So, I’ve been reading two books recently, Oliver Twist and Richard Ford’s new novel Canada (I seem to have a thing about children who are forced to parent themselves), but as I’m still in the middle of both I don’t have much to say. Actually I have loads to say, but you’d probably prefer a more informed opinion so I’ll hold off.
That said, I wanted to write today about screenwriting and, in particular, a British mini-series I’ve been watching, The Singing Detective written by the incredible Dennis Potter. I won’t do it justice by trying to explain it, but suffice to say that it’s about a writer of detective novels (Philip E. Marlow!) who is suffering from psoriatic arthritis. Ok, so far, so good. But he’s also looking back on his life and reworking one of his earlier mysteries and the result is his past, his present and his work all conflated into an amazing bit of television. It’s theatrical, funny and devastating. It plays off a number of different genres – noire, musicals, sitcoms, romances, and even more that I’m sure I’m missing.
Of course much of it is reliant on the visual and aural mediums that aren’t possible in a novel, but it certainly has a metafiction feel about it, particularly as it gets deeper into the story. One of the characters is reading the original mystery written by Marlow and when he’s asked what it’s about he blithely responds “I don’t know. I haven’t finished it yet.” How’s that for art imitating life? The characters from the mystery seem to appear in the author’s real life (or is it his real life?) and at times Marlowe seems to be writing his present. I’m not one for the idea of writing as therapy which I suppose some might see this as, but I can very much identify with the show’s themes of us as the authors’ of our own lives. Come to think of it, this is another story in which a character has to parent himself in a frightening and unfamiliar world.
I highly recommend it. It takes some patience and a good deal of time (it’s seven hours long), but its rewards are well worth it.