We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“The final irony, of course, is that this entrancing vision of prelapsarian innocence is the product of the most ruthless and sophisticated money-machine the world has ever seen. With a budget of $237 million and with takings already at £1 billion, this exquisite capitalist guilt trip represents one of the great triumphs of capitalism.”

- Boris Johnson, in fine form today, on the movie Avatar. I wonder if his mockery of Eden-worship among prosperous, middle and upper class Westerners is a veiled dig at David Cameron.

I am still trying to find a spare evening to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie. It may not be for purists, but it sounds terrific. I don’t think I will waste my cash on Mr Cameron’s (no relation to the Tory Party leader) latest flick.

47 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • lukas

    I wonder if his mockery of Eden-worship among prosperous, middle and upper class Westerners is a veiled dig at David Cameron.

    I hope to live in a world where not everything is a reference to David Cameron.

  • Paul Marks

    lukas – I agree, but in Britain David Cameron (most likely our next Prime Minster – God help us) is a topic of importance.

    And, sadly, I am not a rich man – I can not just go and live somewhere else.

    As for Cameron the film maker.

    “Just short of Marxist dogma” is his description of what his films push.

    However, he mixes “the rich are evil – especially corporations” (standard Hollywood stuff for decades) with Greenism – which Karl Marx would have hated.

    And Marx would have been correct to hate all this “technology is evil – let us get back to nature” stuff.

    Still Cameron knows his job (he can make films) and some of the money goes to Fox – i.e. to News International.

    The money going to News International is a good think – especially if one politely reminds leftists of the fact when they talk in praise of Cameron the film maker.

    Talking of films – another humiliation for George Clooney on Saturday night (in spite of his clever use of a Telethon for Haiti to get free publicity for himself). Yet again “Up in the Air” was supposed to win X, Y, Z, and (yet again) it won little or nothing.

    The problem with Clooney from a Hollywood point of view is not his far left politics (they are fine with that) – the Hollywood problem with Clooney is that he treats other actors like dirt. For example, he blamed a female co-star (Rennie Z) for the failure of one of his pathetic romcoms.

    When Clooney was powerful Hollywood people had to fawn on him (even though he treated everyone as dirt) – but now they sense his powers are in decline.

  • llamas

    Mrs llamas and me found the time to see Sherlock Holmes this weekend.

    I liked it very much. Robert Downey’s portrayal is much closer to the idea I had of Holmes when I first read the stories at age 10-11-12, long before I saw the Rathbone/Bruce formula. A rather unpleasant young man, a borderline sociopath. Jude Law does a fine job of Watson, taking him away form the bumbling idiot that Nigel Bruce played to much-more like what one would expect Watson to be from the stories.

    They went to the trouble to prop all real Bulldog revolvers, too – a nice touch, I like to see that sort of thing.

    The effects are as good as you would imagine, the ‘steampunk’ vibe is quite attractive, and it’s packed with cultural references that only Brits of a certain age would grasp.

    “Are we sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin . . . .’

    llater,

    llamas

  • Neil

    Actually, I think purists are more likely to enjoy the Holmes film than casual fans. Yes, it’s been Holywoodified (explosions! babes! drama!) but in terms of characterisation it’s arguably closer to the original books than most previous adaptations. Watson’s back to being a badass war veteran and ladykiller, rather than a complete muppet.

    And there are all sorts of shout-outs to the books that only real Holmes geeks will notice.

  • llamas

    Neil wrote:

    ‘And there are all sorts of shout-outs to the books that only real Holmes geeks will notice.”

    Indeed. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to mention that in one of the opening scenes, Holmes is shooting his revolver at the wall of his sitting-room. Those who have read the stories will know the pattern that the bullet holes on the wall form. Those who have not, just look bemused. And a lame screenwriting excuse has to be manufactured to explain just why he is doing this – for the audience of US chuckleheads who would never understand the original reason that Conan-Doyle wrote.

