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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sherlock Holmes Plays With Sticks

An Episcopal priest once told me he regarded “Fight Club” as one of the most noteworthy movies of the twentieth century.  Not having seen it, I couldn't respond, although the topic seemed an odd choice for a priest (even an Episcopal one) to espouse.  More recently, my father-in-law took issue with Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” movies.  He saw them as too rough-and-tumble, celebrating violence far more than a proper adaptation should.

While reading The Blotting Book by E. F. Benson, I came across a reference to single-stick fighting.  I learned that this was a form of dueling popular during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Participants would wield a three-foot-long, one-inch-thick dowel at each other instead of a foil or sword, and any blows above the waist were allowed.  The objective—the game-ending blow, you might say—was to strike your opponent in the head with sufficient strength to draw blood.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that Arthur Conan Doyle describes Sherlock Holmes as a skilled, single-stick fighter!

I fell in love with Sherlock Holmes from Jeremy Brett’s interpretation of the character.  His Holmes seemed so cerebral, and the TV shows followed the popular conception of Doyle’s stories, in which Holmes relates his adventures to Dr. John Watson in the comfort of his sedate sitting room.  Holmes prizes intellect above all, and naturally downplays the physical aspects of any caper.  As in the latest movies, he’s a formidable bare-fist fighter.  And, as Victorian London was anything but safe and peaceful, gentlemen of that era typically carried a walking stick.  Well, Sherlock Holmes knew how to defend himself with that item as well.

I agree with my father-in-law.  Just as “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution” and “Elementary” portray Holmes as addicted (or having been addicted) to drugs, the Guy Ritchie movies hype the action, as if to suggest that Holmes pursues detective work because he is addicted to action, adventure, and violence.  Such portrayals show Sherlock Holmes as a vulnerable character, and make him more relatable to today’s audience.  But I think that part of Sherlock Holmes’ popularity must stem from his perceived invulnerability.  In Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, Holmes not only out-thinks his opponents, he can hold his own in a fight, and he can even experiment with dangerous drugs without growing addicted.  He is, in every sense of the word, a superior man.

Given my recent discovery of the sport in The Blotting Book, in was neat to see Holmes teaching Watson single-stick fighting in last week’s episode of “Elementary.”  This depiction of Holmes' sidekick may diverge farther from Doyle's original than any previous adaptation, but I like Joan Watson.  She has intellect and spunk, and even without Holmes' instruction, has demonstrated that she can defend herself when necessary.  

She’s a tough lady, this Watson.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Rediscovering Comic Books With Stan Lee

I've watched “The Big Bang Theory” on TV for several years now.  One thing that always intrigued me was the sign in Stuart’s shop that read “One Dollar Comics.”  One dollar comics?  What kind of comic books could you buy for a dollar?  At Stan Lee’s Comikaze, my first comic book convention, I discovered that you could buy quite a lot of old comic books, some of them for as little as one dollar.  Among those were the comics I missed out on in my youth.

After my friend took me to the movie theater to see “Star Wars,” he also introduced me to “Star Wars” comic books.  Back then, the only places you could purchase comic books were the spinner racks in Liquor stores, and no respectable church attendee ever entered such places, right?  But in this as well, my love for Science Fiction and Fantasy triumphed, and I braved official scorn to peruse the spinner racks in such stores regularly.  In the process, discovered a variety of titles that, while told more simply than in movies and in books, nonetheless transported me to worlds of wonder.  The only problem?  Sometimes months went by when, for whatever reason, I couldn’t track down the latest issue of a favorite title.

During college I finally got smart, and subscribed to the comics I loved most.  But after graduation, my interest in comics waned as prices rose and the industry changed, until amid the demands of an evolving life, I forgot about them altogether.

Yes, in case you're wondering,
I am a Conan fan.
(And a Red Sonja fan,
and a King Kull fan, and...)
Since Comikaze, I’ve tracked down several comic book shops in my area.  Perhaps I suffer from EAS (Easy Amazement Syndrome), but I’ve been stunned to discover that I could plug some of the most gaping holes in my collection, and do so affordably.  I can relive the excitement of the comics I’ve held onto through the decades, and experience, for the first time, those adventures that I missed out on, because I could never find them in the shops.

