Wednesday, 20 June 2012
Potter's Potted Pasts
Dennis Potter was a film & television writer/director of some distinction, a proper auteur with a stinging intellect and much bravado. Singing Detective freaked me out as a child but I kept watching, mainly due to Potter's fondness for sex and gratuitous nudity but it's the television interview he did shortly before his death that I remember more than anything else (watch here) so I've decided to entertain myself with some of his oeurve. First up is Dreamchild a strange retelling/biopic of the adventures of Lewis Carroll's Alice peppered throughout with creatures from Jim Henson's Studio. An elderly Alice, on her first visit to the States to receive an honorary degree, recounts her childhood with the awkward, stammering author and with fact and fallacy tripping over one another she tries to reconcile those experiences and face up to her current situation. Dodgson is nicely played by Ian Holm and the ambiguity about his affections for the young girl are sensitively handled in Potter's script. As it progresses this seemingly slight period piece reveals a maturity and darkness to it's ruminations of memory and the telling of tall tales.
The colourful and fascinating life of Franz Anton Mesmer, the famed animal magnitiser/proto-hypnotist/deluded mystic (take your pick) is the focus of another of Dennis' scripts, the imaginatively titled Mesmer. If you're unaware his career for ailing the sick took off from the upper class salons of Paris in the late 18th C and against the prevailing wisdom of blood letting his theories and practises as well as other medical dingbattery swept across Europe. Now is not the time for debating what was actually going on with Mesmerism but there's little doubt that he did assist some of his early patients and Potter manages to nicely reflect the contradictory aspects of this showman/caregiver/fantasist/letch instead of taking the easy route and just piling on the scorn. Rickman clearly enjoyed his flavoursome role in this modest, occasionally amusing little biopic it's just a shame the sound production is a bit dodgy and ultimately they wasted too much time on the early part of his career.