This weekend I attended a nerdy conference. (What? I like nerdy conferences. I like nerdy stuff. I even like documentaries — the old informative kind, not the useless new History Channel kind.) This was a Sherlock Holmes conference, From Gillette to Brett: Basil, Benedict, and Beyond, focusing specifically on film, television, and radio adaptations of the Holmes canon.
But it wasn’t all just sitting around and listening to lectures, though of course we had those.
Antique and Rare Books & Papers
The weekend started with a visit to the Lilly Library at Indiana University. They had some really fabulous items out for us from their collections.
I’m going to do a proper library blog later, because it was amazing, so I’ll just share a couple of Sherlock Holmes related items, which included an original edition of the issue of Beeton’s Christmas Annual in which Holmes made his debut in “A Study in Scarlet” and what the collecting director David Anton Randall called the “noble fragment” — Sherlock Holmes’ note to Watson, written by the Reichenbach Falls with Moriarty’s permission, written in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s own hand. If the library were to catch fire, Randall allegedly said, and he could save only one Holmes item, this would be it.
Then we went to dinner at a local pub, where we found our hostess — local and not attending the Holmes conference — sporting a subtle Sherlock tattoo.
Screenings and Exhibits
We had screenings of two 1939 Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films, and a lot of Holmes-related shorts, from silent films to the Granada series starring Jeremy Brett.
William Gillette was the first actor to portray Holmes, if you didn’t know, starting on stage, running for decades, and then appearing briefly on radio. We were able to hear some vintage radio recordings of various Holmes (though the earliest shows are unfortunately lost). Also on display was a collection of costumes and ephemera of various Holmes productions.
And of course there were things for sale, both old and valuable, such as original copies of The Strand, and recent and fun, such as publicity shots from modern versions or even Holmes-inspired tea towels.
One of the more unusual lectures was presented by Kristina Manente, of the Baker Street Babes, who spoke about modern fandom and its internet activity, of which many of this more academic crowd were largely unaware. She explained things like Tumblr and what gifs are. It was, as my sister commented, a bit surreal. (But I did learn some things about the BBC Sherlock headcanon, though!)
Yes, there are Sherlock gifs on the internet.
I also particularly enjoyed David Stuart Davies’ presentation on the humor inherent in the original stories and, while overlooked in some adaptations, brilliantly included in others. And he brought a slide whistle to embellish his examples!
And screenwriter Bonnie MacBird, with credits ranging from Tron to Smokey and the Bandit, spoke on how the writing of the new BBC series Sherlock stays true to the original and writes up to the audience, not down.
Do stay tuned for the Lily Library post. The library has, as its director was pleased to inform us, research-level collections in over 50 subject areas, and I have some extremely cool photos to share with you.