Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 109: “Elementary”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, had a medical practice in Southsea, the seaside ‘resort’ of my hometown, Portsmouth. I have seen the commemorative blue plaque on the wall of the building where Doyle’s rooms once were, much like I have seen the plaque on the wall of 221b Baker Street, Marylebone, London, the imaginary home of the great detective.

I have read widely of Sherlock Holmes, I am a fan and will confess more to you, dear reader. On the positive side of the ledger, I and a good friend (whom I shall refer to as “the good Mrs W”) once responded to an advertisement in the classifieds column of The Times newspaper to join a perambulation one winter’s night, abroad in the environs of Holmes and Watson, around the passageways, mews, inns and alleyways of W1, lurking with other afficiandos and cognoscenti in the vapours and mists of a guided tour, tracing the footsteps of the great man.

On the other side of the ledger, I and a different friend “(the illustrious Mr S”), attended a gathering of the the “Sydney Passengers” (the Sherlock Holmes society here in Sydney), named in honour of a veritable group of Australia-bound travellers featured in one of the deerstalking sleuth’s auspicious cases. I’d read about the “Passengers” in a weekend newspaper supplement - this is going back nearly twenty years - and we joined them for a suitably Holmesian evening at The Clock Hotel in Sydney’s Surry Hills (before this establishment was modernised and renovated). Many of the Passengers were in costume and discussed the merits of many of the noteworthy cases solved by the perceptive Holmes, from the famous ‘Hounds Of The Baskervilles’, through ‘A Study In Scarlet’ to ‘The Valley Of Fear’ and ‘The Red-Headed League’.

Mr S and I did find our dinner companions, very colourful and ‘dedicated’ to their cause, probably somewhat more enthusiastically than ourselves, but to use the vernacular of the day, the night out was indeed, good sport.

It was then somewhat intriguing, months later, to read of a Star Trek convention taking place in a Sydney hotel; on studying the photo’s of those assembled to talk all things Spock and Shatner, a few familar faces caught my eye: wasn’t that the group of my newly-found acquaintances, who only recently had dined with me (meerschaum pipes dangling from their lips) allegiance pledged to Holmes and Watson, donning purple skivvies and making a nanu-nanu sign. Yes it was. The Passengers had swapped ship for spaceship and were now Trekkies!?

I could only remind myself of the words of the cocaine-injecting, violin-playing private investigator himself who, in ‘The Sign Of Four’, mused “There is but one step from the grotesque to the horrible”.

Day #109 Tip: Rise to the challenge
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had perhaps, something more memorable to say, not, this time, via the mouthpiece of Holmes, this is the author speaking for himself: “Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognises genius.”

We give our work to people for comment, evaluation, response and guidance. It is our duty and responsibility to think carefully about who we listen to. Sometimes the choice is out of our hands and we have no say in the matter, then the fidelity is to ourselves to work out what we take on board and what we discard.

This is not the ‘Tipof the Day’ to get us off the hook of criticism that we don’t like, it’s the ‘Tip’ that should inspire us to try and get our work into the hands of the best people possible who will pull us up by our bootstraps.

When I think of what I’m working on or what I’m offered to work on or the work I’ve completed or the work I could take up or turn down, I imagine myself at the utopian dinner table with four greats of the film industry (dead or alive). I listen to them chit-chat about what they’re working on - it could be the directors Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, Sidney Lumet and Ken Loach, another day it could be the actors and actresses Al Pacino, Isabelle Huppert, Humphrey Bogart and Celia Johnson - but whoever is at the table, the attention edventually swings to me, they want to know what I’m doing, what my script is that I’m applying msyelf to?

If I don’t have anything to talk about that’s currently inspiring me, then it’s certainly not going to stimulate them and if that’s the case then why am I working on it? If something is making me hold back from regaling them with a powerful pitch of a synopsis with vigour and vitality (to these folk that I admire), I must look to myself and ask why? For me, it's a good litmus test.

Most days, I don’t get to share a coffee and sandwich with David Mamet, Dennis Potter, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov or Henrik Ibsen, but I have a fertile enough mind to imagine that I do and have the opportunity to run my ideas past those writers. Am I embarassed to tell them what I’m writing, because I know that I can lift my sights higher? What if it were Robert McKee himself, staring at me with a beady eye, under his furrowed brow, as he sips on a cup-a-soup?

I think he would give voice to the words of Holmes and say: “You know my methods. Apply them.”

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