Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10

Columns

Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes?

No. Sherlock Holmes is not in the movie Sherlock Holmes. I’m surprised no one has noticed. John Griffin of the Gazette gave it five stars and seemed thrilled by it. It is thrilling as an action film, but Sherlock Holmes is not in it. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle doesn’t do action films.

Let’s get basic. Sherlock Holmes is a gaunt, sharp-eyed detective who depends on applying his superior reasoning ability to elicit subtle clues he alone is able to observe. His style is super cool, his demeanor smooth and almost silent, his face angular, with a long nose that he sticks into everything with the aid of his round spyglass.

He wears a “deerstalker” hat, made of tweed, with flaps, which may be lowered over the ears when it’s cold or windy. When he has a free moment, he is puffing on his pipe, which is no ordinary briar, but a calabash, a kind of squash that forms a curved yellow bowl that goes tawny when the pipe is smoked for a while. At the short end of the calabash is the bakelite mouthpiece. Seated on top of the calabash, sealed in place with a ring of cork, is a meerschaum insert that contains the bowl for the tobacco. This type of pipe ensures a very cool smoke because there is a chamber between the bowl and the calabash.

I know because I’ve owned one for many years.

Another characteristic of the “real” Holmes is that he is very non-PC, for he is a dope addict, his drug of choice being cocaine. To complete the picture, he is not much of a dresser, favouring bland clothes that allow him to blend into the background.

Contrast this description with how he is portrayed in the film. Robert Downey Jr. is a handsome lad, no question. But he is much too pushy for the role, sporting a modern mop of thick hair teased up a storm, with a fashionable three-day growth on his chin and moustache. His clothes are stylish and much too “Flash Harry” for the role.

As an action hero he’s marvelous; as a Sherlock Holmes, he’s a complete dud.

Now how about the love interest? Both male leads have female friends. They are superbly dressed in the bustles of the period. They both appear to think that’s enough, so they come over as modern American women in fancy dress.

Holmes’s sidekick, Dr. Watson, is similarly badly drawn. Admittedly as an MD, one expects him to be elegantly attired, but they went over the top again, making him look like a toff or a fashion model just off the runway. And he had no presence. He should be renamed “Whatson?” or “Whereson?” or “Witlesson.”

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A seductive education by a questionable character

December, 2009

You have to see An Education. I’ve gone twice and would see it again. The film is set in post-Second World War Britain, beautifully evoked by director Lone Scherfig. (I can vouch for it for I was a British university student at the time.) It’s all very convincing, yet it is a total fabrication, a believable fantasy based on sleight of hand.

To begin with the title: It is not the story of a winsome teenager’s education, but of her seduction by an obnoxious predator twice her age. His interest in Jenny is purely carnal, as revealed the tasteless production of a banana as a deflowering instrument. Yet Jenny is not a simple innocent led astray; she is well aware that David, beyond the charm, is a liar and a cheat whose “fun” lifestyle is based on defrauding vulnerable old ladies, but turns a blind eye to it anyway. Her parents exhibit human frailty in too easily being hoodwinked by David’s charisma. We, the audience, are initially charmed by him also and only latterly recognize how obnoxious he is.

It’s a great film with impressive casting: Alfred Molina as the weak but heavy father; Cara Seymour as the mum; school teachers Olivia Williams and the formidable Emma Thompson; Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike as Danny and Helen, friends of David (Peter Sarsgaard), the antagonist; and Jenny (Carey Mulligan), the enchanting protagonist.

As good as this film is, there is room for criticism. Mulligan, who is 24, does not come across as a teenager. Her gestures and demeanour are far too well developed for the role. In a way, this is necessary for the plot, for if she looked too young, we would immediately recognize David as the sexual deviant he is, which would show the filmmaker’s hand. While her home in the suburbs is convincing, one has to wonder whether this bright and wide awake girl could be a product of such a stultifying environment. Furthermore, even though David only used his house in the same suburb as a stopover between his serial seductions, one would imagine he would be far too sophisticated to have chosen such a house in such a suburb.

