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Standing the Test of Time...The Last Great Adolescents' Show...?
I caught a few episodes of The Adventures of Shirley Holmes while it was running again on YTV in the spring of '08. As well, during that same period, I found an old videotape I had made of various episodes during a much earlier syndication run (circa 2000). Watching this show again for the first time in several years, I suddenly realised just how damn good it was. I mean, I knew it was good from the minute I accidentally caught an episode on YTV one boring evening over a decade ago, when I was in my mid to late 20s; I just never realised before HOW good this show actually was. Now that enough time has passed, one can objectively analyse it; and from my perspective, this show has definitely stood the test of timebeing not only the best adolescents'/family show of the past fifteen years, but also one of the best television shows in general. The writing was excellent, the acting was excellent, the directing was excellent, the characters were genuine and endearing, etc. Given its complex plots, eccentric characters and dark humour, this show was like 'David Lynch for the Young and Smart'check out the 'Second Take' episode and tell me it's not reminiscent of Lost Highway.
In the late '90s, Canadian philosopher Mark Kingwell was going on and on about how good Buffy the Vampire Slayer was. I thought that show was a load of overrated foolishness, featuring genuinely unlikeable dimwit actors. Why he would overlook this youth-oriented show in favour of Buffy remains a mystery to me. This show transcends the 'adolescents' show' category far more easily than the other does; it's far more adult-compatible, given the complexity of much of the writing. (I've considered contacting Kingwell and challenging his view.)
The official reason behind Shirley Holmes's cancellation was the aging of the actors. Supposedly, the tone of the show would have had to change if the characters had aged along with their actorsin other words, they were scared of dealing with sexual themes. If true, I think this is a cop-out: the characters were almost all intellectualsromance was of lesser importance to them. Furthermore, intimacy had already been dealt with to some extent on the show: Shirley's summer romance; Bo's fling with an Asian schoolgirl; Alicia's much older, fraudulent boyfriend; Molly's sleek, darkly sexual, 'evil feline' persona, etc.
Frankly, I think the real reason behind this show's cancellation was an issue of demographics: In an era when standards were being lowered and young people were being raised and schooled to be increasingly ignorant and uncultured, there was simply no viable youth audience left to watch this series. Low-culture crap like The Spice Girls, Brittney Spears, Eminem, 'reality' shows, and commercial hip-hop had been elevated to a position of influential dominance by the late 1990s, and the effects were detrimental. I remember attending a party in 1999 or 2000, where there were numerous young people in their early teens to early thirties. The subject of Shirley Holmes came up amongst two or three of us, and so I asked for a show of hands: There was not one person there under 20 who had actually watched a single episode of the show! So I've come to the conclusion that Shirley Holmes was too intelligent and complex for most of the children and teenagers of the day, and was watched primarily by people in their twenties and older in the first place. When the producers and number-crunchers at YTV and Nickleodeon realised this, they probably decided to drop it in favour of producing/promoting more simple-minded junk of the comic variety (e.g., Radio Active) to suit the less-sophisticated youth demographics of the period.
Anyway, it was great to see that YTV had the good taste to run this show again, even if it was only for a few weeks. I hope more people, young and old, have come to appreciate it for its quality.
The Four Seasons/Series, Ranked in Terms of Essential Viewing:
Season/Series 3 (1998-99) essential episodes (in order of original broadcast): The Case of the Crooked Comic, The Case of the Mysterious Message, The Case of the Second Take, The Case of the Code of Silence, The Case of the Real Fake, The Case of the Miraculous Mine, The Case of the Forbidden Mountain
Season/Series 1 (1996-97) essential episodes (in order of original broadcast): The Case of the Burning Building, The Case of the Ruby Ring, The Case of the Maestro's Ghost, The Case of the King of Hearts, The Case of the Second Sight
Season/Series 4 (1999-00) essential episodes (in order of original broadcast): The Case of the Calculated Crime, The Case of the Virtual Zeus, The Case of the Hidden Heart, The Case of the Dragon's Breath
Season/Series 2 (1997-98) essential episodes (in order of original broadcast): The Case of the Golden Cave, The Case of the Exploding Puppet, The Case of the Broken Oath
Notes on Ranking. Season 3 ranks highest because it has the most (five) Molly Hardy episodes (generally the best ones), as well as Shirley's reunion with her mother and other well-written plots. Deciding whether Season 1 or 4 should be the runner-up was a difficult call. Both had an equal number of 'Molly Hardy-heavy' episodes, but the non-Molly episodes of Season 1 were generally better written and more interesting, and thus its ranking at second place. Season 2 ranks last due to lack of emphasis on Molly (she is crucial to the plot of only two episodes, and appears in only two others), as well as its having the least believable and often hokiest of the episodes.
A Thinking Person's Suspense Classic: The Ultimate '70s Cult Film.
