books were - I can't stress how fantastic the DVD series was. Jeremy Brett and David Burke were a great team. Brett and Edward Hardwick were an even more awesome team.
Non-Jeremy Brett Visual Adaptations: There are many Holmes TV adaptations. Roger Moore and Basil Rathbone are two popular actors among the many to play Holmes. I have to say Basil Rathbone series was way better than Moore. The DVD set of 10 Sherlock Holmes movies contains "Dressed To Kill", "Secret Weapon" and "The Woman in Green". All three are exciting stories and engrossing inspite of not being part of Doyle's works. It also contains movies that were not played by Rathbone.
Sometime next year, I hope to write a series of posts reviewing each episode (or at least each DVD disc individually) featuring Jeremy Brett.

15 comments:

curdriceaurora said...

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066249/

another fan fiction. not as gripping as others but worth a watch. on hulu.

Maha said...

CBSE - blue carbuncle.. you must be almost my age then! have also you heard of balu, KSR and srinivasan for phys, math and chem?
-m

Anu said...

Absolutely love Jeremy Brett. We own this colection.
http://tinyurl.com/48o6ab

hari said...

Any idea where we can get the entire collection of Jeremy Brett's classic TV series? I live in India.

Anonymous said...

Athu enna XIIIth standard?

Anonymous said...

Anon,
Ozhunga padinga adhu VIII

Hawkeye said...

illa twas XIII - thanks to anon i changed it.

Gradwolf said...

superb collection. I've read most of the adventures and memoirs. I haven't seen the screen/TV adaptations much, but I remember watching one on Hallmark channel. No idea who acted in it...baskerville i think..

dancing men and golden pince-nez are my favorite short stories...

The Talkative Man said...

adhey kadhar veshti..adhey jibba...

Blue Carbuncle in VIII? Adhey Red color gulmohar book-a?

Tyler Durden said...

If you are into Holmes, check out the Erast Fandorin series by Boris Akunin (translated by Andrew Bromfield). Thrills, humor, ambience - Akunin and Bromfield nail it from page to page.

Valli Doll said...

Holmes is the king. His deduction is amazing!! He is GOD according to me :D

Waiting for more posts abt the review of the DVD!

Hawkeye said...

curdrice,

nandri.

Maha,

Balu KSR and Srini cover a wide range of batches.

Anu,

:-).

hari,

can't u just order it off some online store to india (postal charges will be high)

gradwolf,

there were 2 or 3 baskerville's made. The one starring Richard Roxburg was sumaar. The one starring jeremy Brett was only slightly better.


TTM,

yes. adhe adhe sabapathy.

Tyler,

I will.

Valli,

yes. you can spend a summer re-reaidng all the stories.

Anonymous said...

Someone once told me that the Hound of the Baskervilles was remade in Tamil - as Adhey Kangal. A loose intepretation of the story. And the hero's name is Basker.

Galadriel said...

Hawkeye,
Your post has helped me immensely, I was looking for a comprehensive episode listing of the Jeremy Brett series and I actually used your post to compare the episodes in the DVD box set available on Amazon. Thanks a bunch, the boyfriend and I are huge fans. It's going to be his birthday gift! :)

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