Oct 28, 2021

Contemporary Adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes Stories

The modern-day film and TV adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories bring great excitement to the minds of spectators who are familiar with the original Canons of Sherlock Holmes. The filmmakers often claim that they are reimagining the life and methods of the much-loved London-based ingenious detective and his biographer cum partner Dr. John Watson in the contemporary life scenarios. I feel that such claims are merely a way to get more viewership, as I usually find that the reconstructed characters resemble Holmes and Watson only a little, apart from the mere dramatic aspect that they bear the names Holmes and Watson. In other words, the modern-day Sherlock Holmes is just another detective with the same name, that’s how I felt. When I was watching BBC's Sherlock in which Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman enact the fictional duo, the degree of connection I could make between the original and the contemporary versions was nothing accountable.

I think that the aforementioned case is more apparent when considering another contemporary retelling of Sherlock Holmes and Watson I am watching currently. What I watch now is the series 'Elementary'(on Amazon Prime) aired originally on the American CBS channel during the same period as BBC's Sherlock. The title is a direct reference to a catchphrase Sherlock Holmes used multiple times as per the original stories. [SPOILERS AHEAD]In the 'Elementary' version, Holmes is living in New York and working with NYPD (instead of London's Scotland Yard). 'Elementary' portrays a young London detective, played by Jonnie Lee Miller, who had made good fame working with Scotland Yard, who has recently moved to New York to recover from drug addiction due to the death of his love interest 'Irene Adler'. It is true that the Canons of Sherlock Holmes (i.e., 56 Short stories and 4 Novels, written by Doyle) show Miss Irene Adler as a woman Holmes admired because of her extraordinary intelligence. Apart from that, a romantic connection towards any woman is not imaginable for a Victorian Holmes considering the picture Doyle presented to our minds. In Elementary, Irene Adler is killed by Holmes's arch-rival Moriarty (James Moriarty as per the Canon). The twist is that Adler is not killed, she was Moriarty (Jamie)herself, who was simply faking her death to distract Holmes from investigating her crimes.

Another crucial difference is that Elementary's Watson is not a male, but a female character by the name Dr. Joan Watson. Portrayed by Lucy Liu, Elementary's Dr. Joan Watson came to live in Holmes's place as a sober companion, someone who is employed by his father to speed up the recovery from drug use. They both share a platonic affection, which is something delightfully conceptualized by the show producers and remarkably done well by both the actors. In the original version, Watson is Holmes's biographer, and in the BBC's Sherlock also, the Watson character is doing a little bit of the biographical work through blogging (which is still available at http://www.johnwatsonblog.co.uk/). In Elementary, Dr. Joan shares an equal responsibility in solving crimes with Sherlock Holmes at least in some cases they investigate together, instead of becoming a simple biographer.

I think BBC's Sherlock features a closer portrayal of the original plot, although it was not a favorite of mine during the time it was aired. The only episode I really liked was the one titled 'The Abominable Bride' as this episode featured the actual period settings as per the canons. Whereas, the 'Elementary' version poses a scenario that is almost impossible to imagine as the original Holmes, although I like this version better. I think Miller's Holmes is a better enactment of a modern-day detective, who is genius and nerdy at the same time. If Sherlock Holmes lived in the present day, he will behave more like Miller's version, in comparison with Benedict Cumberbatch’s, whose was more like a magician.

In addition to these series, another modern-retelling of Sherlock Holmes I watched is the Japanese 'Miss Sherlock'. The producers of this series have quite brilliantly placed Sherlock Holmes and Watson to a different culture, and to a different time. In addition to that, they swapped the genders as well. In the Japanese version, Sherlock and Watson are both females, and they came to live together because of the necessity to share the rent of an apartment, just like the canons. The Sherlock character's name is Sara Shelly Futaba, who is nicknamed Sherlock by her friends in the police department because she offers great assistance to them in solving crimes. Her flatmate is Dr. Wato Tachibana, who is called 'Wato-san'(Watson), as 'san' is a respectful form of address in the Japanese language.

I would like to see the canons of Sherlock Holmes stories serialized in their original period settings by somebody sooner than later. Last time when it was done by UK's Grenada Television, they produced a selection of the stories featuring Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes. IMHO, Jeremy Brett's portrayal is the most accurate one, although there are plenty of arguments against this view.

PS: The actress Yūko Takeuchi, who portrayed Sherlock in the Japanese Miss Sherlock series committed suicide a year ago, that’s an unfortunate postlude.

Dec 12, 2016

Water Dowsing – Magnetism in Humans

While on a visit to a family friend, I was told by the most senior person in the hosting family about his capability for water dowsing. He said he helped many families to locate water by directing them to the spots in their homesteads where they could possibly find underground water if dug a few meters. According to him, he had a special gift which helped him to locate the presence of ground water following this method.

