- translated by me -
welcome the correction :)
Sherlock Holmes, Vasily Livanov and others
author: Igor Maslennikov, film director / article published in a magazine “Avrora”, № 7, 1981 (USSR)
A cut version of article / translated by alek-morse (Alexander Sedov).
"... Comrade Director, what do you think about the detectives?" – a viewer asked.
Russia has never lagged behind the universal enthusiasm with this literary character... In a few weeks after the publication in London, Sherlock Holmes stories appeared on the Russian bookstores shelves be translated, and our young great-grandparents bought for a penny these thin little books, where Holmes was still called Ghol’mz (Гольмз).
There were staged theatrical performances. One of the first was the performance in St. Petersburg’s Suvorinsky Theatre (now the Tovstonogov Bolshoi Drama Theatre). In Soviet times, Arthur Conan Doyle's stories about Sherlock Holmes were repeatedly republished, re-translated by the qualified translators: Golmz became Kholmes (Холмс), Vhatson (Ватсон) - Uotson (Уотсон). Although "доктор Ватсон" (Doktorr Vhatson), for my taste, is much more successful for a Russian ear and pronunciation. From time to time in USSR there are produced radio and TV plays about the great detective...
But we have not the movie about Sherlock Holmes.
In 1978, the Central Television has decided to make up for lost time and ordered to the Lenfilm studio a television movie "Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson". The scenario was written by famous playwrights Yu. Dunsky & V. Frid, and was based on "The Speckled Band" and "A Study in Scarlet".
Before I start my work, I got hold of a thick, good illustrated volume entitled “The Sherlock Holmes Card Index.” (?) The English publishing house very carefully collected the drawings, photographs, footage, labels, sketches, stickers, comics, posters, cartoons, icons, and logos – all with depicted the famous detective in various forms on. What Holmeses I found here! They were funny and gloomy, kind and evil, arrogant and friendly, tall and short, thin like a match and mighty like fighters. In some Danish performance, Sherlock Holmes was played by the actor fat like a barrel!
I found even Sherlock Holmes as a dog with a bent pipe and wear a deerstalker in Walt Disney cartoon!
Sidney Paget, who portrayed the great detective as a lean gentleman with a dolichocephalous narrow face, high forehead and penetrating look exactly as detailed and comprehensive description by the author, would have been very surprised by such variety of appearances. By the way, the props that was used by the first illustrator, was so carefully chosen and well matched to the style of the hero that it was recently sold at the famous London’s Sotheby's for 11 thousand pounds as genuine personal things belonged to Sherlock Holmes himself.
Watched a few Sherlock Holmes movies produced of various years and in different countries, we decided to forget them at all, throw them out of our heads and form the basis of only two sources – the Arthur Conan Doyle stories and Sidney Paget drawings.
We decided to fully trust the writer, despite the critics who claimed that the Conan Doyle stories are outdated, naive in comparison with the level of modern detective fiction and detective genre films. We allowed ourselves to succumb to the charm of Sherlock Holmes. We – it's not just the playwrights. We are the crew wholly: the cameraman, designer, composer, and numerous assistants and aides, administrators, costume and prop specialists. We all became boys and girls keen on common idea and common passion. Vasily Livanov, the leading man, first of all of us was imbued with boyish faith in this hero.
It must be mentioned about Livanov in particular.
Vasily Borisovich Livanov is forty-five old now. He has two children, a daughter and a son. He has two entities: actor and director. At passport photos he has moustache and wears glasses. The horses is his passion, he is a great rider. He is a perfect driver. He is an artist and writer, a member of the Writers' Union and the Union of Cinematographers of the USSR. He is a director of several animated films, including the famous "The Bremen Town Musicians". He has published several novels. One of them is “Agnia, daughter of Agnia" – about the life of the Scythians. His most well-known acting works in: "The Blind Musician", "Colleagues", and "The Star of Captivating Happiness." By his voice are talking animated Carlsson-on-the-roof, Crocodile the Gena, and many others.
I got to know Livanov, when I worked on my film “Yaroslavna, Queen of France”. I invited him to perform a French knight-errant profligate Benedictus. This character was not leading, but he brilliantly performed it. He created the character of a warrior without fear and blame, who is not separated from a flask and a saddle. A shaggy, mucky, heavily armed Benedictus had nothing to do with the appearance of a correct, reserved gentleman from Baker Street. Nothing but only the formula is: “without fear and blame.”
In fact, I was not looking for other performers of Holmes, I believed in Livanov. His personal qualities, in addition to actor’s opportunities, in my view coincided with the characteristic qualities of the famous detective: the power of imagination, the ability to get carried away, get excited, a sense of humour, an eccentricity, self-important manner, ability to fight back, sportive, persistence of body and mind, an indomitable energy and enthusiasm ... and the design of his skull!
But only after as Livanov’s moustache having been shaved off, his lush hair having been trimmed and we made several screen tests, I have convinced the doubters.
Dr. Watson was the different case.
As you know, the Sherlock Holmes stories are written on behalf of his friend Dr. Watson. He tells the story about the famous detective, holding back or muting own achievements as if of modesty, being he remained in the shadows, in the background. This situation poses the additional challenges to playwrights is to make the narrator of full of character, to intensify, to supply him with actions.
In the movies and TV productions I've seen, Dr. Watson is turned into a comic character needed only to express admiration for Holmes’s exploits, or get in ridiculous situations because of his inability to be like Holmes. That’s, in my opinion, the rudiments of the modest status that Dr. Watson devotes himself as a storyteller. And it destroys the wonderful duo invented by Conan Doyle.
