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Posts Tagged ‘Benedict Cumberbatch’

Mystery of the Quivering Detective

Posted by Dirck on 10 September, 2013

In the past few weeks, my wife and I have, along with a friend who regularly visits, been squeezing our money’s worth out of Netflix (which is a relatively juiceless variety here in Canada) by rewatching Sherlock.  We all three of us enjoy it, and it bears more than one watching.  The end of “The Reichenbach Fall” put us into a renewed flurry of speculation and a great torment of anticipation of what the next season will reveal.  It also left the question of what to watch next, and I proposed we continue delving in Doyle via our set of DVDs of the Jeremy Brett version from the 1980s.

The credits ended, “A Scandal in Bohemia” began, and a few minutes later, our friend made a noise of wonderment.  Holmes was so different!  It was not the sort of subtle difference that needed Holmes’s amazing powers of deduction to notice, either, but without watching Brett and Cumberbatch at the same role (more or less) in close proximity I don’t know I’d have spotted it myself.  Sherlock Holmes is not the man he used to be.

Jeremy Brett’s Holmes, which I have always thought of as definitive, is a somewhat eccentric person to be sure, sometimes drawing his feet up into the armchair he’s sitting in and making the occasional wild statement.  However, he is also an example of immense self-control.  There is a volcano there, to be sure, but is a volcano being held in check by an astonishing power of human will.  Brett distills the notion of Holmes offered previous, at least by Basil Rathbone and Peter Cushing (and the former is held as definitive by almost everyone older than me) of someone who has his own reins firmly gripped.

Looking at Holmes today, though, we find a much different creature.  He’s quirky.  He’s twitchy.  He’s given to high-speed patter as a primary means of communication, rather than reserving it for moments when time is short and need presses.  He flouts all civil convention.  I’m not only looking at Cumberbatch, but also Robert Downey Jr.   The former is Holmes in the modern world, but the latter is a modern portrayal of the period character, and they are very similar beings.  Jonny Lee Miller, to a somewhat lesser degree (and also in a modern setting), is the same beast, and this is suggestive.

It suggests that we in the modern world are so driven by frantically-paced media that we can’t accept a Holmes who sits quietly with his fingers steepled in front of him while a solution coalesces, but insist on one who mutters and flaps his way to the conclusion.  That’s a troubling development, although having observed it I can’t say I’m totally shocked.  Attention-span shrinkage is hardly a new discovery.

When I decided to examine this publicly, I though I should see whether either manifestation is more true to the source.  A quick skimming of Doyle offers this:

Sherlock Holmes was transformed when he was hot upon such a scent as this. Men who had only known the quiet thinker and logician of Baker Street would have failed to recognise him. His face flushed and darkened. His brows were drawn into two hard black lines, while his eyes shone out from beneath them with a steely glitter. His face was bent downward, his shoulders bowed, his lips compressed, and the veins stood out like whipcord in his long, sinewy neck. His nostrils seemed to dilate with a purely animal lust for the chase, and his mind was so absolutely concentrated upon the matter before him that a question or remark fell unheeded upon his ears, or, at the most, only provoked a quick, impatient snarl in reply. Swiftly and silently he made his way along the track which ran through the meadows, and so by way of the woods to the Boscombe Pool

Somewhat ambiguous, and like most descriptions of Holmes in action it would support either depiction.  There is “Swiftly and silently”, though.  “Silently,” not, “mumbling a constant stream of half-intelligible patter.”  Perhaps Brett and his precedents were on the right line after all.

Today’s pen: Parker “51″
Today’s ink: Herbin Vert Empire

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The Self-Importance of Being Honest

Posted by Dirck on 24 July, 2013

Yesterday, I was away from my desk helping a co-worker dredge up some physical evidence of The Regular Job’s lack of culpability on a certain matter (there’s a bank that doesn’t believe we gave them the money we think we did; it’s hard to feel any urgency on the issue).  In the course of the search, there were a few specific numbers that needed writing down.  In the pause while I reached up to draw pen from pocket, co-worker held an object towards me, saying, “Here, I’ve got a pen.”

My response: “Oh, no– you’ve got a ballpoint.  I’ve got a pen.”

Fortunately, I said this in a studiedly supercilious tone, so it wasn’t taken amiss, and she said something along the line of “Oh, yes, you use those pens.”