I used to wonder why guys with genius level intelligence like Sheldon, Howard, Raj, and Leonard preferred comic books to novels.  After spending the day writing and researching, I sometimes lack the focus necessary to immerse myself in a novel, particularly the more demanding and challenging ones.  A comic book offers a literary alternative to TV for the fatigued brain, and reading the comics of my youth reminds me of that earlier era, when I fell in love with Science Fiction and Fantasy, and began to dream of writing my own stories. 

Given the way Stan Lee has reawakened my love for comic books, maybe someday I’ll have to write him into one of my stories.  How about Stanley, loveable handyman by day, but gruff, international crime-fighter by night?  How about A. N. Sleet, the cool visionary who always wears Raybans?  Or hey, consider Teal Sen, a caped crusader from the planet Levram?  Ooh, think of the possibilities!

Dragon Dave

Monday, February 25, 2013

Eating Mexican Food with Jaime Sommers

There’s this nice little Mexican restaurant in San Diego.  It’s called Palamino’s, named after the USS Palamino in the Disney movie “The Black Hole.”  We usually opt for their chimichanga combination plate.  (My wife likes the shredded beef; I go for carnitas).  They offer great tasting chips, hot carrots, and fresh salsas.  Eating there is a pleasure, and better yet, we end up with leftovers for home!

As we’re contemplating alternatives to cable TV service, we went to Fry’s Electronics on Saturday, figuring that their helpful staff could advise us.  Strangely, the store had completely redesigned their interior, and although they appeared adequately staffed, the workers just breezed past us, as if we existed in another dimension, one that allowed us to see them, but prevented them from seeing us.  I finally went up to the camera counter, and told a gentleman what we were looking for.  He shook his head.  “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”  So I repeated, telling him that Cox Cable seemed to be charging too much money these days.  “You want a coaxial cable?” he asked.  By this time, my wife and I had grown frustrated.  So I told him “Never mind,” and walked away.  Fry’s Electronics stocks lots of neat products, and we saw much that tempted us.  But when a store staffs its floor with people who either are uninterested in serving us, or incapable of doing so, we find ourselves reluctant to support them.

Oh well…off to Palamino’s for calories and consolation.

As we were leaving the restaurant, a woman stopped my wife at the door.  “Excuse me, but where did you get that shirt?” she asked.  While I had opted for warmth, my wife had braved wearing her Jaime Sommers T-shirt on this pleasant winter day.  We told her about meeting Richard Anderson at Stan Lee’s Comikaze, and she and her husband mentioned that they attended Comicon, but had never seen a shirt like my wife’s.  The woman shared that she had a big photo of Jaime Sommers hanging on the wall above her desk.  From the way she described it, it sounded more like a poster.  She said that Jaime Sommers was a big inspiration to her, which was why she had purchased the photo, and placed it in such a prominent location.

For so many people, TV shows such as “The Bionic Woman” are just passing entertainment.  If they like the show, and have bought them on DVD, more than likely they do so for the gentler, slower-paced stories than the studios make today.  It’s a special joy to connect with people who view one of your favorite fictional characters as a role model.  Those moments remind us that great characters take on a life of their own.  They never die, because they live on inside us.

Now, if only they could advise me on my alternatives to cable TV.

Dragon Dave 

Related Dragon Cache entries

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard in Hungary

Sometimes, a preview really wins you over.  That was the case for us with “A Good Day to Die Hard.”  We saw the preview, and decided that the movie looked fun.  Thereafter, it didn’t matter what the critics might say, or how audiences might compare it to the previous films.  The preview won us over on the character of John McClane, and the idea of him teaming up with his son against the baddies of Russia.  So we picked up the third and fourth movies in the franchise, and watched them to catch up on what we had missed after the first two films.

