Okay, weird theory time.
It’s known that people who read more books are more likely to use complex and lengthy sentence structures, while audio and video watchers are more accustomed to the shorter, naturalistic sentences. I wonder if the minimalist trend in 21st century movie titles — they’re often one non-descriptive common noun, occasionally prefaced with a “the” — can be tied to that phenomenon.
Granted, I only have anecdotal evidence that movie titles are getting shorter and vaguer. Are journalism films that were once “All the President's Men” now “The Post,” or am I cherrypicking? I’m not going to spend time crunching the numbers (this isn’t The Ringer), so I guess we’ll never know.
Okay, so in the time since I wrote the last paragraph, I actually was inspired to try charting out 2018 movie title word lengths. I'm vindicated: One- and two-word titles are by far the most popular. Granted, this data is useless, given both that the sample size is "movies that showed up as Google snippets when I searched for '2018 movies,'" and that I haven't tried charting any movies from older decades to establish a baseline for film title length. Maybe I'll do that sometime (and pitch to The Ringer, obviously).
Other fun facts from my quick and dirty chart: Six words is the longest movie titles will go. However, five words was the least popular, with just "If Beale Street Could Talk" making the list if you discount "Solo: A Star Wars Story" given that it's a film title that clearly wishes it was only one word.
Anyway, just to cement my obsession with movie titles, here's an article I wrote in 2016 about why its titles are the best part of the Fast and Furious franchise.
The Glorious Anti-Logic of the ‘Fast & Furious’ Naming Scheme
Plenty of franchises insist on ridiculous naming schemes. Some simply incorporate a phrase into every title, whether it’s “Die Hard” or “Planet of the Apes.” James Bond films often feature an Ian Fleming-esque aphorism that is either gritty (“Live and Let Die”), pretentiously abstract (“Quantum of Solace”) or both (“Tomorrow Never Dies”). Star Wars takes a traditional tack, intentionally picking “The Force Awakens” to mirror the sense of change and renewal that “A New Hope” introduced and “A Phantom Menace” inverted. Fast and Furious is the sole franchise to plant both feet on the hood of its Mustang and charge away from any semblance of logic.
All right, enough about titles. Let's spend the rest of the newsletter on Victorian era detective fiction.
The Lady Is a Detective
Olivia Rutigliano, Lapham's Quarterly
The Victorian era (1837–1901) witnessed the appearance of an overwhelming number of female literary detectives. The rush began in the 1860s with the publication of Revelations of a Female Detective, which featured the debut of Mrs. Paschal, a detective of “vigorous and subtle” brain who works for an all-women branch of the police department.
In the following years, readers could follow, in both standalone novels and serializations, the investigative adventures of many other women, mostly based in London. Mollie Delamere (who appeared in a novel in 1899), a young widow employed as an international pearl broker, must outsmart the countless burglars after her wares. Hilda Wade (1900) was a genius nurse solving medical mysteries to get close to the physician who framed her late father for murder and who ends up on a globetrotting adventure to catch him. Dora Myrl, who first appeared the same year, was a youthful woman in ankle-showing skirts with an advanced degree in mathematics from Cambridge. A medical doctor who couldn’t find work as a physician, she begins working as a private eye.
I also have a whole-hearted podcast recommendation that I'm throwing in here as it's also about women and detectives: Shedunnit, a show examining the culture and context behind classic detective stories. It's very well-produced (creator Caroline Crampton is also a great podcast journalist, which might explain that), and I've loved every episode so far. My favorite one is about Agatha Christie's 11-day disappearance -- Dorothy Sayers was in the search party and Arthur Conan Doyle held a seance to try to contact her, so it was basically a real-life Avengers of mystery authors, except very unimpressive because they were all kinda useless at the real thing.
The show only has five episodes currently, so now's your chance to get in on it before it's big. Here's the iTunes link.
Finally, here's an article about trashy occult detectives:
The Terrible Occult Detectives of the Victorian Era
Grady Hendrix, Tor.com
Physician, man of letters, and malpractice enthusiast, Dr. Hesselius first appeared in “Green Tea,” published in the October 1869 issue of All the Year Round, then edited by Charles Dickens. He was the creation of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu, known as “The Invisible Prince” because he rarely left his house after the 1858 death of his mentally ill wife. Obsessive and neurotic, Le Fanu was haunted all his life by a recurring nightmare in which he stood transfixed before an ancient mansion that threatened to collapse on him; when he was found dead of a heart attack in 1873 his doctor remarked, “At last, the house has fallen,” which, while witty, probably wasn’t the sort of thing his family wanted to hear.
Okay, fine, here's one more thing unrelated to detectives or movie titles:
Why your favourite film baddies all have a truly evil laugh
David Robson, Aeon
There are limits to the utility of the evil laugh in storytelling, though. Kjeldgaard-Christiansen admits that its crude power would be destructive in more complex storytelling, since the display of pleasure at others’ expense would prevent viewers from looking for more subtle motivations or the role of context and circumstance in a character’s behaviour. But for stories dealing with black-and-white morality, such as those aimed at younger viewers who have not yet developed a nuanced understanding of the world, its potential to thrill is second to none.
What I'm Listening To: This "1 Hour of Dark Christmas" YouTube video. Look, there's no accounting for taste.
Next Time on Maddd Science: Voyages to the Moon
Header image: “The Grinch's first attempt,” by Daniel Williams.
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