damned_colonial: Sherlock Holmes holding a small, ineffectual hammer. (holmes)
[personal profile] damned_colonial
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.


Queering Holmes

July 2010

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