From Gillette to Brett IV - Suspiring in Indianapolis
The first in our series of recaps of #G2B4
How many events would one be obliged to attend should he want to examine famous first editions of Shakespeare and Poe; dine with the Baker Street Babes; and experience the dash and panache of Basil Rathbone on the big screen? And what if he also wanted to handle an 1887 edition Beeton's Christmas Annual; behold the original manuscript of "The Red Circle"; and cast a misty eye over the very letter that Dr. Watson found at the head of the Reichenbach Falls?
Shall we throw moderation to the winds, and add to his list the desire to size up Jeremy Brett's frock coat; to meet Brett's first Sherlockian director; and to look behind the scenes of the faithfully adapted BBC audio Sherlock Holmes, with the adapter himself as guide? But above all must come that most canonical of objectives: the renewing of old friendships and the making of new ones. How many events would one have to attend to accomplish all these objectives? Unlikely though it may seem, the answer is one, provided that the one in question was From Gillette to Brett IV: Basil, Benedict, and Beyond, hosted by the Wessex Press.
Held on the handsome campus of Indiana University at Bloomington, the conference began on Friday, September 12, in the Lilly Library, with an exhibition of treasures from the Lilly's rare book, manuscript, and special collections library, hosted by Joel Silver. Conference attendees received an up-close look at some of the most rare and valuable books in the world, including First Folio of 1623, Tamerlane and Other Poems, and many more, filled with lovely and underused English words like "suspire." Suspire, a verb meaning "to sigh" and "to yearn deeply for," describes both a sound and an emotion. It is what happened when Mr. Silver unveiled a pristine copy of Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887 in a room full of Sherlockians – everyone suspired. Further wonders of the Lilly Library, from Basil Rathbone screenplays to George Washington letters, just kept on coming, but attendees eventually had to move on, as their agenda was positively filled with delights.
Following a meet-and-greet reception in the Indiana Memorial Union, the locale shifted to IU Cinema, a jewel of a film theater sporting vintage flair and contemporary technology. Here a combined audience of conference attendees and local film buffs wrapped up the evening with the 75th anniversary screening of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939), starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. The classic film was well-received as ever, with Rathbone receiving strong support from Chief, in the title role.
On Saturday morning, the vendor space was in full swing by 8:00 a.m., and for the next two hours buying and selling ran simultaneously with film screenings next door, first of "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," starring the superb Douglas Wilmer as Sherlock Holmes, then of The Man with the Twisted Lip, with Eille Norwood as the great detective.
At 10:00 a.m. the conference lectures began, after introductory remarks by Steven Doyle and Mark Gagen of the Wessex Press. The first lecture session was author Bonnie MacBird's insightful discussion of screenwriting in the BBC series Sherlock, a presentation that made artful connections between Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of the character Sherlock Holmes and the archetype of the Byronic hero and its namesake, Lord Byron. MacBird's presentation was a skillful reiteration of the importance of the written word to the success of any drama, even one as visually driven as Sherlock.
MacBird was followed by podcaster and Wessex Press author Kristina Manente of The Baker Street Babes, whose presentation, "How Fandom Plays the Game," offered an introduction to the enormous fan following of the BBC's Sherlock, a program whose record-breaking popularity has led many to discover the Canon for the first time. This fan base – often young, Internet-savvy, and passionate – is a group for whom Manente is uniquely qualified to speak (her Baker Street Babes podcast has over 40,000 followers on Twitter alone), and she expertly defined such phenomena as "headcanon" and "fancasting." Such explication is crucial for those who may be unfamiliar with the terms, though quite familiar with the practices, since most Sherlockians have probably engaged in a bit of mental fancasting. (In one interview, Leslie S. Klinger was asked who he would like to see as Holmes and Watson in a film; he speedily replied with Daniel Day-Lewis as Holmes and Kenneth Branagh as Watson, a brilliant bit of fancasting if ever there was one.) Manente's lecture, elevated by her infectious enthusiasm, did much to reveal that, call them what names they will, Sherlockians of all ages tend to play – and love – many of the same games.
During the session break, the excellent television production The Man Who Disappeared (1951), with John Longden as Holmes, was scheduled to receive a rare public screening, after which lectures resumed with the scintillating David Stuart Davies and his reflections on humor in the Canon. This session, a perfect mating of speaker and subject, was a crowd favorite, and Mr. Davies' insights, witticisms, sound effects, and general savoir faire were such that attendees seemed inclined even to forgive his use of an excerpt of Matt Frewer as Sherlock Holmes. (In all candor, the clip was a humorous one, though for reasons other than the filmmakers intended; nevertheless, it served the purpose of the discussion. Advantage: Davies.) In the present high-tide of Sherlockian interest and adaptation, it was well-befitting for someone to remind us that endless portrayals of Sherlock Holmes as Tortured Soul, Man Without a Heart, or Humorless Social Misfit are at best only telling part of the story, and Davies' refresher on the Canon's many comic delights was just the ticket.
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