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Reworking material from his first novel, "Hide and Seek" (1973), and folding this into a prismatic blend of autobiographical details, popular music and 1940s film noir, Dennis Potter delivered a drama now regarded as a 20th-century masterwork. Detective novelist Philip Marlow (Michael Gambon) suffers from the crippling disease of psoriatic arthritis. Confined to a hospital bed, Marlow mentally rewrites his early Chandleresque thriller, "The Singing Detective," with himself in the title role, drifting into a surreal 1945 fantasy of spies and criminals, along with vivid memories of a childhood in the Forest of Dean. As past events and 1940s songs surface in his subconscious, Marlow's voyage of self-discovery provides a key to conquering his illness, while his noir-styled hallucinations evoke the Philip Marlowe of Chandler's "Murder, My Sweet" (1944), starring Dick Powell, who later became a "singing detective" on radio's "Richard Diamond, Private Detective" (1949), crooning to ... Written by
Bhob Stewart <email@example.com>
There's no question that the greatest films of the past 25 years have been TV miniseries, from "I Claudius" to "The Decalogue" to "Nicholas Nickleby" to "The Singing Detective." The ability to stretch out over 6 to 10 hours is certainly a key to doing justice to a theme or great work of literature.
"The Singing Detective" is a bold, multileveled BBC series that is made all the more powerful considering that it is based on the author Dennis Potter's losing battle with a skin disease combined with his incredibly rich fantasies, painful memories, and writer's imagination, all rolled into one complex narrative. Over the 6-hour span, his life and personality, as portrayed by the brilliant Michael Gambon as the writer/novel protagonist Philip Marlow (without the "e"), is revealed inventively and poignantly. We sympathize with his wasting disease, admire his clever mind, and see all his hang-ups and "sins" gradually bared to his audience. It is an amazing swan song for a brutally self-honest writer.
Jon Amiel's direction is impeccable, and the whole production is uncompromising regarding sex, nudity, language and emotional pain. The famous musical numbers featuring not only Philip and his father in the past, but projected onto the patients and staff of the hospital ward where the "real" present action takes place, are so integral to the story that they are a perfect reflection of Philip's tenuous grip on reality.
The forthcoming Keith Gordon feature film, no matter how inventive and bizarre it is, must fail artistically and be suspected of dishonoring the essence of the story, Dennis Potter's autobiography. It will probably succeed financially with the casting of Downey and Gibson, but please find the BBC series at your local library and enjoy this masterpiece.
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