Although they’re primarily action movies, the Die Hard movies are also about family.  The first two highlight how a demanding job can detract from your relationship with your spouse.  As John McClane is an exceptional police officer, by the third film, his marriage is on the rocks.  He repeatedly tries to call his wife, but his pursuit of the villains always force him to abort those attempts.  In the fourth movie, he works to win back his daughter, who blames him for her parents' divorce.  Now, in the fifth movie, John's son has been arrested in Russia during an assassination attempt.  He’s been estranged from his son for several years now, and doesn't understand why his son has taken to a life of crime.  So he travels there to attend his son’s trial, and hopes he can do something to aid him.  Only he travels to Hungary, not Russia.

I didn’t realize until the credits that the movie was actually filmed in the Budapest area.  (At one point, Moscow’s colorful cathedral seems to rise in the background).  Some of the chase scenes were filmed at the Hungaroring, one of my favorite Formula One racetracks.  Filmmakers can do so much with special effects these days, and they used these tools not only to transform locations, but also to heighten action sequences.  The automobile chases, the people falling out of buildings and crashing through barriers, and all the explosions, are portrayed so colorfully and artfully, that they better resemble a professional ballet than the ugly gritty reality of so many action films.  Given my recent research, the story also tempts me to view the movie as a contemporary Hungarian Fairytale, with John McClane as a Taltos, a folk hero with special knowledge that allows him to survive the most extreme situations, and can fly through the air and land without sustaining major injury.

But that might be going just a little too far.

Reviewers may have panned the movie.  Audiences may feel it’s the smallest Die Hard ever.  But for an hour and a half, the movie transported me to Russia (even if it was Hungary), and I followed John McClane as he sought to reconnect with a son who had long ago written him off as a father.  Because John's aims were simple, and born of love and concern, I felt for him, smiled and laughed with him, and cheered him on in his (and his son’s) fight with the villains.  Likewise, the plot may have been simple, but what there was of it was good, and always kept me wondering what would happen next.

If you enjoy a movie with lots of action, built around a protagonist who realizes that his most precious treasure is his family, perhaps you’ll find that it’s "A Good Day (for you) to Die Hard."  Or at least, that it’s a good day to go out and watch a fun, light-hearted action movie.

Now, if only it had a few dragons in it.

Dragon Dave 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Trade Union Influence On Doctor Who

The recent DVD release of “Shada” contains “Strike! Strike! Strike!”  This extra covers the history of trade union strikes that affected television production of Doctor Who during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.  The documentary listed a number of acronyms for such unions, some of which I could find no description of when searching the Internet.

ABS: Association of Broadcasting Staff
ACTT: Association of Cinematograph & Television Allied Technicians
BECTU: Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph, and Theatre Union
EETU/PU: Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications & Plumbing Union
ETU: Electrical Trades Union (merged in 1968 to form EETU/PU)
EQUITY: (formerly known as) British Actors Equity Union
FAA: Film Artistes Association? (Now section of BECTU)
NATTKE: National Association of Theatre & Television Employees
NUJ: National Union of Journalists
SOGAT: Society of Graphical & Allied Trades
VAF: Variety Artists’ Federation (Now part of EQUITY)
WRITER’S GUILD (of course, The Writer's Guild of Great Britain, also known as WGGB)

It seems incredible that so many unions could affect production of one television show.  Yet when Doctor Who began in the 1960s, television was a relatively new medium.  Unions regulated virtually every aspect of production, and if union leaders felt their members weren’t being treated fairly, they called a strike.  Strikes altered production schedules, and sometimes viewers in areas of England didn’t get to see episodes of a four or six-part serial because of a strike.  But the only story that really suffered was “Shada,” during which filming was halted, and the production never remounted.  Thus “Shada,” written by (“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” creator) Douglas Adams, enjoys a certain cachet among Doctor Who fans as the “great unfinished story.”  Fans mourn its loss, and wish that somehow, the BBC had finished it.

During the era of the first two Doctors, the BBC produced nearly one episode each week.  From the third Doctor on, the BBC produced a more reasonable twenty-six episodes each year.  Production fell again in the late 80s.  Still, there are so many classic stories to enjoy.  Even the first and second Doctor stories that no longer exist have fan-produced telesnap versions.  “Shada” and “Strike! Strike! Strike!” remind us how many more stories might not have been completed, had trade unions exerted a more adverse effect on Doctor Who.

Dragon Dave