Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Singing Detective (1986)

Directed by Jon Amiel. Starring Michael Gambon, Janet Suzman, and Patrick Malahide.

This is the second television miniseries to be selected for this list, but it's so riveting and cinematic that I believe it to be worthy of inclusion. Gambon (in one of the greatest performances I've seen) stars as Philip Marlow, a former writer of detective fiction who is now lying in a hospital with acute psoriasis and arthritis. While his body is in pain, his mind is in a frenzy, sorting through his memories of the past, hallucinated musical numbers, a new mystery he's trying to sort out, and occasional visits to real life. Amiel directed, but the creative center of the project was the late Dennis Potter, who combined his pop-cultural obsessions with his own struggle with the disease that afflicts his protagonist. THE SINGING DETECTIVE is bleak and sometimes brutal, but also strangely life-affirming, as Marlow discovers that he can't be cured unless he wants to be. Television so often shows forgettable and trashy programming, but a transcendent work like this one ennobles the medium.

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