Rocking and Rolling With the Holmesies

The two highlights of my day on Saturday really have nothing to do with each other, but I thought of this title for a post so I’m combining them anyway!

On Saturday morning, I headed over to the soon-to-close Rock Hall Annex in Soho. (The Annex closes on January 3; according to the website, “they” are looking into the possibility of making the Annex experience a bus and truck show. I’ll keep you posted on whether or not the Rock Annex will be rolling into a town near you.) The Annex is, as was expected, not nearly as extensive as the Rock Hall in Cleveland. It is newer, though, which means more technological possibilities to enhance the experience. The Annex sells tickets, or rather admissions, at fifteen minute intervals in order to control the flow of folks in the Annex. This is nice since the efficient use of space leaves little room for crowds.

Your first stop on the Annex tour is a small-ish waiting room with metal plaques lining the walls. The plaques are etched with the signatures of each Hall of Fame inductee. (For musicians inducted posthumously, their name is printed in some generic typeface.) The plaques are displayed chronologically, with the year tracking the top of the walls. Chuck Berry is the first plaque. The members of Metallica are last. Snippets of inductees’ music play over the PA and as each song clip plays, the corresponding plaque lights up. It’s actually pretty neat. You whip and move your head, challenging yourself to both name that tune and find the artist on the wall. I went from 2005 looking at The Edge’s signature back to the 80s to see Sam Cooke’s plaque. It’s a great musical history to whet your appetite as you prepare to enter the exhibit.

After about ten minutes, you are led to a screening room in which you’ll watch a film showing you the history of rock and roll. We start, of course, with the blues and then move into blues rock, followed by psychedelic rock, a little glam rock, arena and a throwback to roots rock, then into punk, pop and metal and back again to bluesy riff-rock. All the while, we’re watching performance footage of the inducted artists who revolutionized rock and roll and took us from Chuck Berry to Led Zeppelin to The Clash to The Boss to U2. The artists offer quotes about what music, and rock and roll in particular, means to them, and it’s a great way to start the musical journey.

Once the film ends, you’re led into the exhibit. At this point, you can go through at your own pace. And this is where technology comes into play. En route from the film to the main exhibit, you’re given a headset and transponder of sorts; you wear this headset throughout the exhibit and the transponder automatically synchs up with whatever you’re looking at. When you stand in front of the “Female Vocalists” screens, you don’t just see Aretha and Mary J’s images on the screen; you also hear their incredible vocals pour through your headphones. When you enter the Bruce Springsteen room, complete with his Born to Run ‘57 Chevy, Thunder Road thunders through the headset and, if you’re anything like me, you spend the next three minutes staring at the beautiful black and white photo of a twenty-something Bruce in the convertible while dancing around to Thunder Road. And these headphones made it so there were lots of other people like me. Many of the other rock and rollers taking the tour with me bopped their way through, playing air guitar licks with Jimi, dancing around with Madonna, swaying to the Beatles… Even though we were going through the exhibit on our own, we really were having a shared experience.

One of the more poignant moments was at the very end. The last part of the exhibit was the temporary John Lennon: The New York Years exhibit. (Note: When the Annex opened, this space was reserved for a series of limited engagement exhibits. I believe the first one was hip-hop related. Since the entire Annex is closing, everything in there is obviously only “for now”.) The Lennon space has several photos, lots of handwritten lyric sheets and other such relics. On one wall, though, we find Lennon’s glasses - the pair he wore when he was shot outside of the Dakota in 1980. Next to it are some statistics about gun abuse and the damage that weak gun control laws cause. Next to that are huge sheets of paper with this (paraphrased) message beside it: If you believe we need stricter gun control laws, please sign this petition. After this exhibit closes, we will send this petition to President Barack Obama. This socially responsible part of the exhibit would be moving enough but here’s the kicker: As you approach this wall, Imagine start playing on your headphones. “Imagine all the people living for today… nothing to kill or die for… imagine all the people living life in peace.” Amen.

And now, from a message of peace and musical healing to a hit-em-up action adventure known as Sherlock Holmes. From Soho I headed up to the Regal at Union Square to catch this latest blockbuster from Guy Ritchie. This was the third movie I’d seen in as many days (I think, until that point, I had maybe only seen three movies in the theatre the entire year) and while I liked the other two, this was definitely the most purely entertaining (i.e., nothing to learn from this) of the bunch.

First let me say, though, that I’ve never sat through so many previews and except for the new extended trailer for the highly anticipated (by me) Leonardo DiCaprio - Joseph Gordon-Levitt starring, Christopher Nolan directed Inception, they were all for what looked like ridiculously stupid movies. I guess it’s because most of the trailers were for movies that will be released in January and February and most of those are filler movies (remember last year’s Bride Wars?) or silly Valentine’s Day chick flicks (sorry, but I don‘t need to see Jennifer Aniston do anything, much less act like a spoiled and semi-psychotic brat); and if there were just a few of these, it’d be okay but there were - no joke - about seven or eight previews! And only the one for Inception was good. Is this what regularly happens when you go see blockbuster movies in the theatre? This is why I am a loyal Netflix subscriber.

Regardless, Sherlock Holmes was great fun. Robert Downey, Jr. is such a fantastic actor. I love how he’s able to shift from genre to genre - and do so in a believable and entertaining manner. He was hilarious (and Oscar nominated) as an egomaniacal Australian method actor wearing blackface in Tropic Thunder; he was affecting and layered in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (a great movie too few people have seen - set in Astoria!) and we know from Iron Man that he makes one hell of an action star. In Holmes, he combines all those skills (and a rather handsome face, big brown eyes and a great body, ladies) to bring the usually stuffy and unappealing Sherlock Holmes charmingly to life. Alongside him is Jude Law, great in a supporting role. Law seems to have checked his movie star ego at the door and dived right into the character of Watson. In my mind, I always pictured Watson has a rather, shall we say, rotund figure, maybe slightly bumbling. I don’t remember if this picture is from some old movie I saw in English class or from reading one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels, but Law is neither rotund nor bumbling and makes Watson the slick, always-there sidekick you’d want on your side. Rachel McAdams, who is a favorite of mine, does nice work here as Holmes’s love interest. Much like Downey, McAdams goes from genre to genre and specifically from time period to time period. She’s feisty and full of pluck - in a corset, no less - and holds her own amongst some very strong and menacing men.

The real star, though, is Guy Ritchie’s direction and Hans Zimmer’s score. Ritchie is great at directing action films. When Holmes is about to utterly obliterate a foe, Ritchie slows it down, letting Holmes walk us through, step by step, the keys he’s deduced in order to beat his opponent. Ritchie captures the ensuing beatings in beautiful slow motion so we see every muscle move in Downey’s arm as he delivers a punishing right hook. We then go back to Holmes, who proceeds to execute his fight plan with the swift ease of an accomplished and confident fighter. Also great was the score. Early in the movie, Holmes explains his latest scientific discovery to Watson: He’s figured out that when he plays a chromatic scale on his violin to a bunch of captured flies, nothing happens; when he plays an atonal scale, the flies start moving in a graceful pattern - he’s created order out of chaos. The film’s score does the same thing. Smooth orchestrations underscore most of the film but when Holmes has finally figured out how to overcome each obstacle put before him, the score goes atonal - noting to us that order is about to be restored. This attention to detail, particularly in such an action-heavy movie, was greatly appreciated.