MORE HATE MAIL THROUGH THE DOOR, DIDN’T KNOW THAT SUNDAYS COULD BE USEFUL AFTER ALL
Some weekends I hate that this free time is wasted on me. I tend to never find any focus, and instead any possible thought I might conjure rattles around in my skull like a pull-tab at the bottom of a Coke can. You ever try to get that tab out after dropping it in? It can be maddening how it just won’t fall out of the hole the same way it got in, and the noise it makes can be annoying. (Add to that that I am still recovering from San Diego…I’m just glad that in reading Laurenn McCubbin’s journal, I discovered it’s not just me that seems to need a full week to get back to normal.)
Even the simple act of picking a film to watch can be impossible (often the bane of having a healthy collection is being faced with too many choices). Though, I have managed to pop a few in. One of which, Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, I actually have spent a couple of days with, exploring the extras. There is nearly an hour of compiled material focusing on what was originally Wilder’s plan for a three-hour, four-act symphony. The gist of the film is that 50 years after his death, papers of Dr. Watson are released that reveal several stories he couldn’t publish in his lifetime as they were too personal or scandalous. Wilder was going to deconstruct the Holmes character a bit, getting behind the fiction Watson created to look at the "real" man, who lives his life tortured by his own mind, escaping his failure to ever be able to settle down mentally (or with a woman) through these complicated cases—and sometimes cocaine.
The two-hour film that exists is quite good, though a bit flippant and not really up to my expectations of Wilder. I had no idea going in that this other plan existed, and only discovered it after I was done. What MGM has compiled for the bonus section of this release are pages from Wilder’s script, still photos from the scenes (the full film was shot), and existing audio and video (interestingly, when they have the audio, they don’t have video; when they have video, no audio—something unexplained on the disc). What is revealed is a much deeper picture that shows Wilder’s usual mastery at balancing his comedy and drama in quite effective ways. Several key scenes would have lent more emotional weight to the actual film, such as Holmes’ account of when he first lost his faith in womanhood (and, to an extent, humanity—something he only ever really regained with Watson). More importantly, a scene where Watson attempts to get Holmes to kick his drug habit, where ultimately Holmes pretends to do so in order to keep his friend from leaving. Even if it was a ruse, it was an important one, meaning something to both men. The final scene of the theatrical release has Holmes breaking this pact, and it falls a little flat without the knowledge that he had given up cocaine to save his relationship. His returning to it not only shows how devastating the circumstances were, but Watson’s full understanding of his pain—things that aren’t really there with the official cut.
I am often a bit apathetic towards director’s cuts. I think sometimes they can be a bit pointless, particularly on a film where a certain version has existed for a long time and is pretty well-known. At that point, it starts to exist as a solid object in popular culture, and to alter that seems a bit wrong. Touch of Evil is a good example of a film where, for me, it’s a little hard to adjust to the restored cut, though it is closer to Orson Welles’ intention. Even as a big Welles fan, I am stuck on the previously accepted version of it simply because I have seen it so many times that way. It’s a case where I wish the DVD contained both, so we could compare and contrast. However, in an instance like Evil, and in the case of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, where the creator’s vision was so crassly altered, I can see the need to go back and reevaluate. Film is a strange art form. I can’t think of another where the piece passes through so many hands before reaching its final stage. In the case of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, the journey seems like eons, the amount of distance it put between Wilder’s original idea and what we ended up with. (The editor is interviewed on the disc, and he talks about how the studio was baffled when Wilder delivered his original cut (which was nearly four hours). It made him wonder if anyone had read the script, which apparently was a brick of paper. Of course, the same editor wanted Wilder to end the film on a joke—one that was more than a little reminiscent of the end of Some Like It Hot--because he was worried about ending the movie on a “down note.” Shows what he knew.)
Not to turn our blogs into a back-and-forth exercise, since he linked to me the other day, I do want to point folks to my friend Christopher McQuain’s Trappings, where he often writes about his travels through pop culture. He and I have known each other for years, and climbed up through local papers together, starting at the long-dead Anodyne. He still writes for Just Out, while I, as noted above, don’t do much of anything.
Anyway, his bit on The Smiths’ “Some Girls Are Bigger than Others” sent the memory unraveling. It’s funny that he would have initially been pretty focused on the band’s serious side almost exclusively, as for me part of the initial (and lasting) appeal of the band was their sense of humor in the face of all the suffering. Morrissey’s wit plays against his angst-filled poetry in much the same way as Marr’s music does, and it’s always been frustrating seeing how people miss that side of the band, completely writing them off as miserable. Given that my own introduction to the band was through videos for “Girlfriend in a Coma” and “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before,” I guess their camp cheekiness was always evident to me. Even if I did hate them at first. (The story is that “Coma” was the MTV Hip Clip of the Week and so got regular rotation, and despite protests in my own mind that this song was shit, I couldn’t stop watching it every time it was on, and was a fan by the end of the week, when something hipper came along.) That said, I actually am still of the mind that “Some Girls,” as endlessly catchy as it is and despite being a perfect capper to The Queen is Dead, is one of their lesser songs. But then, Christopher and I are often known for our spirited disagreements. I once suggested we tape our arguments after films and make them a column, since we can so often be on completely different sides that I thought it might be fascinating as commentary.
But I am also put in mind of another story I recalled recently, when Scott Ciencin and I were talking about how niche groups can really resent other people—norms, for the lack of a better word—assimilating part of their culture. You know, like a goth kid seeing a frat boy in a Cure T-shirt. I remembered in 10th grade this kid I hated named Jason—last name long forgotten since I’ve known too many Jasons, and only the wrong last names come to mind—saying to someone, “I love The Smiths. They crack me up.” I sat several seats behind him in the class, and I glared at him, thinking, “Shut up. I hate you. You don’t get it. You don’t understand The Smiths.” Ironic, I guess, and perhaps why I am karmically doomed to defend Morrissey for being the hilarious bastard that he is. (I still think he should cover Green Day’s “Basket Case,” as it would make a grand joke.)