The Singing Detective (1986)- needs to learn how to lip-sync

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The Singing Detective (1986)- needs to learn how to lip-sync

Post by Thunder » Thu Mar 15, 2012 8:31 pm

On Netflix, this movie is described as a “gripping murder mystery and lavish musical” all rolled into one, winning a number of awards and generally receiving high viewer reviews. Being a person who likes both gripping murder mysteries and lavish musicals, I was wondering how a movie that garnered such high praise would handle mixing two completely different genres. Unfortunately, it seems the description is for another movie, as this is neither a gripping murder mystery nor a lavish musical. It is a movie about a miserable human being, afflicted with a terrible skin disorder, laying in a hospital bed, who is having a mixture of delusions, recollections, and observations in what can only be described as a cacophony of film clips randomly spliced together for the enjoyment of the supposedly most intellectual and artistic members of our species. In short, it is a horribly disjointed & boring film for the rest of us.

This is a 6 episode mini-series spanning 2 DVD disks and clocking in somewhere past the 6 hour mark. Unfortunately for myself, in the hopes that the first episode was merely a mistake and that this mini-series did in fact deserve its praise, I watched both. The first episode introduces our main character, played by Michael Gambon (who is in fact a fabulous actor): a writer named Phillip Marlow (without an “e”) suffering with what looks like burns over his whole body, which I later surmised (at 51 minutes in) to be a type of autoimmune disease resulting in extreme psoriasis and arthritis, although I am not sure a diagnosis is ever pronounced. Gambon’s portrayal of a person in physical & emotional agony is quite gripping & decidedly brief. Most of the episode is a jumble of cuts between Marlow’s hospital stay, his delusions, hallucinations, and the new detective story he is trying to create. It is very disjointed and this may have been purposeful on the director’s part in order to show the disorder of the character’s mind. I can understand using such a technique in a limited extent, but this film doesn’t limit itself. It takes a great director to visualize such chaos while still giving the sane viewer a thread to follow. Unfortunately, this film didn't have a great director at the helm. After 30 minutes, this film was tedious. After an hour, I realized I had watched the same exact scene for the fifth time with no additional information or purpose other than to demonstrate that Marlow was pondering his story again and seemed unable to move past this point. It was then that I realized the entire episode was a rehash of about 12 minutes worth of film.

The second episode wasn’t much better and by hour 2 I found myself deciding to fast forward through the parts I had already seen (of which there were many). The third episode added another facet by introducing a small boy, who is supposed to be Marlow when he was young. We’re not given anything to start us off, just this kid sitting in a tree staring at the camera. We learn a bit more about Marlow’s childhood and since they are through his eyes, it’s all disjointed, random, and repetitive.

In popped disk 2. Long ago I had given up on the “lavish musical” and the “detective story” and disk 2 didn't disappoint in this regard. The movie did seem to focus a little more on Marlow, and this was a welcome change. There were fewer abrupt changes and more cohesion to the story. Marlow is improving with new treatments and his detective story progresses a little bit past the point where the body is being removed from the water, but not much. Reality and his story start to merge in random hallucinations, actors who play characters in the detective story play characters in real life. To make it a bit more confusing, sometimes Marlow simply hallucinates these characters into real life.

After watching both disks I’m left with the question I most often ask of highly praised, edgy films: what is the point?! Of all the mysteries in the universe that we can explore, what is the point of such a disjointed, ambiguous, presumptive film? I understand that there is no order in madness, but (presuming this was purposeful) why emulate it? I’m left with absolutely nothing but a hollow feeling inside, wondering why a talent like Michael Gambon was wasted on this drivel. The over arcing story line seems to be about Marlow, his disease, his past, and why he is so embittered and angry. When we meet him he is an ugly human being. When a passage is read from his book, we see an even uglier man. Presuming that people aren’t born this way, how he got to this point is something that would be interesting to explore and instead we are treated to a silly farce masked as art.

The musical aspect of this film was nothing more than random song and dance numbers, all lip-synced. For what purpose are they in the film? Were they supposed to be funny, disturbing, frightening? What is the purpose of the detective story? It didn’t add anything to Marlow’s story, except maybe to show that writers don’t draw inspiration from real life, but instead simply use the faces they see to sketch their characters. All the characters we meet, real and imagined, are cardboard cut-outs and, with the exception of one maybe two, are very nearly as nasty, mean, cruel, and selfish as Marlow.

After over 6 hours of film, the only thing of which I am certain is that, for me, this was a colossal waste of time. I was hoping for something that would stay with me, give me some thoughts to ponder, points to discuss, or provide me with some pleasant entertainment. The only memorable thing about this film is how utterly vacuous and unpleasant it is. Don’t be fooled by the “musical” or “detective” descriptive terms attached to this film. It is about one unpleasant man and his psyche. For those who love films that explore madness from a first person perspective, then this is a film you will probably enjoy.

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