“Can’t make a ballpoint work,” said I, “You gotta press too hard,” and to prove my position I wrote the necessary super secret codes on an unsupported single sheet of paper.  You might manage that with a marker, but never a ballpoint.  So there.

The point of me telling you this is not to trumpet another thrilling victory of the fountain pen over the hated enemy, because even a nut-case such as I can see this for the small potatoes it is.  The point is rather to reinforce to myself about how this is not quite how we act around people (I can’t offer the line from “A Study in Pink” as I do take somewhat more notice of others than even a low-grade sociopath, but I do feel certain fellow-feeling with Dr. Cooper in the area of human interaction), and also to reinforce appropriate behaviour.  Curiously, this little exchange fits both headings.

On the former, while I can offer documentary evidence that Sheaffer avoided using the word “Pen” on their ballpoint products for at least thirty years, and while there’s an old saw about honesty being the best policy, the world abounds in examples of applying small obfuscations as a lubricant to social interaction.  What I was dealing with was not a teachable moment, and the correct response would have been, “No thanks, I’ll use mine.”  Co-worker would have understood “mine” to mean “pen”, I would have known I meant “item of the broad category ‘writing imstrument'”, and the day would have gone along just fine.  What I did was not far removed from blurting out, “Your large facial birthmark is repellent to me in a subjective evaluation.”  Truth.  Not an enhancement to anyone’s life.

However, it is better than the suppressed response.  Had I allowed that to emerge, it being something of an imputation against the co-worker, I probably would be feeling very bad about starting a feud, rather than a little self-directed amusement.  The suppressed response was less truth, and so lacks the marginal shield which truth offers; it was entirely subjective, and with reference to the previous example would have been very like shouting “YOU UGLY!”

The suppressed response?  “No, thanks.  I’ve got a grown-up pen.”  See?  Fight starter.  Even I know it.

Today’s pen: Pelikan MK10
Today’s ink: Skrip blue-black

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Eye of the Beholder

Posted by Dirck on 6 June, 2012

Beauty is a deeply subjective thing, is it not?  One person’s “attractive” is another person’s “meh” and a third party’s “Dear God, what is that thing?”  And yet, there are some things that are so broadly appealing that we might almost allow for a notion of universal, objective beauty.  For example…


…the girl herself may not be what sets your particular world alight, but the painting is a pretty good effort.

I’m a little concerned about beauty in modern homes.  Certainly, there’s any amount of Vermeer posters or reproduced statuary available, but the things we use in our daily lives seem to be getting rather too Bauhaus.  Actually, that’s unfair, as Bauhaus is at least a conscious effort at something, and what appears to be drifting away from modern life is the conscious artistic touch.  What got me thinking down this path was a little artifact in my mother-in-law’s basement.  Standing beside some modern sewing machines is something just slightly less ornate than this:

There’s a lot of unproductive baroquerie on that thing, isn’t there?  Once again, subjective, but even someone who decries the style will have to admit it’s more interesting than  a modern sewing machine.  Why’d they bother?  I assume because someone at the time said to themself, “This thing takes up a quantity of real estate in someone’s house; let’s try to make it visually pleasing.”

Compare the major appliances of today with those of the past; refrigerators used to have curves, stoves threatened to take wing, televisions… well, I have to admit I’ve always had a bit of a problem with the cabinet television, but the purely rectangular objects of today, even when filled with an interesting programme, are a little deadly.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the rise of steampunk aesthetics is a backlash against this trend to undecorative devices.

I won’t, by the way, entirely exclude pens from this rant.  There are some pretty bland fountain pens to be had today, but since the point of the modern fountain pen is at least in part to be a form of jewellry, there’s a little more art being thrown at them than other consumer devices get.  Watch this video, and imagine how unlikely a silicone skin would be for an iPhone with similar treatment….

Today’s subtly decorative pen: Parker VP
Today’s slightly pedestrian ink: Quink Washable Blue

Post Scriptus, and non sequitur– I find I’m mentioned on a blog whose authors I am envying deeply, as they’re planning a big trip across the UK.  I can’t help but be charmed by the fact that the mention of my little effort is juxtaposed with Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who honoring the writer of Jekyll.  Zowie, there’s some illustrious company!

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