A drawing of water dowser

This method is popularly called water dowsing, apart from other names like water divining, water witching, or simply water finding. This is a widely used method of finding the location for water-wells. In our place, there were special persons who were known for their ability to use a ‘Y’ shaped water-dowsing rod coupled with the magnetism in their bodies, to locate the presence of water underground.

Science calls this method fake, and classify it under Pseudoscience. But we can’t treat everything baseless; due to the inability of the scientific methods to give an explanation for a certain phenomenon. I hope science would at least in a later period find a reason for this particular magnetic capability of a few of selected human beings.

Coming back to the respectable and elderly person who told me about this particular ability – in his lifetime, he had used this method around thousand times to trace water. Not a single suggestion from him went futile, as per his claim. This person is a school teacher, so there rests a certain amount of credibility in what he says. He also said he could not use this method more than three to four times a day, as excessive use of this would affect his heart.

Water dowsing rod. 
The water dowsing method includes the use of a dowsing rod, which is Y-shaped as written above. The two branches of the rod are held using the thumbs of both the hands by keeping the tail branch of the rod parallel to the ground. By maintaining the stature, the dowser (he is also called a diviner as he uses the divining rod) walks along the homestead. It is said that when the dowser’s magnetic capacity traces the proximity of groundwater, the tail branch of the dowsing rod would move towards that location. Taking clue of the rod’s movement, the dowser moves to the location where he can feel the vibration of the rod in the maximum. This final location is where the water can most easily be found. The water divination works this way.

Apart from the direct, face-to-face account by the aforementioned elderly person about his talent, I also had happened to hear third-party narratives about persons with same water witching abilities. As I heard, when asked about the source of their talent, they all attributed their special gift to the effects of magnetism. Moreover, in all cases, the dowser has to employ an apparatus either in a rod shape or in other shapes like the pendulum to make use of their bodily magnetism.

Dec 4, 2016

Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221B Baker Street | Review

Private Detective Sherlock Holmes – from my humble point of view – has been the most influential fictional character among all I read, and everything I watched. Unless I read him, I suspect if I would have attempted even blogging. I am unable to put in words the mystic feeling that such a little coinage like ‘221B Baker Street’ brings to my mind. I used to often hear or read from Sherlock buffs that the apartment where he and Dr John H Watson supposedly lived actually exists there and the same address receives a lot of letters from potential customers on a daily basis. By these specific reasons, 221B Baker Street remained on top of my must-see destination list.

A Sherlock Holmes Silhouette painting
available for sale
After moving to Dublin from India, I got the opportunity to actualize my long time wish. I visited United Kingdom twice. I went to see Baker Street in London city during the first trip and 221B during the second. A casual walk through the Baker Street alone was enough to satiate my wish as I believed a visit to the 221B apartment was not going to create a greater impression in mind than what I had in mind through reading the Sherlock books. But still, a wish is a wish! So, I decided to spend 15 British Pounds to make a physical visit to the 221B Baker Street museum.

The apartment is four-storied. It has been designed based on the details provided in the Canon of Sherlock Holmes. On the ground floor, there is a store from where we get tickets to the Sherlock Holmes museum.  You can buy souvenirs from there ranging from books, Sherlock paintings, deerstalker hats, visiting cards, to film DVDs, and everything is hugely prized. I think the chest badge I bought for 2 Pounds is the cheapest one. This floor has an underground section where toilet facilities for visitors are provided.

The souvenir I bought from the shop
The entrance to the upper floors is guarded by a sentry in Victorian uniforms. Every staff in the museum is clad in the attire that reminds us of the Victorian times. Going up on the first floor, we are taken to the living room of Mrs Hudson, who was the landlady of Holmes and Watson according to the stories. There are places where we can sit and take photographs while holding a typical smoking pipe and wearing a Deerstalker hat, which were famously used by the fictional detective. A visitors’ book is available there on the table where we can put our signs, and guess what? I was the only visitor from India who signed on the page which was open.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum
The Blogger at the 221B living room
donning the Deerstalker hat
Going up on the second floor, we see Sherlock Holmes’s bed room and living hall. Every floor has a bedroom and a living room, and every room is comparatively very small. A bust of Sherlock Holmes as described in ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’ is placed near to a window memorizing the events in the story. There are several of such replicas everywhere, Holmes’s violin, books read by Watson, and many. Replica of the characters and instances of the books are portrayed in the living room of the third floor. Characters in ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip’ ‘The Disappearances of Lady Frances Carfax’, ‘The Speckled Band’, and some more are portrayed in the third floor in life-like sizes. Close to the third floor living room you can see Watson’s bed room. A little above the third floor, there is a toilet which is not for the public use. There is an attic on top of the toilet area, which is forbidden from accessing.

The blogger's name in the visitors book
The Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221B Baker Street is a good place to visit, and there are a lot of visitors. It is run by the Sherlock Holmes Society, and above all there is a blue plaque for Holmes on the outer walls of the building. Although their effort is worthy of applause, I felt that some part of the layout of the building bears less resemblance with the depiction of the 221B building in the narrative. I could be wrong as well!