    Full marks for all this detail must go to Mr Ritchie, who manages to get his own McGuffin into the movie – did you spot it?

    llater,

    llamas

  • Frederick Davies

    I have not seen (nor do I intend to see) Avatar, but as for the Sherlock Holmes film, I can tell you it was well worth the money. Certainly not the Holmes we are used to, but probably closer to what the author thought. Besides, carrying guns (and presumably using them) was not so rare in Victorian England. A bit too much Steampunk, in my opinion, but some people like that…

  • I have no interest in Avatar (or Boris Johnson to be honest) but I think I will plan a visit to see the latest Holmes epic, given the glowing reviews of my peers.

  • I have seen both, but in my defence I didn’t pay to see Avatar as the wife’s company took us to see it. It is visually stunning, but I would agree that it is typical Cameronian (James that is) Schmaltz and any stoylinr or subtext can be safely ignored.

    Sherlock Holmes is marvellous though, I really enoyed it. Must read the books now.

  • WillS

    Having seen Avatar, and enjoyed it in a “take your brain off the hook” kind of way, I prefer another interpretation of the movie’s plot (outlined in somebody else’s blog post, the location and name of which I have forgotten – sorry):

    1. Evil Corporation (TM) attacks natives in order to obtain the unobtanium.

    2. Well intentioned scientists working for Evil Corporation are unable to help natives and are horrified at ravages of Evil Corporation (though not enough to quit and put pension/healthcare benefits at risk)

    3. US Marine arrives and proceeds to:

    a: Integrate with native society better than scientists who have been trying same for years
    b: Bed native princess
    b: Tame ferocious flying creature, gaining respect/awe of natives to the extent that he becomes de-facto leader of entire planet
    c: Lead them to victory against Evil Corporation.

    Strikes me as a rather pro-American movie :-)

  • RAB

    Must read the books now.

    That is an astonishing admission Mandrill, but think of all the pleasure you have to look forward to.

    Mrs RAB has been lobbying to see the Sherlock Holmes movie for some time, but as I am a staunch Jeremy Brett man, I have been baulking a bit.
    But after Llamas great review, that has out done Mark Commode, It is down to the tin box city and the multiplex for us!
    Stuff Avatar.

  • Jonathan

    Saw Avatar just before xmas, visually stunning but feeble story and characters. As for Holmes, I’m with RAB, a big fan of the Jeremy Brett/ Granada TV adaptations.

  • llamas

    Don’t get me wrong – I really liked the Jeremy Brett adaptations also. I particularly enjoyed the ways that they tried to show Holmes as having behavioural issues – the strange affectations, the inappropriate outbursts and so forth. The guy is written as a classic head case – he should be played that way.

    But my gripe with all of the major adaptations of Holmes is simple – they’re all too bloody old. Holmes and Watson are in their late 20s and early 30s. They should not be played by men in their 50s. Basil Rathbone burned the lot forever on that one.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Bubba Thudd

    “Dances with Smurfs” in 3d was a visual treat, I grudgingly admit (dragged to it by family). The scenes in the bioluminescent forest were the closest thing to an acid trip you are likely to see without the aid of pharmaceuticals.

    Sherlock Holmes was very enjoyable; good to see Richie back in fine form after having that Maddona sized tumor removed.

  • William H Stoddard

    I decided to take a chance on the new Sherlock Holmes, and found it much better than I anticipated from the trailers. Its physically combative, scruffy Holmes was a substantial departure from the image of him that pervades popular culture; but nearly all its aspects could in fact be traced to the Holmes canon. What we are seeing is more selective emphasis on aspects of Holmes that are usually left in the background. The result is a bit strange but not unpleasant, to my taste at least. Certainly when I compare it to Peter Jackson’s interpretation of The Lord of the Rings Jackson’s fidelity comes off the worse for the comparison.

  • David Gillies

    I saw Sherlock Holmes yesterday and I will be getting it on DVD when it comes out. Visually it was extraordinary, but without the obvious CGI-ish cartoonery of Avatar. It was surprisingly physical; both Holmes and Watson dole out and receive their fair share of beatings. It was laugh-out-loud funny in places. Robert Downey Jr. is always enjoyable to watch, and I particularly liked his puckish, exasperating character here.