It is clear that David’s wife was fully cognizant of his philandering, and the fact that she remained with him is hard to believe. Perhaps she is a product of a pre-feminist age. It is also clear that David’s friends Danny and Helen were aware of Jenny’s seduction, but while they say they do not want her to be hurt, in actuality they encourage David to groom her for her role.

Finally, to live in Oxford to attend the university (the parents’ goal for Jenny) is extremely expensive, and Jenny’s family is far from rich. The cost of living would have put it out of reach. One of the many good but less prestigious universities in Greater London would have been more realistic – but would have done less for the story.

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On the prowl for the elusive specialist — another ode to the MGH

John Udy

December, 2009

Although all other encounters with the Montreal General Hospital have been positive, this is a record of my bizarre introduction to this establishment.

I had been given an appointment with the specialist who heads up a research program dealing with my medical problem. Thus I approached the hospital’s information desk to inquire as to his whereabouts. No one there had even heard of him, so they invited me to use their information phone. I was given a quick response so I headed off to find the person. As it turned out, she knew nothing of my specialist, but bent my ear explaining to me what she did know. When I was finally able to tear myself away, I high tailed it back to the information desk and its telephone appendage.

I explained my need again and was given new directions. The elevators in the hospital are confusing. They perversely are either going in the wrong direction or not to the floor or wing you need, but I soldiered on and finally found the unit I’d been sent to – a wide desk under an impressive canopy. The receptionist ignored me until she had finished a long private telephone call, then told me I would have to go to the waiting room and wait my turn. This I did and eventually my name was called, to be served by another receptionist at the the other end of the impressive desk. This person was far more cooperative and wanting to help, but she also had not heard of my specialist. It was suggested that perhaps he was associated with another hospital – Saint Mary’s and the Royal Vic were named as possibilities. I was beginning to believe that she was right, when entirely by chance a woman passing by, overhearing the conversation, broke in to tell me exactly where his research unit was located! But for her, I might still be wandering the corridors of some hospital looking for the elusive unit.

But now, at last, I knew where I was going, so down the corridors to the accursed elevators I went. My initial attempts to find one going my way failed miserably, but finally, the one I needed was just opening its doors, so I made a dive for it. Unfortunately, at this very moment, along comes a worker with an empty, hand held forklift. Taking no notice of my mad dash, he plowed on ahead and the long metal blades slipped under my feet. I fell with a thump and my elevator escaped me once again. He made no attempt to help me up nor did he say he was sorry. (Perhaps he thought that to do so might make him liable.) Nor did any of the three or four people waiting in the area stoop to help me up. I think they were in shock, as was I. With a groan, I painfully rolled over and got up on my own.

I finally made it to my specialist. I had started off 20 minutes ahead of my appointment, having been driven by my daughter, Helene, but ended up 20 minutes late. He could not locate my blood test, made at a CLSC two weeks before, perhaps sent to Saint Mary’s by mistake, so he made use of the tests previouly done for my GP. In a few minutes he was able to tell me to continue with the drug I was already taking. He had nothing to say about my aching back, for as a specialist he knew nothing about what ailed me. I was a bit sore but able to get around with minimum pain, so forgot about it until I got home. Helene was a bit frantic, for she had assumed I would take about 10 minutes instead of 40. She couldn’t leave the car, in fear that we would inevitably miss each other wandering the vast corridors of the hospital.

When I got home, my back problems began to appear– drastically! I could neither get up nor sit down without assistance. I could not even tie my shoe laces and sleeping in my bed was out of the question. Fortunately I had a broken down easy chair in the bedroom that was comfortable enough for me to sleep in. This went on for many days until, gingerly, I was able to sit up, stand up and lie down with a degree of comfort, but every transition took my breath away.

I will probably have these twinges for the rest of my life, and all because somebody had forgotten to put the doctor’s room number on my hospital form. I should have been able to go to the information desk and be instantly given the correct directions instead of misinformation. Is this not why, after all, it is called an “information desk”? Why this was not so was and still is a great mystery – and misery – for me.

Editor’s Note: I met John Udy in the ER of the MGH Friday, November 27, which led to his contributions to this and future issues.

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