Sunday, January 10, 2010

Holmes, does your depravity know no bounds?


♫ Tell me how you feel, riding with James Dean ♫. Hey there! First post of 2010, this is exciting. I've been poorly for days and everybody knows that reading and watching a lot of films is the only good thing about being ill. Happy to get to do both! Woohoo, it's going to be a good year, I can feel it.

Have you met Rumpole? Apparently he's a famous character in a TV show (Rumpole of the Bailey) written by John Mortimer, the show was broadcast between 1975 and 1992. I never saw it. However, the show was so popular that a series of books was published - the first few were novelized versions of the episodes and the most recent ones are new stories altogether. I met Rumpole through the first of these new novels, Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders, published in 2004. I don't think any knowledge of the character is required beforehand - at the very least, I didn't feel lost at all. I don't like mysteries much, or so I thought. Rumpole isn't a detective, first of all, he's a barrister. And he's super engaging, dedicated and funny. A reviewer on Amazon found a particularly hilarious quotation: "Mortimer first describes the appearance of Wystan as one that made him think of a "lobster who had been snatched from a peaceful existence at the bottom of the sea and plunged into boiling water." Followed immediately by a slight retraction, "but I have no wish to be overly critical of my future father-in-law." It's good too to feel privy to a world that's most of all very secret, I loved all the details about court politics interwoven with tales of Rumpole's own private life. I said I wasn't much for mysteries - I've tried Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and several cosies, to no avail. I was pleased to find that if the narrative feels right, I can enjoy this genre as well.

This is partly the reason why I saw Sherlock Holmes - I wouldn't sit through an adaptation of one of Conan Doyle's cases but I absolutely loved this movie. This fast-paced, witty, interesting tale is great fun. The acting is superb on all accounts, Sherlock is this close to being portrayed as a misanthrope turned mad and Irene Adler, Irene Adler is nothing short of a true heroine. She outwits Sherlocks, engages with him in witty banter and still manages to stay classy from beginning to end. The plot is tight, Mark Strong gave me the chills, and the score is wonderful, highlighting the absurdity of the story in all the right places (Sherlock deduces, using the same strategy he uses to solve his crimes, how he can win a boxing match) and the end leaves it all open to a sequel which will star none other than Moriarty. If you know a bit about the canon, you'll know how important this character is and I for one absolutely can't wait for the next installment.
I read The Hound of the Baskervilles - I didn't think the mystery itself was all that interesting but Doyle has a talent for depicting an atmosphere, and I do love Watson's voice. He's very earnest and feels like a true friend. I'd like to give an example of this particularity of Doyle's writing:

"But the dining-room which opened out of the hall was a place of shadow and gloom. It was a long chamber with a step separating the dais where the family sat from the lower portion reserved for their dependents. At one end a minstrel's gallery overlooked it. Black beams shot across above our heads, with a smoke-darkened ceiling beyond them. With rows of flaring torches to light it up, and the colour and rude hilarity of an old-time banquet, it might have softened; but now, when two black-clothed gentlemen sat in the little circle of light thrown by a shaded lamp, one's voice became hushed and one's spirit subdued. A dim line of ancestors, in every variety of dress, from the Elizabethan knight to the buck of the Regency, stared down upon us and daunted us by their silent company. We talked little, and I for one was glad when the meal was over and we were able to retire into the modern billiard-room and smoke a cigarette.

"My word, it isn't a very cheerful place," said Sir Henry. "I suppose one can tone down to it, but I feel a bit out of the picture at present. I don't wonder that my uncle got a little jumpy if he lived all alone in such a house as this. However, if it suits you, we will retire early tonight, and perhaps things may seem more cheerful in the morning."

I drew aside my curtains before I went to bed and looked out from my window. It opened upon the grassy space which lay in front of the hall door. Beyond, two copses of trees moaned and swung in a rising wind. A half moon broke through the rifts of racing clouds. In its cold light I saw beyond the trees a broken fringe of rocks, and the long, low curve of the melancholy moor. I closed the curtain, feeling that my last impression was in keeping with the rest."

I love this passage, it's so distinctive. Alright! I think that's it for books and movies. I saw The Lovely Bones too - excellent acting (Saoirse Ronan is shockingly good but then I've known that since Atonement) but it was a mess. I'm watching The Big Bang Theory - it was good at first but it's becoming redundant, it's the same jokes over and over again. This is the first sitcom I've managed to be interested in so this is a letdown once again, it doesn't seem to be a genre I appreciate.

Some music before I let you go! I think I've talked about everybody I love here, so how about a compilation? Puttin' on the Ritz: Capitol Sings Irving Berlin was released in 1992. It's got a lot of excellent singers performing songs by this amazing composer. Judy Garland for Puttin' on the Ritz (one of my favourite songs ever), Margaret Whiting for Heat Wave (fun song, by the way, "Gee, her anatomy/Makes the mercury/Jump to ninety-three.") and Jo Stafford for Play A Simple Melody. I think the artwork of the cover ALONE is worth a few seconds of your time:

I can't find a way to stream the songs - if you have access to Spotify, it's on there, though. Or buy, borrow, steal.

Have an excellent month of January!

I can't get enough of him!