A Thinking Person's Suspense Classic: The Ultimate '70s Cult Film
Let me make a few things clear from the outset: If you are totally unfamiliar with such philosophical schools of thought as social Darwinism, Nietzshean non rationalism and Randian objectivism, then this is not a film for you. If your life is unquestionably governed by the theological, political and/or legislative dogma(s) of the day, then this is not a film for you. If you think the boundaries separating children from adolescents from adults should always be contingent on chronological age, then this is not a film for you. If you (mistakenly) think that a paedophile is someone who forces him- or herself on teenaged females (as, apparently, several folks out there tend to think, judging from some baffling comments and reviews I've seen posted/published regarding this movie), then this is not a film for you. Yes, folks, this is, to put it bluntly, a film that can be thoroughly understood, appreciated and enjoyed by only the truly educated and open-minded (or those who are at least on the right path--usually the young, bright and liberally reared).
Having said all that, let me now say this: Nicolas Gessner's The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane may very well be the best and (definitely) most Hitchcockian film that The Master never made. In fact, released in the same year that Hitchcock released his swan song, Family Plot, TLGWLDTL makes the more famous other film look incredulous, child-slanted and philosophically shallow in comparison--more like an episode of Hanna-Barbera's Clue Club--despite the latter being an excellent second rate Hitchcock classic. Yes, TLGWLDTL is that good, making far better use of a dimly lit living room than Family Plot, in spite of the latter's much bigger budget.
But atmosphere is only part of the film's magic (magik?). The applied philosophy and symbolism inherent in the film is equally significant. In addition to the egoist and survivalist philosophies utilized in the plot (Is it just a coincidence that Jodie Foster's title character's name, 'Rynn', is most likely derived from the Old Welsh 'Ryn' ['ruler', 'monarch'], and bears a striking resemblance to 'Ayn Rand'?), there is both the Biblical and Holocaust-era Judaic symbolism intrinsic in the picture. Thus one can find the Passover (complete with the lamb's blood--i.e., the outside light--above the door), the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ (if one has already seen the film, think about it--otherwise, I don't want to spoil anything for potential viewers), the standard bas mitzvah (Rynn's use of a Hebrew linguaphone record) and kosher eating habits (no milk after lamb chops), and the house-to-house Nazi searches for hiding Jews (the adults' intrusions). The original 1974 novel by Laird Koenig has even a gas chamber, and Jewish casualties represented by the oft-mentioned falling autumn leaves. It unavoidably draws comparisons with Albert Camus's existential novel, La Peste/The Plague (1947).
I could go on and on about the film's thought-provoking theme of Traditional Child and Adult Roles and the Often-Blurry Lines Between Them (the mature, intelligent 'adults' of TLGWLDTL are the children and vice versa); the continuity errors made manifest by the fact that it was shot on at least two locations in--according to Astral Media--Knowlton, Quebec (hint: watch the windows, curtains and banisters); its plausible symbol of Rynn's pregnancy towards its end; its possible influence on Sonic Youth's 1998 double LP A Thousand Leaves--right down to the album cover; the possibility that Mario the Magician (Scott Jacoby) and the magazine rock star (in the novel version) were based on Marc 'T. Rex' Bolan (1947--1977); etc.; but that would amount to excessive spoon-feeding--speaking of which, I have probably done enough already. Watch the film--if you feel that your outlook and education level fulfill my criteria outlined above--and discover such particulars, anomalies and minutiae for yourself. Who knows? You may uncover things that I haven't even considered--in spite of having seen the film close to a hundred times since I was a child in the '70s. (You may also want to read the original novel in the process.)
For those who are serious or long-time fans of this film (and/or the novel it's based on), they may be interested to know that I have published a chapbook of haiku poems, New England Country Farmhouse, based on the tale. As well, I am preparing the second issue of Cellar, a TLGWLDTL fanzine that delves into many of the sub-topics that I've briefly discussed or alluded to above.
The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane is an excellent and rewarding film for those who are intelligent, curious and dogma-free. For mentally, emotionally and socially advanced children, it can also serve as a good introduction to secular philosophy, ethics, and symbolism in the arts--as can another early Jodie Foster film, the even rarer Echoes of a Summer (also 1976). It is definitely NOT, however, recommended for those who adhere to the dogmatic standards of the Extreme Left or Extreme Right. Neither is it recommended for those who report having to bathe (for whatever specific reason) upon viewing brief scenes of adolescent nudity. Only a long-term committal to a reputable mental institution can be recommended for these individuals.
Despite (barely noticeable) continuity errors and one alleged crew member sighting in the shadows (which actually only adds to the film's spooky atmosphere) this is without question an overlooked '70s cult classic. Rating:********** (Perfect 10)
--Reviewed by R. W. Watkins (poet, literary critic, magazine editor); Newfoundland, Canada