Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Seven-Per-Cent-Solution: 100% Fun

This post is dedicated to Eric Little: Blogger, teacher, inspiration. Rest well, Eric.

This week, the beloved and I finally got to watch the film version of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), adapted from the book of the same name, reviewed here in Thinkulous.

I enjoyed the book very much, and the film did not disappoint. There were a few moments in which I inwardly winced because the script (written by Nicholas Meyer, who also wrote the novel) deviated quite a bit from the book. But these were minor plot points. Generally, he managed to be both faithful and successful, keeping the pace swift and entertaining.

Fine acting from Alan Arkin, as the 30-something Sigmund Freud in the period just before his breakthrough work in psychology and the unconscious. Arkin was just as natural and appealing as could be. Nicol Williamson was electrifying as a strung-out Holmes, throwing himself into the role. Perhaps just a titch over the top here and there, but generally, it only added to the general zest of the movie.

When I first read of the movie, I was stunned at the choice of Robert Duvall for Watson. He's a very fine actor, but, like most big-name American actors of his generation, most adept at playing himself, regardless of the role. I expected him to be the weak point in this film, and he was -- but not by far. He did a very serviceable job, and did not get in the way of people obviously more suited to their characters. He nicely embodied Watson's Victorian, bougoie restraint and propriety, as well as his unbridled affection for his notorious friend. His English accent was noticeably labored, but more than acceptable. In the end, I enjoyed his performance, though I can imagine two or three Brits who would have served the role quite a bit more admirably.

Kudos also to Lynn Redgrave, who plays the French victim of the fiendish plot Holmes and Freud manage to foil (I trust I'm not spoiling anything by sharing that little piece of info). Finally, Joel Grey made a wonderfully craven lackey for the Baron von Leimsdorf -- a respectable turn by Jeremy Kemp.

Good luck finding it -- the beloved is a librarian and was able to requisition a distant VHS copy. From what I hear, there has been no DVD release (this is criminal). But it is worth the search.

Thanks to Eric for his encouragement to seek out this film. He was a Williamson fan.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Autism and Masculinity

Very interesting article on the BBC Web site last week, about research into high levels of testosterone in fetuses that would later become children with autistic traits.

Eight years of research show a fairly high correlation (20% in the world of scientific research is very high indeed). However, it’s just a beginning: The link is only to autistic traits, not the disorder itself, and there is no way to know at this stage whether testosterone causes the traits, or is just correlated for any of a number of possible reasons.

This furthers the interesting hypothesis of the well-known British autism expert, Simon Baron-Cohen (no relation to Sasha) that symptoms of the disorder, such as highly analytic and logical thinking, social isolation, and others, are an expression of male thought patterns in extreme, unhealthy form. He thinks that perhaps the testosterone creates a brain in which this is inevitable. More specifically, Baron-Cohen says...
… the hormone [testosterone] could be affecting the brain through altering neural cell connectivity and chemicals that carry messages, known as neurotransmitters.

The team is now planning to follow up its study to test direct links between autism and testosterone levels in foetuses. The group will use Denmark's archive of 90,000 amniocentesis samples and its register of psychiatric diagnoses.

The work is connected to Professor Baron-Cohen's hypothesis suggesting that autism is a version of the extreme male brain.

He said that although researchers had tested this theory at the psychological level, the new studies meant it could now be tested at the biological level.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Yawning and Autism

An interesting little insight into the minds of autistic children: They aren't susceptible to "contagious" yawns the way neurotypical folk are. Go to this page on one of my favorite blogs, Mind Hacks, to read the summary of an article in the journal of the British Psychological Society, and to get links to the original article.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Gold Beats the Devil

I'm reviewing my pleasure-reading for the last few months (all documented extensively here on Thinkulous; just use the search field above if you want to read more on any of these books) and there is an undeniable theme emerging:

1) Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville: A rollicking story of a man's life-defining adventure, written in highly stylish prose, with historical and philosophical underpinnings.

2) Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon: A rollicking story of a man's life-defining adventure, written in highly stylish prose, with historical and philosophical underpinnings.

3) The Egyptologist, by Arthur Phillips: A rollicking story of two men's life-defining adventures, written in highly stylish prose, with historical and philosophical underpinnings.

Ah, but then there's my latest read, picked up this week while on a brief vacation on Cape Cod: Carter Beats the Devil, by Glen David Gold. It's an entirely different deal -- a truly rollicking... story... of a man.... hmm.

Charles Carter is an Edwardian-era prestidigitator, a card-and-coin man rising through the ranks of the vaudeville and chautauqua circuits. He spends his days in malodorous, musty train cars, dreaming of being a big-time illusionist like Mysterioso, who has an opulent train of his own and a secure spot at the top of the bill every night. Even before this endearing biographical adventure gets underway, Gold foreshadows the greatness in the offing, by way of an "Overture" in which Carter performs in a fantastically ornate theater in San Francisco, and receives President Warren G. Harding as a distinguished guest. I won't spoil anything here.

So far, it's a lovely vacation read. I commend Gold for not attempting overly flashy language; as I've pointed out here in posts on The Egyptologist, that seems to be the most common trap of the middlebrow novelist (a title I apply endearingly, by the way). Gold's prose is quite readable, and, at times, even flows admirably in its unpretentious portrayal of a very pretentious time and profession.

I'm only a fifth of the way in. So far, there's been a wonderfully brisk and engaging exposition, followed by some regrettable pages in which the language and plotting loses some of that crystal clarity. Am I one of the few people who have little patience for sweeping novels that bog down in day-to-day soap operas? There are so many of them. Even my main man Chabon is guilty at times (though rarely).

But I suspect I'm in for the long haul with Gold; I'm having fun. I'll keep you posted.