Note: You might have noticed that I nearly missed mentioning Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Why blame me? Such gigantic is the impression of his creation, needless to say!

Trivia 1: During the time of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, street numbers in Baker Street did not go as high as 221, which might be the reason why Conan Doyle chose a higher street number, to prevent the address from matching any actual person’s residence.

Trivia 2: As per the naming convention of the buildings in Baker Street, the actual house number of the Sherlock Holmes museum should be 239 Baker Street. There was some controversy associated with renaming 239 into 221B when the museum was opened in 1990.

The blue plaque, they are rarely
given to fictional characters

The Man with the
Twisted Lip

The Scotland Yard wanted help
from Sherlock

The Deerstalker hat, gun, pipe,
binocular, and measurement tape

An exterior view of the Baker Street.
 The Sherlock Holmes Museum is
seen at the right side.

A statue of Irene Adler,
Holmes's love interest

221B Baker Street, London
A view of the Sherlock Holmes
Museum and 221B
Baker Street

The famous bust of Sherlock,
from The Empty House

Supposed handwriting of Sherlock

A portrayal from The Solitary

Holmes is portrayed in the stories
as a music enthusiast, a violinist

Hats of Holmes and Watson,
magnifying glass and pipe

Nov 23, 2016

Silence in Alfred Hitchcock films as a device for suspense

"There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it."
              -Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock may be likened to Agatha Christie when their works in film and literature respectively are considered. The ‘Master of Suspense’ was as prolific as the ‘Queen of Crime Fiction’, and their similarity is not confined to the quantity of produced works alone, but both were equally successful in creating works of superior quality in a continuous manner for longer periods of time.

Our today’s topic of discussion is not the writings by Christie, but the films of Hitchcock. As everyone knows, suspense was the primary forte of the man of multiple cameos, and he was greatly successful in that genre. My true intention is to point out a technique that I noticed which Hitchcock employed to create a collective feeling of terror, anticipation, and excitement in his films; and the technique is – silence. A filmmaker who started his career in the silent era, who produced one of the first successful sound films in the form of Blackmail (1929) had every opportunity to be grown up as a moviemaker who knows how to use sound perfectly in his film.

Alfred Hitchcock 'Hitch'  (1899-1980)
While watching many of Hitchcock films I have noticed that he had the tenacity to add dead silence in places where it was least expected. It is striking to note that a film director, who was keen on generously filling many of the film portions, especially the beginning and end with flamboyant background music, chose to resort on total silence in some of the suspenseful key sequences. Critics many times mentioned the silence in the murder scene in ‘Blackmail’ movie in related discussions.

Another example of such voluntary silence is the gruesome murder scene in his later year success ‘Torn Curtain’. In a violent scene of this 1966 movie, Hitchcock stayed silent while a German guide was being murdered inside a seedy and solitary farmhouse.  The guide’s head was pushed by the slayers into a gas oven and what we can hear is just the controlled noise of the struggle.

But these two scenes have given us a horror or sad feeling rather than Hitchcock’s trademark suspense. I have noticed two scenes in two different films which were remarkable for the controlled use of sound where suspense was at its peak. The scenes featured no background score but very limited ambience. Since he believed in the anticipation of sound as a key of suspense rather than the sound itself, (as per the quote in the beginning of this article), we have every reason to believe that his intention was to create a multiplied mood of suspense in the spectators minds by simply keeping them wait for an unexpected sound. Have a look at the two scenes below:

The Theft Scene in Marnie (1964)

Marnie saw the last collaboration between Hitchcock and the beautiful Tippi Hedren, and also in this film we witnessed the latter pairing with the iconic James Bond actor, Sean Connery. Tippi was recently in the news when she repeated her former allegation against ‘Hitch’, how the master director sexually assaulted her during the shooting of this film. As a matter of fact, the blond Tippi was in the league of the perfect 'Hitchcockian' heroines in every manner. Let us leave these things aside. The psychological thriller Marnie featured Tippi Hedren in the avatar of a kleptomaniac in its title role. Hitchcock takes us to the peak of excitement with the careful use of sound in this film’s office theft scene. We are part of an office burglary 44 minutes into the film. When Marnie stealthily conducts the theft, even the clanking of the keys or a slight change in room tone is capable enough to scare us. See the scene below:

The Crop Duster Scene in North by NorthWest (1959)

This scene is famous for its intriguing visual presentation and a mysterious charm brought by suddenly shifting the area of action from an urban area to a totally rural dry farm land. Such a sudden jump catches our sense since it alienates us quickly from a locale which was familiar so far. Hitchcock’s most famous leading man Cary Grant (only after James Stewart in my viewpoint) is seen here waiting for a person where there is nobody. Only the occasional passing of vehicles and the chopper’s distant noise bring auditory relief to the spectators’ minds. Watch the scene below:

Tail-end: The Birds (1963) also has a sequence where the sound is greatly suppressed and silence is enhanced. But I find the above two sequences surpass the Birds scene in terms of the amount of anticipation.

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