If in the stories Watson introduces Holmes to us, in the film he has to “play” Holmes in accordance with an old theatrical rule: “the retinue plays the king.” Conan Doyle once said about Sherlock Holmes: “...his character does not mean the shades. This is a calculating machine, and any attempt to add something only able to spoil the impression.”
Indeed, an actor who plays Sherlock Holmes encounters difficulties. The lack of vacillations, outbursts, and weaknesses, the same “shades”, all contribute the most difficult obstacles to the performer in creating a living image. The partner should help here! It is needed a duet, an equal and equitable pair. So, the actor for this role must have not so much the comic characteristics as the ability to go into a partnership, to work “on a partner”.
The searching was long until once Vitaly Solomin has appeared at the studio.
We were again faced with many doubts and scepticism: how the actor who created a number of young agile rustic characters on screen, the snub-nosed Russian lads, cans become a British retired military doctor of Queen Victoria times? While the make-up artists were shaving the moustache off Livanov’s face, other make-up artists were gluing the red moustache onto Vitaly Solomin’s one. There appeared a tweed coat and a high starched collar, a tie with a pin, a watch and chain. Well trained, a plastically expressive body of the actor took a pose of gentleman independence and in front of us... (No, even not Watson) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle appeared himself. The resemblance was striking! Yes, they are exactly like that – Edinburgh’s Englishmen with a fair amount of Scottish blood, red-necks, snub-nosed and freckled hands...
Rina Zelenaya has agreed to play Mrs. Hudson, a hostess of the Baker Street rooms. The appearance of this famous actress in our company encouraged me to increase the role of Mrs. Hudson, to add the lines for her, to come up with new scenes.
“No! – said Rina Vasilievna. – What about your sense of balance? I'm just “furniture” in your beautiful scenery. I like it; I have not played furniture before…”
So, after the 221b Baker Street apartments were occupied with its permanent residents, the game is afoot!
But this game was unexpectedly very long.
I'm not going to talk about the shooting; this is a special theme, I think, might be interesting only to the most ardent movie fans. I will just mention that in the course of the creation of our first two-part Holmes film – a kind of touchstone which we probed the genre in, tone, and elaborated the characters, tied with the relationship between them, formed the very legendary friendship of Holmes and Watson , - the principal circumstance was crew successfully came together.
In the filmmaking, a long year usually goes into creating the movie; it is a sufficient time period to the crew members to fully enjoy each other's company. Finished the film, the director goes to a sabbatical to ponder over the next picture. The cameraman, designer and other specialists set to work with other directors. Actors join their respective theaters and get roles at other studios and so on...
But everything turned out differently: an inertia that gained by our crew including the leading actors resulted in a great desire to work together on. That crew initiated the work over the following three-part film. The Central Television has supported this initiative. We have shot still three episodes. Everything has gone like clockwork. Our next work was a two-part film “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”
And, of course, the viewers’ letters have a great significance in it!
There is no such letter (and I’ve to say the Central Television as the Lenfilm studio and me personally receive the loads of them) that would have not been a request to continue the series.
If such comparison is possible – I've found myself in a situation that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was in. The tenacious grip by the famous detective has spread to me, too. My plans are put back, the ideas and scenarios are piling up on my desk, but I continue working on Sherlock Holmes films. The crew has been replenished with new members. The assistants get through to the well-known, popular, and very popular actors and immediately receive consent to the filming. The enthusiasm continues unabated...
I often ask myself: what is the attractive power of this fictional literary person as Sherlock Holmes? What did he catch us with? What is the charm of this hero came from the short stories which frankly of average literary quality, set in past epoch and far from us geographically? Because his investigations? But nowadays they are naive. His exploits? But he mostly sits in a chair, endlessly smokes a pipe and talks.
At one meeting with the audience I was asked: “Comrade Director, what do you think about the detective genre?”
“Nothing...” I replied
Let's think about how often do we return to the detective books after reading of that we have known the essence of the investigative plot, understood the intricacies of the story, sometimes very convoluted? We rarely did. But we re-read the Sherlock Holmes stories despite their naive, and ourselves being at different ages – a child, young, in his mature years. We forgive or do not even notice Conan Doyle’s mistakes. In “The Speckled Band” a snake cannot crawl over the soft rope, it needs a solid fulcrum; you should not spread a dog with phosphorus otherwise a dog will die. The Maestro has a lot such inconsistencies. We are drawn to these stories on account of other sort!
The main merit by the writer is the opening of the character.
It is not just the fact that Sherlock Holmes is brave, unselfish, resourceful, intelligent, energetic, persistent, and that he is a true “gentleman” that means a noble, not small-minded, antibourgeois. Many his literary and film colleagues have all these features.
Sometimes Holmes prefers to put on airs, but at the same time he has self-irony, which is the sign of an open and kind heart.
The main feature of the famous detective’s character is his view point on life, his attitude to people.
The English say: “My home is my castle”. The 221b Baker Street is also a fortress, ideal of comfort and stability, but not only for Sherlock Holmes and his faithful friend Dr. Watson. Every person who turns out to be in a trouble, will find here help, feel himself safe and secure. Holmes is reliable!
You can’t find in the endless series of his three volumes adventures the story, where Holmes is engaged in investigation of the crimes for the sake of the investigation only, for the sake of just finding the offender and the triumph of abstract truth and stringent law. He solved these crimes not because of the villain’s blunders, but independently of them.
The triumph of justice is inevitable because Sherlock Holmes is a defender of those who got into trouble.
The writer contrasted him with the official police system of the Scotland Yard, because Sherlock Holmes’ main feature is help. Not only give punishment.
I believe that this is the secret of everlasting fascination of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, the living personification of loyalty and reliability the qualities that always people need in.