    I can’t speak to its faithfulness, but Conan Doyle was very much a writer in the Boys’ Own Adventures style and there was a lot of that on show.

    Recommended.

  • Richard Garner

    Jonathon, you should see Avatar for the spectacle alone (and with the spectacles, too – the 3D ones). Yes, it is a lefty-green film. It is also visually stunning. And you can put a libertarian twist on it: Evil corporation tries to buy some land from present homesteaders. Homesteaders say no dice. Evil corporation should have left it that, but proceeds to try and steal the land instead. Homesteaders fight back. I don’t see why the wishy-washy, mystic, greeny motives for which the homesteaders choose to defend their property rights is any the less reason not to sympathise with them.

    I was put off the Hollywoodification of Sherlock Holmes, but I think I shall try it.

    Aside: Jeremy Brett has definitely been the best I’ve seen so far. The Rathbone/Bruce formula did make the characters to old, I’ll agree, but remember Watson still has to have been old enough to have had a military career and been decommissioned due to an injury.

  • llamas

    Richard Garner wrote:

    “The Rathbone/Bruce formula did make the characters to old, I’ll agree, but remember Watson still has to have been old enough to have had a military career and been decommissioned due to an injury.”

    Well, I will read “A Study in Scarlet” again tonight, but the timeline I have in my mind goes like this -

    Watson goes into the Army directly out of medical school – he would then have been 23 or 24. He serves for (apparently) 2-3 years on the NorthWest Frontier before being wounded at the Battle of Maiwand (1880), recovering in hospital, getting sick again, being invalided out, returning to London, living alone for a short while and then meeting Holmes – say another 2 years. So he would be 28 or 29 at that time.

    Even if he were 27 or 28 when he was wounded at Maiwand, he would only have been 35 or 36 at the time that “A Study in Scarlet” commences, and it’s clear at that time that he and Holmes have been a pair for some time already.

    Hommes is described on their meeting as being a student, pursuing an odd course of studies to be sure., but enough of a student to have the use of the dissecting rooms and chemistry laboratories of the hospital.

    So, like I said – late 20s, early 30′s. Basil Rathbone was 47 when he played Holmes first, and Nigel Bruce was 44 when he first played Watson. Jeremy brett was 51 when he first played Holmes. Like I said – too bloody old.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Bod

    I found Sherlock Holmes entertaining enough, but I think it suffererd from the faddish ‘bullet-cam’, fast-cut editing. It wasn’t ghastly by a long shot, but I was diappointed with some of the cinematography and casting – but then, when directors want to take my advice on casting, I’m sure they’ll ask me.

    I found Law far more compelling to watch than Downey, but then I expected more from Downey and less from Law.

    I found a few things a bit jarring because the steampunkiness and ‘feel’ was so good in other places. ‘Nut Him!’ comes to mind as one example, and for some rather macabre reason, the climax of the movie (trying not to issue a spoiler) – Lord Blackwood’s ‘departure’. A drop of that magnitude would (I suspect) have had a very different outcome.

    I guess Guy couldn’t be much more realistic than that and maintain a reasonable censor rating.

  • Bod

    I found Sherlock Holmes entertaining enough, but I think it suffererd from the faddish ‘bullet-cam’, fast-cut editing. It wasn’t ghastly by a long shot, but I was diappointed with some of the cinematography and casting – but then, when directors want to take my advice on casting, I’m sure they’ll ask me.

    I found Law far more compelling to watch than Downey, but then I expected more from Downey and less from Law.

    I found a few things a bit jarring because the steampunkiness and ‘feel’ was so good in other places. ‘Nut Him!’ comes to mind as one example, and for some rather macabre reason, the climax of the movie (trying not to issue a spoiler) – Lord Blackwood’s ‘departure’. A drop of that magnitude would (I suspect) have had a very different outcome.

