Review of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Book Illustration Depicting Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in a Train Cabin

By Christine Iannicelli

I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes.  He is one of the most fascinating fictional characters ever to be portrayed in film and television and I never miss an opportunity to relish a new version of the classic detective.  Some actors portray him as a socially awkward adventure-seeker (see Benedict Cumberbatch or Robert Downey Jr.), while others focus on his drug addiction and consultant work (see Jonny Lee Miller in Elementary).  The most iconic version, I would venture, is Basil Rathbone’s characterization of the pipe-smoking sleuth in fourteen black-and-white films in the 1930’s and 40’s.

Over seventy-five actors have portrayed the legendary detective (setting a Guinness World Record), but if they all share one thing, it is the source material.  Therefore, I felt I owed a debt to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of this character, to read the stories in its entirety.  This is no small feat, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 56 short stories and 4 novels starring Sherlock Holmes.

I decided to start with the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which includes 12 short stories describing clients whom Sherlock Holmes had assisted along with his friend Dr. Watson.  These cases (with titles such as The Red-Headed League and The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb) include murder, burglary, and even the KKK.  In Sherlock’s own words, most of these are not the “sensational trials in which [he has] figured but rather to those incidents which may have been trivial in themselves, but which have given room for those faculties of deduction” which are characteristic of a Sherlock Holmes tale (Adventure of the Copper Beeches, para. 1).  It is in these stories that Holmes encourages us to reflect on the logic he uses to solve cases rather than on the crimes themselves.  By ignoring the obvious and instead focusing on the intricate details of the case and its players, the answer is almost always unearthed.

My favorite short story in this collection is A Scandal in Bohemia, which tasks Holmes with finding an opera singer named Irene Adler who had in her possession an incriminating photograph of the King of Bohemia (her former lover).  Described by Watson as the only woman who had ever outsmarted Sherlock Holmes, the detective’s affections for her have been analyzed and debated since the story was published.  He meets her briefly and yet when the King offers a substantial reward for his assistance, Holmes only asks for a photograph of “the woman” in return.  Perhaps beneath that cold, calculating exterior beats a kind and gentle heart?  After all, we do get glimpses of Sherlock expressing sadness, disappointment, even anger at a client’s plight, and his dedication to each and every case he takes on is admirable.

Holmes’ powers of perception seem implausible until he explains his methods for solving the case.  It is then that everything becomes clear.  I wish Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have allowed us a glimpse into Sherlock’s mind throughout the investigations instead of making us wait until the end to reveal his thought process.  Still, by being forced to experience Sherlock’s brilliance through the eyes of an outsider, we are afforded the opportunity to experience what it would have been like to be the best friend of a complicated and extremely talented man such as Sherlock Holmes.

While the language is old-fashioned, making it difficult for me to read more than two or three short stories at a time, I did enjoy the beautiful prose that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle weaved into his dialogue.  His exposition transported me to 1890’s London in an instant!  The characters he described nearly jump off the page and beckon you into a world of intrigue, mystery, and mayhem.  Overall, I greatly enjoyed reading the source material that has inspired my favorite television show (BBC’s Sherlock) and cannot wait to read the next story!

You can check out the complete Sherlock Holmes collection from the Gabriele Library or read the stories online for free at www.readsherlock.com

 

Favorite Quote:

“All day the wind had screamed and the rain had beaten against the windows, so that even here in the heart of great, hand-made London we were forced to raise our minds for the instant from the routine of life and to recognize the presence of those great elemental forces which shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilization, like untamed beasts in a cage” (The Five Orange Pips, para. 3).

R.I.P. Mickey Rooney and John Pinette

We lost two great comedians this past weekend.

Mickey Rooney (1920-2014) worked in the entertainment industry for nearly 90 years!  I’ll always remember him as the kind-hearted lighthouse owner who, along with his daughter, takes in a runaway orphan who just happens to have an invisible green dragon in the 1977 Disney film Pete’s Dragon.  Rooney’s character, Lampie, was one of the few people in the film who saw the dragon, but no one would believe him because he was a fall-down drunk.  Rooney brought genuine warmth to his character and sang in many of the film’s musical numbers.  He was a versatile actor who had a long, full life.

