damned_colonial: Sherlock Holmes holding a small, ineffectual hammer. (holmes)
[personal profile] damned_colonial posting in [community profile] queering_holmes
So this might be a bit rambly, in which case I apologise in advance. Hopefully I can express myself at least sort of clearly.

One of the things I loved about the 2009 movie was Hans Zimmer's soundtrack. I found it atmospheric and interesting and very different from what one would expect, and I quickly downloaded it and have listened to it a lot over the last few months.

(ETA: if you haven't heard it, or don't recall it, and want to refresh, you can listen to previews on Amazon. It's also in the iTunes store with 30 second previews of each track. "Discombobulate" and "I never woke up in handcuffs before" are probably the best to listen to as examples of what's described below.)

Zimmer in interviews:

Holmes is such a quintessential English subject, but I didn't want to go over the Elgar ground, or the Vaughan Williams, or whatever... and I very consciously wrote with a Kurt Weill, Brechtian accent in the thing. [...] With Guy it was... Guy, what do you think of banjos? What do you think of Hungarian cimbalom?

We just talked about music that we liked, and somehow we got to Irish folk songs, and then I got to gypsy music, and suddenly we're talking about what was London like in those days? ... I believe Holmes is interested in other cultures, I think Holmes would be interested in how a gypsy violinist plays... Let's try and make music that's as quirky as the character, and as opinionated, and as outspoken... One thing that was important to me from the word go was to tell the audience, it's going to be different, this is not the Holmes you're used to. The first notes you hear are out of tune piano, out of tune Hungarian cimbalom, and a banjo.

So I find it interesting that Zimmer's really working the "outsider" vibe -- that Holmes, despite being English, has a soundtrack that is pan-European and non-orchestral and all about virtuosity and individualism rather than about fitting in and belonging.

It got me to thinking about Holmes's canonical French mother, and the fanon (I think originally propounded by Baring-Gould? it's described at length in his book "Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street" but it seems pretty widely accepted) that Sherlock Holmes spent a lot of his earlier life on the Continent. He certainly speaks many languages (eg. German in SCAN, and French of course, which was also shown in the movie) and knows his way around various parts of Europe (eg. the cases mentioned at the start of REIG).

It's also interesting that Zimmer talks about Weimar Berlin as a strong influence for the soundtrack, since the Weimar Republic was known for its sexual license and homosexual subculture. Berlin was known as a gay centre in Holmes's era too: looping back to my earlier post on Matt Cook's "London and the culture of homosexuality, 1885-1914", there's a lot of stuff in there about homosexual culture in cities like Berlin, Paris and Vienna; about the dominance of continental sexology (Ulrichs, Hirschfeld, Bloch, Krafft-Ebing, etc); and about Paris as the centre of fin-de-siecle decadence and the aesthetic movement that was so closely tied to Wilde and his circle. (Lest it seem that I'm ignoring Zimmer's comments about Irish folk music in favour of the Continent, Graham Robb points out (in "Strangers") that there was also a Victorian correlation between Ireland and sodomy: he writes, "it is remarkable that so many of the famous British sodomy scandals had an Irish connection," and gives a list of them, the most famous of course being Wilde.)

So to me, at any rate, the European-ness/non-Englishness of Zimmer's soundtrack doesn't just say "outsider" in a general way (though I'd love it for that alone), it also has some fairly strong queer overtones. Which is pretty much in keeping with the rest of the movie, really.

Anyway, I feel like I'm forever going on about how much I love Guy Ritchie's directorial choices, but I can't help but add the soundtrack to the list of things I love, for the way it helps flesh out Holmes's otherness.

Date: 2010-04-28 01:36 pm (UTC)
naraht: Britten and Pears at the piano. Text: "Let's make music." (other-BrittenPears)
From: [personal profile] naraht
Very thought-provoking post. It fits in neatly with my own current interests, which have involved reading quite a bit of new gay musicology. (Really interesting stuff.)

To start with, I agree entirely that the English pastoral school wouldn't suit the image that the movie is trying to create. One has to cast back a long way for other influential composers in England. (Like Handel, who wasn't even English. He might have been gay but sadly that's a topic for another time.) It wasn't until the twentieth century that English classical music became predominantly (in the words of Peter Pears) "queer and left and conshie."

Interwar Berlin, though? Isn't that a little anachronistic if you're trying to create an appropriate period atmosphere? One can certainly think about non-British music that ties into queer history and would have been known to Holmes himself. Schubert, possibly. Also Tchaikovsky.

One of the difficult and interesting things about "the love that dare not speak its name" is that it always ends up being coded in analogies and metaphors. This is fascinating from a textual analysis perspective, yet frustrating because it ends up participating in different varieties of othering. In American twentieth-century music for instance, gamelan-inspired music tends to be coded as gay because it is seen as "exotic" and "other." Queer or non-normative sexuality is in general often symbolized in music generally using orientalist elements. In this soundtrack it sounds like Gypsy violins and Hungarian music are carrying the burden of symbolizing the Other. And as interesting as it is in terms of what it says about the filmmakers' view of Holmes, it's by no means an unequivocally positive thing because it so easily becomes appropriative and exoticizing.

It would be very interesting to think more about Holmes' musical milieu, though. What was the opera that he and Watson were going to see in the movie? What would he have thought about Patience, which is certainly a very coded work?

Apologies now if I've rambled too much from your original theme. Hope there's some food for thought in there somewhere.

Date: 2010-04-28 04:06 pm (UTC)
forthwritten: my punk would last - from wordlist of NME reviews corpus (punk)
From: [personal profile] forthwritten
"In this soundtrack it sounds like Gypsy violins and Hungarian music are carrying the burden of symbolizing the Other. And as interesting as it is in terms of what it says about the filmmakers' view of Holmes, it's by no means an unequivocally positive thing because it so easily becomes appropriative and exoticizing."