    I guess Guy couldn’t be much more realistic than that and maintain a reasonable censor rating.

  • Philip Scott Thomas

    I’ve no doubt that llamas’s timeline is more or less correct and that most actors who have played Holmes and Watson were too old. But Jeremy Brett is still, to my mind, the best Holmes ever. Of course, Brett was terrifically ill toward the end of his run as Holmes, so he looked even older than his years. But it remains the role he was born to play.

    Similarly, Bogart looks nothing at all like the descriptions of either Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. But I can’t read either without picturing Bogie. It’s the texts that are wrong, not the image.

  • Paul Marks

    Eight foot blue people film. As Peter Hitchens noted – even leaving aside the politics the thing makes no military sense – if the humans were this advanced and this nasty they would use much more nasty weapons (if only out of revenge).

    Holmes film – I also am a fan of the Jeremy Brett adaptations (for example the far better presentation of Watson than was once normal).

    However, the people here have sold me on the film – if it is still on (doubtful) I will suggest to a friend (a Holmes book fan) that we go and watch it.

    On Peter Jackson and the Lord of the Rings – not a bad effort actually (although he has no feel for military matters, unlike the book his military scenes make no sense).

    One of his major early departures from the text was one suggested by Tolkien himself (although Mr Jackson may not have picked the idea up there).

    Tolkien came to believe that Arwen was “underwritten” and should have had a bigger role – and that is exactly what Jackson gives her (by giving her the scenes the book gives to Glorfindel (the Glorfindel who then basically vanishes from the rest of the work).

    I think Jackson was quite right to write out Glorfindel and give the scenes to Awen (who thus becomes the central character to us that she is to Aragorn).

    As for his other changes – a mixed bag. Some good, some bad, some just different.

  • manuel II paleologos

    That’s right Paul, but there again Jackson intended a much bigger role for Arwen (they filmed Helm’s Deep scenes with her) and it didn’t work; I find it quite interesting that generally where Jackson tried to wander too far from Tolkein (e.g. Aragorn fighting Sauron at the end) it didn’t work at all. At least he had the good sense to realise that.

    I quite liked Avatar and I would recommend seeing it in 3D. OK it’s a bit of a hippy dream – just imagine if all that Gaia stuff were actually true – but hey. Although I had to restrain myself from cheering when the big hippy tree got blasted to splinters, and felt a chorus of “America – Fk yeah!” would have been well-timed. But being anti-capitalist and being anti-military-backed statist corporation are two different things.

  • Kevin B

    For those who haven’t yet read the books or who want to re-read them, this site has them in readable form.

    The site has ads unless you subscribe, but if you want a taster before you start buying, this is the place.

    (For the fastidious among you, all the books on the site are out of copywright. I use it mostly to feed my Kipling habit.)

  • I’m with Llamas on the Sherlock Holmes stuff, although I’ve not seen it. Both actors are more inline with the ages and general demenour that Conan Doyle portrayed.

    As for Avatar… I think it only makes sense if you understand that Pandora is a post-singularity world where the “group mind” stuff is purely a remnant of the uploading of the previous technological society and the Unobtainium is industrial waste from that culture.

    Then you understand that the Navi are the remains of the last mining consortium to try to mine the planet who were subsumed by the group mind.

    Vernor Vinge covers the horror of this sort of thing in his class A Fire Upon the Deep.

    Once you understand that you realise that the only sensible course of action for humanity would be to nuke the place from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure :)

  • Kevin B

    That would be the Holmes books of course.

  • llamas

    Kevin B wrote:

    ‘(For the fastidious among you, all the books on the site are out of copywright. I use it mostly to feed my Kipling habit.)

    I didn’t realize that you still Kippled. You’ll go blind . . . .

    Just my little joke, there. I have that habit, too.

    llater,

    llamas

  • William H Stoddard

    Paul,

    As a Tolkien fan of many years’ standing (I first read The Hobbit in 1961 or 1962, and was frustrated because I couldn’t find the sequel mentioned on the last page!), I’d be interested to know your source on Tolkien’s favoring a larger role for Arwen. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I’ve never run across a place where he says that, and I’m curious.

