Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The early years

Sherlock Holmes. Frankenstein. Sherlock Holmes VERSUS Frankenstein. The film project has been floating around for some time now, and there have been questions lately about whether it's still alive. The answer is: it's been around for much longer than one might think, and yes, it's ALIVE... ALIIIIVE. But assembling a budget for a film is very comparable to piecing together a body from the right elements: you need to dig up coffins at night, with the risks that go with it. Risk of not having the strength or the tools to dig. Risk of being stopped in your endeavour. Risk of not finding the right body parts in the coffin you spent hours unearthing. Risk of having one part rot while you unearth the next. Finally, risk of not succeeding in breathing life in the body you manage to assemble in your secret lab.

But before you even start digging, you need a plan. And even before that, you need to be seized by the urge to devise this plan. Let me tell you the whole story, the path that led from watching films as a kid to trying to make them as an adult. It's a long and bumpy road, and it's still under construction.


It all begun in kindergarten. I had been watching Miyazake's cartoon Sherlock Hound on TV for some time, and I enjoyed it more than most other cartoons of that time (except Thundercats!), but nothing had prepared me for The Great Mouse Detective. I saw it in a theater when it first came out, which might have been for my 5th birthday – since the film was released in France in late November 1986, and my birthday is in early December. The setting (Victorian England!), the exciting music and the unforgettable characters (the evil Ratigan had an amazing song that ended with one of his henchmen being fed to a huge cat) stuck with me, to the point where I wanted to set up a show at school, where we would have recreated the streets of London in the hall, and disguised the children as mice and rats. It didn't go farther than a few talks with my parents because, let's face it, I didn't have the chops to stage a theater play at the age of 5.

Fast forward: this time I know it was a birthday, my 8th. I must have been a Sherlock Holmes geek by then, because my presents were a deerstalker hat and a VHS tape of The Sign of Four (the one with Ian Richardson). I was able to compare it to Granada's version of the story, which I had already watched countless times. I loved the Holmes series with Jeremy Brett,
8-year-old me
even though I found it extremely scary and disturbing at time (I remember The Greek Interpreter as being a source of nightmares). I probably didn't understand everything, but the character of Sherlock Holmes as played by Brett was one I could relate to – distant and centered on his own vision, yet keen on doing the right thing and on helping his fellow men, even when it meant ignoring the law. He also went into disguise on numerous occasions, which was one of my favourite hobbies at that time.

Less than three weeks after that birthday, Christmas came along. I must have had a number of presents, but there's only one I can remember to this day: a pocket edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (a French translation of course, and one that might have been simplified a bit). The story was compelling, and much more complex than I thought it would be: the name Frankenstein was known to me from its presence in everyday's culture, as a generic speechless monster with a flat head, and I was surprised to learn that Frankenstein was actually the creator's name – and the creature was more of a man than a monster. The questions of identity and loneliness resonated in me at that time, and I remember being partial to the Creature, who had a revenge to take on a world who didn't understand him. Victor Frankenstein, in my eyes, was an irresponsible asshole who should have thought twice before giving life to a being he wasn't ready to care for. Growing up, I became more interested in Victor's character, who goes through a tough journey: driven by passion, he makes a mistake as a young man, practically a teenager, and then realizes that he will never be free from his mistake. Not until he dies. There are so many ways to interpret Frankenstein, as a story of fatherhood, creation, life, love and death, that you could read it every year and see a new side to it each time.


It was not until I was 10 that I saw my first Frankenstein film. It was of course the 1931 classic with Boris Karloff, and I finally met the flat-headed monster that I had been aware of before even reading the novel. I enjoyed the movie for what it was – a dry, expressionist version of the story that focused on a few aspects while discarding a lot of the book's elements for entertainment's sake. At that time, I felt it was oversimplifying the monster's story by making him speechless. Then a week later, I saw Bride of Frankenstein and although I loved that they introduced the blind violin player, I revised my idea that the Monster had to speak – Karloff chatting with Ernest Thesiger in a vault was too comedic for my serious 10-year-old self. Now I enjoy all of Universal's Frankenstein movies, and I get the humor and greatness in Bride – but the first entry still holds a special place in my heart.

In November 1994, my father took me to a theater play called La Nuit du Crime, where the audience had to sort out who the murderer was. It was sponsored by the newly created 'Société Sherlock Holmes de France', and my solving the case earned me a diploma that made me a “honorary member”. Maybe this is when it all started!..

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