Well, there I was, thinking to put together another Bioscope newsreel, and struggling to dig up news stories that wouldn’t better served as full posts, when I came across what I think is a first. It’s the first promotional video that I’ve come across for a book on silent films. If you don’t know, publishers are becoming increasingly keen to produce what are effectively trailers for the books they publish, which can feature author interviews, extracts being read out, or sometimes scenes being dramatised. It’s a whole genre to itself, and you just hope that some archivist somewhere is collecting them all.
Most of these videos are for fictional works, and that’s the case with Pirate King (I can hear the cries of disappointment that it is not some severe tome on Deleuzean film theory that has been given the video promo treatment). No, Pirate King is the latest production from American novelist Laurie R. King, who writes novels in which Sherlock Holmes works alongside his wife Mary Russell, an undercover detective. No, you won’t find her in the Arthur Conan Doyle works, but King has imagined that Holmes had retired to the Sussex Downs after His Last Bow and met the 16-year-old Russell in 1915, when he was aged 54. Well, of course.
Pirate King is the eleventh in this series, and this time Mary and Sherlock becomes involved in the murky world of British silent films of the 1920s. The Pirate King is a film producer with a criminal past, named Randolph Flytte, a sort of English Erich von Stroheim, who is making a film of The Pirates of Penzance in Portgual and Morocco. And then real pirates get involved.
Alas, the author has missed the chance to produce something with added complexity, because of course there was an extensive series of short films based on the Holmes stories filmed at Stoll Film Studios in the early 1920s, many directed by Maruice Elvey, with Eille Norwood as one of the best screen Sherlocks there has been. There’s a whole Bioscope post on the history of Conan Doyle’s works and the silent screen, if you want to know more. What fun it would have been had Sherlock and Mary had their mystery to solve amid the film company filming one of his adventures. It would have been a whole lot more plausible than pirates or indeed a British cinema of the period with anything like someone like Erich von Stroheim beside the camera. Indeed, a missed chance.
You can read extracts on Laurie R. King’s website, from which you may also learn that the renowned Portguese Poet Fernando Pessoa is also a character, and that either the author or her web manager can’t spell D’Oyly Carte. And there’s an interview with King, focussing on the film side of things (about which she doesn’t appear to know a great deal, though she does note the existence of Sherlock Jr.) done by Thomas Gladysz for his SFGate blog.