    Thanks!

  • Rich Rostrom

    W. S. Baring-Gould in his life of the Great Detective placed his birth on January 6, 1854. Watson was born on August 7, 1852. They met in the Criterion Bar in January 1881.

    Holmes was then 27, Watson 28. Their association lasted till Holmes retired to beekeeping in October 1903, at the age of 49.

    Basil Rathbone was 47 when he first played Holmes (in 1939); but he was 44 when he played Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet; and 43 when he crossed swords with Errol Flynn in Captain Blood.

    I think he could play younger pretty well. And Doyle never gives the impression of Holmes as young, even in A Study in Scarlet.

  • Daveon

    Re: young Holmes

    In the first story Watson has recently left the army after a short and unsucessful career. As he says he went into the forces from medical school this puts Watson in his late 20s to early 30s. He meets Holmes while looking for accomodation to share to save cost. At the time Holmes is doing Doctorial research at Imperial, while his age isn’t given it’s suggested they’re of similar ages.

    Watson then goes into private practise and marrys, something left out of the movies. Subsequently a period of time passes while Watson establishes himself as a docotr and Holmes lives alone in Baker Street.

    I’ve been reading the whole lot of Doyles work on my Kindle. It’s rather good even now years after I first read it.

  • And Doyle never gives the impression of Holmes as young, even in A Study in Scarlet.

    That period’s ‘young’ might not have been the same as ours. Until a century ago or so, a person after 30 was considered old(er). Just read Austen and her references to her characters’ ages, ditto Dickens. It was not unusual for a person not to make it beyond their 50s or even 40s (Austen herself died at 42, Dickens at 58). So I think a point can be made that for a character from that era to be represented in a way the modern audience can relate to in the context of the story, he or she should be played by an actor who is actually older than the original character was intended to be by the author.

  • llamas

    Rich Rostrom wrote:

    ‘ . . They met in the Criterion Bar in January 1881.’

    No, they met in the chemistry lab at St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

    As to the date – Watson completed medical school in 1878 – says so, right in the first paragraphs of the first story. He would have been between 24 and 26 then.

    He was wounded at the Battle of Maiwand, July 27th, 1880. He then spent several months recovering from that injury, got sick for ‘months’ more, and was then invalided back to England – in itself, a voyage of more than a month. He then lived for months in a hotel in London before joining Holmes in the rooms at 221B Baker Street. So it is at the very outside stretch of time and possibility that they could have first met in January 1881 – less than 6 months after Watson was wounded at Maiwand. But if they had, Watson would have been between 27 and 29 years old.

    More likely, he was between 28 and 30 years old when they first met – just as I said. Assuming that Homes and WEatson were of an age, then Basil Rathbone was (literally) old enough to have been Holmes’s father when he first played him in screen.

    llater,

    llamas

  • RAB

    I think Alisa is on to something there. Youth did not exist in the 1880s, you went from being a child to an adult overnight.
    You only have to look at pictures of Football teams of the period, with their moustaches, centre parted Brylcreamed hair and shorts nearly down to their ankles. You know they are all in their early 20s, but they all look forty!

    I have an interesting plot line for a sequel if Richie wants it.
    Forget Moriarty, he’s a red herring, it’s Mrs Hudson who is the real criminal mastermind, hiding out under the nose of the great detective all the time, while controlling the Baker Street Irregulars with slices of her irrisistable Veal and ham pie.

  • John B

    Relative to where Avatar (and Al Gore) are coming from, this link may be of interest:

    http://www.goodfight.org/a_v_avatar_one_world_religion.html

  • the very worst thing about Avatar is that I now feel compelled to go and see film I’m pretty sure I won’t enjoy just so that I can see what you lot keep banging on about ;)

  • Marco Polo

    As most comments have dumped on Avatar (for its anti-capitalist, green message, “it’s just ‘Pocahontas’ all over again”, and rightly so), I’ll speak up in favour.

