Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

The Singing Detective

Posted by shannonclark on October 7, 2003

or why I really love pulp noir surrealism, but know I’m probably a minority

Tonight I saw the screening of “The Singing Detective” at the Chicago International Film Festival. The screening was sold out, but Julia and I went hoping to get tickets and lucked out by finding someone with an extra pair (thanks to the help of the staff of the film festival who kindly pointed the man out at the front of the line who had the extra pair). Tickets in hand, we proceeded to wait an hour in line for the film. Did I mention that both Robert Downey Jr. (the star of the film) and Keith Gordon the director were on hand and that before tonights screening was an interview by Richard Roeper with Robert Downey Jr., and a presentation of an award from the Film Festival to him?

I personally cannot recommend this film highly enough – I loved it.

But, I should make it clear, it is a Pulp Noir, Surrealist, Musical, Tragedy – so may not be the cup of tea for many people. Reading some reviews after seeing the film I see that critics are divided, some hating the film, many loving it, few (at least whom I have read as of yet) recognizing the Surrealist elements to the film.

Personally I thought it was pretty obvious, there were entire scenes that appeared almost lifted from “Waiting for Godot” (En Attendant pour Godot). Of course, I am a huge fan of that play and have read it in both French and English many times (one of the few, “Le Petite Prince” and Rinoceros being the others). For me, what is appealing about the film is the very interesting, visually compelling, and intellectually interesting ways in which it plays with perspective, point of view, actors, the screen, and movies and writing – all while rapped around some of my favorite framing devices, the pulp noir detective story.

The visuals are quite amazing in my opinion, sometimes graphic but also full of reoccuring importance and echoes from scene to scene. If I have any complaint about the film it is that at times it was a tad too transparent, not living up to one of the great lines of the film “I want to write stories full of clues instead of stories full of solutions” (I’m probably paraphrasing but you get the picture, the quote is in the context of writing).

While clearly Robert Downey Jr.’s performance will be the one that most people will rightfully comment on (it is quite amazing as most of his tend to be) I think that Mel Gibson’s performance is perhaps the biggest surprise for me – unlike most of the films I have seen with him in them here he plays a role into which he has both immersed himself and disguised his famous features. I truly enjoyed his performance (and unlike one critic who thought it was hard to shake the fact that it was “Mel Gibson in a bald cap”, I thought he lost himself in the role very well indeed.

This is a long film that is well worth seeking out, one I am very happy to have seen!

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