Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sherlock Holmes and Russian Ark

The first film I saw in 2010 was Sherlock Holmes (2009). The film stars Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams. It was directed by Guy Ritchie. Given the popularity of the film, there is little point in sharing too many thoughts about the film except to say I was mildly entertained. There was certainly a chemistry between Downey & Law. In fact, this film's depiction of the relationship between Holmes and Watson had strong overtones of homosexuality. There was a scene where Holmes extends his spyglass (how's that for phallic imagery?) using Watson's chest to steady it for some reason. Holmes also does his best to break up Watson's pending wedding engagement.

Ritchie's film is set in a steampunk, action movie milieu. By no means am I a Holmes scholar but I don't recall Holmes fighting in a pit in a retro-revisionist UFC type competition. I could quibble but I'm not wedded to the image of Holmes in deerstalker cap and calabash pipe à la Basil Rathbone. A plot that was more coherent and less incredulous would have helped matters. Downey has shown, for a few decades, a fair amount of screen charisma and that is true in Sherlock Holmes. Jude Law was also well cast as Watson. McAdams was weaker as the femme fatale but still adequate.


I hope my second film of 2010 will be Russian Ark at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. A few years back, Gary Meyer of the Balboa was the guest lecturer of a Jazz in Noir class. I chatted with him during a break about how much I enjoy tracking shots such as A Touch of Evil or the opening of Citizen Kane. He mentioned a Russian film where the entire film was a one continuous tracking shot set in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. I never looked up the name of the film.

I was looking at the Film on Film calendar and noticed Russian Ark at MOMA. When I read the synopsis, I realized this was the film that Meyer was referring to. The 2002 film was directed by Alexander Sokurov who also made The Sun (2005), a biopic about Emperor Hirohito, which I saw at the 2006 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.

Considered Sokurov's finest film, Russian Ark tells a three-hundred-year Russian history within the confines of the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Renowned for being shot in one continuous, fluid take, the film also employed two thousand actors, thirty-three rooms in the museum, and three full orchestras.

Sokurov's The Sun was the third in a loose tetralogy of Hitler, Lenin, Hirohito and the fictional Faust. The other two films in the series were Moloch (1999) and Taurus (2001). Faust is scheduled for release later this year. Although it is lazy and obvious programming, I hope someone screens those four films as a series as I would like to see Moloch and Taurus.

Russian Ark screens at 7 PM on Thursday, January 7.

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