    It’s a visual delight. See it in 3D if you can (I’m still hoping to see it on IMAX). At last, CG have found a worthy theme, a worthy grandeur, to try and portray: joie de vivre and the mystery and awesomeness of life.

    So far, all that technology, creativity, imagination, passion, were all poured to create… Toy Story??! A Bug’s Life?!!? (And don’t get me wrong, I love all the Pixar movies – I have 4 kids!).

    Looking forward to seeing Downey’s Sherlock Holmes (it hasn’t opened yet here in Japan).

  • Nuke Gray

    Holmes was disappointing in two regards- I always thought of holmes as being tall, and Watson seems taller in the movie. Also they tried to fit in too many references from the stories into one story. They could have done without Moriarty, who was a late addition to the canon, and i don’t think they needed Irene Adler in.
    As for Mrs Hudson being an evil mastermind, John cleese was in a very funny spoof of Holmes, playing a distant relative of Sherlock who takes up the family business in the modern age- and Mrs. Hudson turns out to be a descendant of Moriarty! (AND an American!)

  • Nuke Gray

    As for Avatar, I have not seen the film, but the Cato Institute likes its’ defence of property rights. Are these clearly stated in the film?

  • owinok

    Watched Avatar too and was struck by the one-track minds interpretation that it is all green advocacy. While I do not watch movies to confirm my philosophical orientation, I agree with Gamer above that it takes imagination and that there’s a solid Libertarian twist in the movie too. Nobody should try and take another’s property and if it takes resistance, then that is valid response to forcible appropriation. The rest is all props.

  • Paul Marks

    William H. Stoddard – I got it from Paul Kocker’s work. Sadly I am too young to have met Tolkien himself.

    Although, remember – Tolkien tries to correct his error (for it is an error) at the end of the Lord of the Rings, by including the “tale of Aragorn and Arwen”.

    “The most severe critic is myself – I can see many errors, both minor and major” are words I believe Tolkien used.

    The underwriting of Arwen in the main text is, I believe, a major error – and one which the film/films (for all their other faults) correct.

    By the way there is a lot of covering up in the main Tolkien biographies.

    For example, his opposition to the Vatican II “reforms” is normally ignored.

    I do not know enough about Tolkien to write a proper biography – but someone should.

  • Bob

    If I ever meet Mr. Cameron, I’m going to take my 13 dollars out of his hide!

    How’ve you guys been?

  • Nuke Gray

    I read, years ago, that Tolkein had always had a nightmare about being on a land that sank, and he believed that this was an ancestral memory- his son, Christopher had similar dreams. That’s why Faramir says he dreams often of the drowning of Numenor. Can anyone confirm this?

  • Rich Rostrom

    Avatar has been banned in China for precisely that reason. Many, many Chinese identified with the Na’vi. There were sardonic comments that the human invaders should have deployed the Chinese security forces that have carried out millions of forced evictions and property seizures with ruthless efficiency.

  • At least Cameron isnt claiming any moral high ground as a result of his making of Avatar. He is, and has always been, about making breathtaking techno-entertainment, with the payoff being… a mammoth payoff.

    Too many people are associating the moral of the story with the morals of the storyteller, and as far as I know, Cameron hasnt made a single green statement with regards to the movie… unlike fatheads such as Michael Moore or Al Gore.

  • There is this long, wonderful history of the human race written in blood. We have this tendency to just take what we want. And that’s how we treat the natural world as well. There’s this sense of we’re here, we’re big, we’ve got the guns, we’ve got the technology, therefore we’re entitled to every damn thing on this planet. That’s not how it works and we’re going to find out the hard way if we don’t kind of wise up and start seeking a life that’s in balance with the natural life on Earth.

    Cameron, quoted here.

  • Nuke Gray

    Apparently, some parts of the Chinese landscape inspired the scenery of Pandora! The connection to China is closer than they’d like!

  • Laird

    Um, sorry, Mr. Cameron, but that is how it works.