As an observation, the person I went to see the film with (who is herself Northern Irish) and I both noticed that the music for the fight scenes tended to be Irish folk music - I recognised 'Rocky Road to Dublin' and can't remember if there were others. She felt that violence, criminality and the underworld were being strongly coded as Irish through the music, and wasn't comfortable with that.

Date: 2010-04-28 04:12 pm (UTC)
naraht: Britten and Pears at the piano. Text: "Let's make music." (other-BrittenPears)
From: [personal profile] naraht
She felt that violence, criminality and the underworld were being strongly coded as Irish through the music...

That was my impression as well. No doubt it was an association that the Victorians themselves would have recognised but not (I dare say) one that modern filmmakers ought to be trying to reproduce.

I'm fond of "Rocky Road to Dublin" but I do remember thinking, as the final credits rolled, that it made an odd end to the film.

Date: 2011-06-19 01:12 pm (UTC)
peoriapeoriawhereart: very British officer in sweater (Brigader gets the job done)
From: [personal profile] peoriapeoriawhereart
Prize fighting was illegal, though popular with the refined classes, like cock-fighting. The Punchbowl looks like it might feeder events that toffs would bet on.

That it was bare knuckle is accurate, and this did have the advantage of minimizing the percentage of head blows. Gloves were a 'reform' that sadly has resulted in more brain injury.

Sport was 'properly' the realm of moneyed amateurs.

Date: 2010-04-28 06:11 pm (UTC)
naraht: (art-Tentacles)
From: [personal profile] naraht
I suspect that looking for "non-British music that ties into queer history" is a bit of a tangent from what Zimmer was doing. From his interviews, it seems he was looking for music that expressed otherness and virtuosity. The queer part of the "otherness" doesn't seem to be something he was going for overtly/explicitly, so looking for gay composers wasn't high on his priority list.

Hmmm, yeah. So is what you're suggesting that he wound up using queer themes and resonances almost accidentally, as it were, as another way of signalling otherness? That queerness, if evoked through musical resonances, is as much of a metaphor as Hungarian nationality is?

Date: 2010-04-29 05:22 pm (UTC)
lotesse: (music)
From: [personal profile] lotesse
What do you thing about - after I saw the film, and really started in on Holmes, my mental soundtrack pretty quickly switched over to the Romantic composers: Mendelssohn, Grieg, Dvorak. The latter two were active composers during or just before the canon era; Mendelssohn predates Holmes a bit, and he was all in with Goethe, who I believe was pretty sympathetic to queerness.

I was attracted to the wildness and passion of the Romantic school. I feel like it really gets at our slasher's idea of tremendous emotion buried beneath Holmes' urbane exterior.

Date: 2010-04-29 06:05 pm (UTC)
lotesse: (music)
From: [personal profile] lotesse
I've been meaning to look into Keating because of that vid.

Have you listened to the New World Symphony? I grew up on Romantics, so I'm biased in their favor, but the New World is pretty amazing no matter what.

(psst, there's a download link for a medium-quality recording of that entire Mendelssohn concerto attached to my rentboy!fic from a while back, if you want to hear the whole thing. It's magnificent; god I love that piece.)

Date: 2010-04-29 06:54 pm (UTC)
naraht: Britten and Pears at the piano. Text: "Let's make music." (other-BrittenPears)
From: [personal profile] naraht
I have trouble thinking of Holmes and an orchestra, you know?

Listening to one, you mean? Or playing in it?

If he were playing concertos as an amateur, he would likely be making do with a piano accompaniment anyway. Even with orchestral pieces, most listeners were most familiar with them from the piano reductions. (Given that there was no recording technology.)

Date: 2010-04-29 06:52 pm (UTC)
naraht: Britten and Pears at the piano. Text: "Let's make music." (other-BrittenPears)
From: [personal profile] naraht
Personally I think you can't ignore period works like these if you're talking about a late nineteenth century source. Anachronistic soundtracks bother me a great deal--I run into this all the time when I'm putting together fanmixes for my own fic, It's fun to try to root figures more firmly in their own time: what would they be listening to? What would they have grown up on? What would sound new and novel to them? You have some good suggestions here.

Date: 2010-04-30 06:17 pm (UTC)
daegaer: (I'm an old woman now with one foot in th)
From: [personal profile] daegaer
I was wondering as I watched the film (for the second time) if the differing types of music were meant to be tied to areas of London considered/known to have large populations of those particular ethnic groups?

While I often feel quite conflicted about the inclusion of Irish music in films (as a sign of those jolly, more-in-touch-with . . . something Celts), I did like it in this due to both the obvious historical large Irish population in 19th century London and the actual real Irish accents of minor characters who were mainly underworld types, yes, but the underworld was populated with many differing ethnic groups and languages, and it was good to see - even in Holmes' hypothetical flashback - not only an Irish scientist meddling in things beyond mortal ken, but of course the arch-criminal and genius equal to Holmes is also either Irish or of Irish-descent. (I can't remember if Moriarty is ever explicitly described as Irish in the stories).

Date: 2010-05-02 05:03 am (UTC)
mllesays: Holmes and Watson (sh // london duo)
From: [personal profile] mllesays
This is possibly only tangentially related, but at the beginning of the year, I made a fanmix with the dual purposes of both queering the relationship between Holmes and Watson, and exploring more contemporary musical references along the lines of "Rocky Road to Dublin." You can read about it and dl it here, if anyone is interested. My commentary definitely skews more to the fannish side of the spectrum, though, rather than the academic.


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