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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Interminable, my dear Watson

So, we found some Sherlock Holmes TV shows from the 50s on DVD the other day, and picked them up. This is the 1950s series, starring Ronald Howard (not RON Howard) as Sherlock Holmes and Howard Marion Crawford as Watson. I had the time to sit down and try to watch the first episode yesterday.

It was hard to get through the first episode, for two reasons: first, the soundtrack is pretty tinny, which makes a great deal of the dialogue all but impossible to discern. That's a real problem for someone like me, who loves dialogue and whose only real interest in Sherlock Holmes is the characterization and all those cool deductions Holmes does, which you won't ever know about without the dialogue.

The second problem is even more aggravating - as with most TV shows shot in the 50s, there are no close ups, and all the camera positions are entirely stationery. My guess would be that the less expensive cameras used for TV work in this era had no zoom lens capacity. But the result is, as you may recall from other TV shows you've watched that were made in this period, everything is presented in long or medium shot. And it's all black and white, badly washed out sepia tone black and white at that.

So what you end up with is a visual presentation that is pretty stultifying, especially to a modern audience, used to color, tracking shots, close ups, audible dialogue, and all the other aspects of modern film making directors use to convey emotion and other nuances of characterization and story.

It's tough to get through. Perhaps a really serious student of Holmes, or of 50s era television, could glean enough of interest from the material to stay focused, but me, I just mostly found myself constantly drifting away from the narrative.

It's a pity. But those of us who can read will always have the Conan Doyle originals.

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