January 3, 2012

Film Technique in Sherlock Holmes

My husband and I went to see the new movie Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. (We haven’t yet seen the first one.)

I was expecting not to particularly like it, but my husband wanted to see it. He rarely wants to see a film in the theater, so when he does, I’m more than happy to go, as I’m a film addict. But the ones I like are rarely blockbuster and most often character-based.

This one was thought provoking in a number of ways, but mostly ~ for me ~ because of the superb filmmaking technique.

First of all, the actors acted incredibly close to one another. In the real world, if people are enemies or having a fight, you expect them to draw back and put distance between each other. On screen, actors always almost play close to one another, but this one seemed incredibly so. Second, the camera played very close to the actors’ faces. So not only were the actors close but the camera, we, were close to the actors. The overall affect was a feeling of claustrophobia, which was I’m sure the intended effect. It put you close to the actions and emotions but also trapped you there and made you uncomfortable. Very interesting.

I’m trying to think of the literary equivalent. Certainly psychological realism/suspense is that way. I’m thinking Edgar Allen Poe or Henry James. What would be the modern equivalent of this claustrophobic inside-the-skull dramatic positioning? Perhaps mysteries, which I don’t read a lot of. Unrealiable narrators like Humbert Humbert in Lolita, perhaps?

Another thing that was fascinating was the historical realism. The male actors were semi-unshaven, which I’m sure was a the case due to 1880s shaving and bathing technology, and the street scenes you felt would be very much like it might have been. So lovely to see. The lack of lighting and the crowding and the filth. Very lovely. It grounded what otherwise might have been what seemed like the mere attempt to turn Sherlock Holmes into a superhero. That was my suspicion going in, but it certainly didn’t come across that way.

And to be fair Holmes and Watson were the superheroes of their day. I’ve only read a little of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, but friends assure me that there is a lot of action, so it isn’t misrepresentation. So actually I’m being unfair to the whole enterprise because I haven’t read very much of the actual Sherlock Holmes stories and am relying on stereotype.

Finally, I love the way that Guy Ritchie portrayed the working of Holmes’s mind. Whenever a fight was about to occur, what is going to happen is foreshadowed in quick blur motion in black and white and blue. A very effective technique. It was similar to the technique Peter Jackson used to show Frodo’s draw to the ring in the Lord of the Rings movies. It felt dreamy but also you felt the point of view of the character strongly. And in Sherlock Holmes, it was doubly effective because then you got inside Moriarity’s head too, as he matched Holmes move for move at the end, and then ~ surprise! ~ Holmes was one step ahead.

What would be the literary equivalent? Jumping forward in time inside the characters head but with such energy of language and technique differing from the rest of the prose. It wouldn’t merely be shifting from third to first person, though that might contribute. It’s the play within the play, like "The Murder of Gonzago" in Hamlet, reflecting on the whole but also showing the content of a character’s mind. The difference in the media, though, makes prose much better at showing interiors rather than surfaces, but I thought this was a very affective technique in filmmaking. IMHO and for what it’s worth.

Oh, and Noomi Rapace (of the Danish version of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo) and Stephen Fry and Jared Harris were so delightful!


buddy2blogger said...

Nice review of the movie :)

I liked the first one very much. If you liked this one, you will definitely like the first one even better.


Tamara said...

Thank you so much! Oh - I can't wait to watch it. Thanks for the tip.


Create It Melbourne said...

Sherlock Holmes is one of the greatest stories of all time—and thankfully, it has been realised in a film. This is a well-written review, and there's so much emotion and passion in it. Hope you would continue sharing what you think about contemporary movies.