John Pinette (1964 – 2014), unfortunately, died young at the age of 50 this weekend from a pulmonary embolism.  Like fellow clean comedian Jim Gaffigan, John Pinette’s routine focused on his love of food, his struggles with dieting, and his aversion to exercise.  His self-deprecating humor, talented singing voice, and tendency to “lose his cherub-like demeanor” on stage was a staple in his stand-up.  He was one of the funniest comedians I have ever had the pleasure of seeing and will be sorely missed.

Check out some of Mickey Rooney’s movies (Night at the Museum) and John Pinette’s comedy routines (Still Hungry, I’m Starvin!) at the Gabriele Library today.

Review of Jesus of Montreal (1989)

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By Christine Iannicelli

As an undergraduate, I took a course examining the portrayal of Jesus in film.  One of the most unique films we viewed was the 1989 foreign film Jesus of Montreal.  It tells the tale of five French Canadian actors who are tasked with putting on a Passion play that could reach the masses and bring some life into a previously stale production.  The play is praised by the public, but scrutinized by Church officials for some of its controversial choices.  Along the way, the actors learn lessons of friendship, morality, and sacrifice.  Ultimately, their lives start to become shaped by the characters they’re playing, with uplifting and devastating results.

The central character of the film is Daniel, who is portraying Christ, and his transformation is the most evident of all.  Jesus throwing the moneylenders out of the temple, creating a community of peers around him that support his vision, and having the courage to stand firm despite authority figures trying to silence him, are all present in Daniel’s life.  Daniel’s fellow actors include a Mary Magdalene figure “selling her body” for her modeling career, a motherly figure who welcomes all into her home, and two aspiring male actors.  They lend a nice support network for Daniel and are changed for the better by knowing him.  The actor playing Daniel is intense and very talented, but I actually enjoyed the supporting characters more. Their subtle acting style allowed them to bring their characters to life in a way that felt more natural.  I wish we could have learned a bit more about their back stories and futures.

All in all, Jesus of Montreal is a film that attempts to shine a light on many different issues besides religion, including the drive for creative expression and the commercialization of art.  Some scenes confused me while others made me laugh.  The ending made me sad.  Still, it’s an interesting film worth exploring.  Available to check out now in the Gabriele Library.

Favorite Quotes:

“Mysterious hope, that makes life bearable, lost in a bewildering universe…”

“Life is really very simple. It just seems overwhelming when you think only of yourself.  If you forget yourself and ask how to help others, life becomes perfectly simple.”

Review of Jakob the Liar (1999)

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By Christine Iannicelli

In Nazi-occupied Poland during the Holocaust, a Jewish man named Jakob (Robin Williams) overhears a radio broadcast about the war.  He shares the news with a friend and pretty soon, the whole ghetto believes he owns a secret radio.  In an effort to inspire hope amongst the residents, Jakob goes along with the lie and reports imaginary bulletins of military efforts to rescue the Jews.  Some of the individuals he brings hope to include a suicidal barber, a former boxer in love, and a little girl who escaped from the concentration camp deportation train and is hiding out with Jakob.  But when the Gestapo gets wind of this rumor, they will stop at nothing to find this radio and its owner.

While the film didn’t fare well with critics and is constantly compared to the more popular Life is Beautiful, I enjoyed the film nonetheless.  I’m not usually a fan of Holocaust movies, but Jakob the Liar had just enough balance of tragedy and comedy to keep me engaged and emotionally invested in the characters.  The array of emotions that the Jews must have felt during this horrible time is evident in this film and portrayed beautifully by the actors. Despair and hope, sadness and laughter, anger and love: it’s all there for us to see.  Starring Robin Williams, Liev Schreiber, Alan Arkin, and Armin Mueller-Stahl, Jakob the Liar is worth checking out.