Saturday, August 24, 2013

GUEST BLOG: Takeaways from “Sherlock Holmes Through Time and Space”

By Chris Redmond
I brought a lot of things home with me from the recent “Sherlock Holmes Through Time and Space” conference in Minneapolis — some of them tangible, such as the anthology (“festschrift”) published in honour of Randy Cox and launched during the big weekend, but most of them intangible. You know the sorts of things I mean: friendships created or renewed, memories (mostly involving moments with those friends), ideas (picked up in conversation or from the speakers), web links, must-read lists, phone numbers.
From left to right: Lindsay Colwell, Chris Redmond, Monica Schmidt
In my case, the Sherlockian gains included a clearer appreciation for the BBC’s “Sherlock” series than I have previously had, thanks to the presentation by Roger Johnson and Jean Upton of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London about their visit to the set of “The Reichenbach Fall”. Interestingly, and in contrast with much of the fangirl fandango of the past two years, they emphasized series creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, not Benedict Cumberbatch or any of his co-stars. Through the courtesy of Johnson and Upton, I am now displaying on the home page of Sherlockian.Net a photo of the two of them in close proximity to Martin Freeman’s coat at the doorway of 221B; the picture was taken by Gatiss himself.
Among the “Sherlock” clips shown during that presentation was the already classic scene in which the detective analyzes his new companion’s cellphone, much the way the original Holmes analyzes Watson’s brother’s watch in The Sign of the Four. The scene was received so vocally by the Minneapolis audience that I almost thought some of them had never seen it before. More likely, they had never seen it so clearly, on such a big screen.
Most of the 150-plus Sherlockians present seemed fully up to speed on television adaptations (British, American and now Russian) as well as cinematic history and even marginally relevant TV. I had not fully realized until last weekend how very Sherlockian “Doctor Who” is. Maybe I was hanging out with too fast a crowd, but I saw Whovian T-shirts, and heard Whovian banter, and sometimes felt lost because, to tell the truth, the Doctor is not part of my cultural armament. Neither are most of the movies people were referring to. (I would like to add artistic verisimilitude at this point by mentioning two or three titles, but the truth is, I know so little about cinema past and present that the titles didn’t even stick in my mind.)
I came away from Minneapolis wondering whether this media awareness is now the mainstream of the Sherlockian world, and if so, what’s to become of the likes of me. To my generation the Jeremy Brett TV episodes of the 1980s are still new-fangled, really, and the true Sherlock Holmes resides in books and archives. But most people seem to have adapted to the 21st century better than I have. I felt lucky, sometimes, that they were putting up with my clueless expressions.
In the talk that I had been invited to give, “Why the Carbuncle Was Blue”, I made sure to include a few nods to the video culture and the “feels” that it induces in true believers. Why, I went so far as to say that Arthur Conan Doyle might have approved of the creation of Molly Hooper. However, I suspect that doesn’t explain the generous way my talk was received. What seems to have struck my listeners was the range of Canonical and extra-Canonical detail, and particularly the research findings about colour naming that I included, half remembered from my academic days a couple of decades ago. I also tossed in some bits of literary theory, Gilbert and Sullivan, art history and the book of Revelation. Fields like these may be, though I had not realized it until recently, as exotic to the new breed of Sherlockian as Louise Brealey and Peter Capaldi are to me.
Perhaps best of all, I was able to include a little Sherlockian history in my talk, crediting the earliest research about the blue carbuncle to Doyle W. Beckemeyer, who published his work in 1953 through the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis. I would like to think that the audience appreciated that, feeling linked by it to enthusiasts of sixty years ago who probably had just as much fun with Sherlock Holmes in their way as we do now in our way. Or ways. What Beckemeyer’s taste in movies was, we do not know, but it may well have involved some fellow called Rathbone.

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