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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, April 6, 2013


 ...I consider that both [STAR WARS and ALIEN] qualify as "spectactular violence," which I re-define as "that violence whose depiction is more the point of the story than the ostensible plot." Spectacular violence is the violence of the spectacle: it's meant to be looked at.-- BATTLE OF THE MONSTER TERMINOLOGIES (2009)

I should qualify that my comparison of Holmes to a "pulp hero" is made in comparison to the staid 1922 film I mentioned. Though ADVENTURES does emphasize its violent elements in terms of a strong combat, it should be noted that the degree of violence never goes beyond its function in the plot. In contrast, the 2009 SHERLOCK HOLMES does emphasize violent combat in scenarios that add little or nothing to the plot as such, and so qualify as "spectacular violence."-- FX MARKS THE SPOT PART 2 (2012)

I've re-watched the relevant scenes of ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, and will now reverse myself on my verdict in the second quotation.  Yes, ADVENTURES has more of a linear, straightforward plot than the aforesaid Holmes film of 2009.  Nevertheless, ADVENTURES doesn't focus on the type of mysteries characteristic of the majority of Holmes stories and films, where the essential point is to disclose some hidden human fault-- thus aligning such stories with the standard conception of the "drama."  But all the violent acts in the 1939 film-- the attempted assassination of an innocent woman, Moriarty's attempt to steal the crown jewels-- aren't merely functional in the terms I described in the FX-essay, where I said that "the violence is there to illustrate the theme, not to assume its own importance in the story."  I cited as examples works by Hemingway and Faulkner, but a more accessible example would be one that I cited in the BATTLE essay: Fritz Lang's 1953 crime movie THE BIG HEAT.   As this Kim Newman review has it, "The Big Heat is a film of violence, opening with a close-up of a gun about to be used in the suicide of corrupt cop Tom Duncan, and proceeding rapidly through its plot with jolting horrors that malform the characters."

In contrast to this relatively "literary" usage of violence, the violent acts in ADVENTURES exist to set up the climactic battle between Holmes and Moriarty, respectively glossed as symbols of "good" and "evil."  Yes, the violence may seem less intense in the 1939 SHERLOCK than in the 2009 version, but the discrepancy can be marked down to the nature of the FX-technology available to filmmakers in the era of Classic Hollywood.  If I were to downgrade the conflict of Holmes and Moriarty purely on the basis of the intensity of the violence, I would have to exclude every other Classic Hollywood film in which fight-choreography was not nearly as much "in the viewer's face" as it is in contemporary films-- which would include a lot of the serials of the era that I have labeled combative, like ACE DRUMMOND and THE GREEN ARCHER. Indeed, when I reviewed ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES in 2012, I didn't even remember that I'd labeled its violence as "functional" in 2009, and so categorized it as a "combative adventure."

Now the reason that I dwell on this minor point at such length is because in the past year I've formulated the idea of "the combative mode" as one that exists exclusively where at least two exceptional-- or "megadynamic"-- forces come into conflict, thus producing Kantian dominance.  Since the 1939 film has a naturalistic phenomenality, both Holmes and Moriarty can only express their respective levels of "might" through naturalistic means, but such works have the potential to be just as spectacular as either those in the uncanny or marvelous categories.

Further, I should re-emphasize the defintion of the difference between "functional violence" and "spectacular violence" in the 2009 essay, when I said that the differences between them "are not determined by intensity of effect but by narrative function." 

The question then arises: are Holmes and Moriarty "megadynamic" as they are presented within the scope of ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES?  In MYTHOS AND MODE 2 I put forth a similar re-definition.  In an earlier essay I'd labeled Shakespeare's drama MACBETH as a "combative drama."  But upon re-examination I decided that though MACBETH satisfied the "narrative value" of the combative mode, it did not satisfy the "significant value."

...I can find nothing in the play that makes the two characters “exceptional” in their dynamicity. They are good fighters, without a doubt, but not necessarily exceptional. Lacking that dynamicity, both the characters and and the play lack the significant value of combative sublimity. 
The case could be made that Holmes and Moriarty are also nothing but "good" fighters.  There are, for example,  no references in ADVENTURES to Holmes' storied boxing-skill.  Still, he does show, as per my comment that he seemed like a "pulp hero," much more athleticism than one sees in earlier versions of Sherlock. Additionally, the somewhat aged Moriarty takes on Holmes with considerable gusto-- to say nothing of departing from the role of the manipulator, as the professor puts himself on the front lines in plundering the Tower of London.  So in contrast to MACBETH-- a play where the concluding violence is kept offstage-- the spectacular nature of the final fight in ADVENTURES inclines me to rate the two antagonists as "megadynamic," so that the film does indeed feature combative sublimity.  Since it's a given that a hyper-athletic character like Batman could trounce both of them, Holmes and Moriarty might be seen to skew toward the "low" end of the megadynamic, as I suggested in the essays DYNAMICITY DUOS PART 1 and PART 2.

In Part 2 I'll have more to say about how the spectacular mode of violence proves necessary to the manifestation of combative sublimity.  In conclusion, I also have one even more minor amendment to a statement from FX MARKS THE SPOT PART 2:

Some of the other Holmes dramatic narratives, such as THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, would probably qualify as combative dramas.
On reconsideration I don't think that in the novel, the 1939 film version, and the 1959 adaptation, the violence is no more than functional in nature, playing a secondary role to the disclosure of the mystery.  Some adaptation might be done to boost the violence to a spectacular level, but I know of no such adaptation.  The closest thing to it would be Simon and Kirby's freewheeling take on the Doyle story in a 1942 CAPTAIN AMERICA story, where the "hound" turns out to be a malefactor dressed up in a dog suit.

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