DVD Talk
Release List Reviews Shop Newsletter Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray Advertise
Reviews & Columns
Reviews
DVD
TV on DVD
Blu-ray
International DVDs
Theatrical
Adult
Reviews by Studio
Video Games

Features
Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
Interviews
DVD Talk Radio
Feature Articles

Columns
Anime Talk
XCritic.com
DVD Savant
HD Talk
Horror DVDs
Silent DVD

discussion forum
DVD Talk Forum

Resources
DVD Price Search
Customer Service #'s
RCE Info
Links

Columns



DVD SAVANT
Savant PAL Region 2 Guest Reviews:

Karaoke
and
Cold Lazarus

Reviewed by Lee Broughton

In February 1994 the acclaimed British playwright Dennis Potter (The Singing Detective) was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Between then and his death in June of the same year, Potter endeavoured to write two final works: Karaoke and its sequel Cold Lazarus. The BBC and Channel 4 filmed both of these final works as co-productions and the completed shows were screened on both channels in 1996. Many of Potter's plays seemingly include details and scenarios that can be linked to his own personal experiences and these two final works appear to do likewise: both shows are in their own ways extremely moving meditations about the human condition and mortality. They've been a long time coming to DVD but now they're here Karaoke and Cold Lazarus serve to remind us just how much British television misses maverick talents like Potter. These two releases will surely go on to rank highly in any forthcoming "best Region 2 DVD releases of 2010" charts.

Karaoke is a clever and at times slightly surreal mystery-cum-thriller: scriptwriter Daniel Feeld (Albert Finney) is driven to distraction when he suddenly notices that dramatic sequences from his latest script are now being played out within his own day to day reality. The show ends with Feeld taking an interest in cryogenics after carrying out research for a new writing project. Cold Lazarus is a really thoughtful and intelligent Sci Fi show: set roughly four hundred years after the events of Karaoke, Feeld now exists as a cryogenically preserved head that a team of scientists are attempting to extract memories from. Both shows feature quite exquisite casts and director Renny Rye uses a deft hand when bringing these final two Potter works to life.

Karaoke and Cold Lazarus can be bought separately as stand alone two disc sets or together as part of a four disc box set.


Karaoke
Acorn Media UK
1996 / Colour / 1.66:1 anamorphic / 211 m.
Starring Albert Finney, Saffron Burrows, Roy Hudd, Richard E. Grant, Keeley Hawes, Hywel Bennett, Anna Chancellor, Julie Christie, Simon Donald, Liz Smith
Cinematography Ashley Rowe
Production Designer Gary Williamson
Film Editor Clare Douglas
Original Music Christopher Gunning
Written by Dennis Potter
Produced by Kenith Trodd and Rosemarie Whitman
Directed by Renny Rye

Synopsis:

Hard-drinking scriptwriter Daniel Feeld (Albert Finney) is severely stressed out. An ongoing physical discomfort is prompting his doctors to make a progressively more serious series of medical diagnosises. On top of that, he's locked in a bitter battle of wits with an arrogant film director, Nick Balmer (Richard E. Grant). Balmer is making Feeld's latest script, Karaoke, into a film and Feeld is furious about the director's decision to make unauthorized changes to points of emphasis within the show's narrative and its musical cues. Eating out with the film's producer, Anna Griffiths (Anna Chancellor), Feeld is pushed close to the edge when he overhears a young woman, Sandra Sollars (Saffron Burrows), speaking words that match the dialogue spoken by a character from Karaoke. Increasingly obsessed and unstable, Feeld begins to follow Sandra and he is horrified to discover that Sandra's life does indeed closely mirror that of her counterpart in his script. Since the girl in Karaoke suffers a violent end, Feeld fears that the same fate must await Sandra and he becomes determined to intervene somehow. With both his physical and mental health failing, Feeld recklessly enters the seedy and dangerous twilight world that is Sandra Sollars's life.

Karaoke is a really excellent television drama that is best appreciated with as little prior knowledge about its content as possible. Spread over four episodes, this is a leisurely paced affair initially but the time that Potter and director Renny Rye devoted to fully fleshing out the introductory stages of the various interconnected sub-narratives that the show is built around is ultimately appreciated in the end. By the time that said sub-narrative strands finally come together, we're armed with the knowledge needed to fully understand and appreciate the completely unexpected revelations that pour forth during the run up to the show's dramatically compelling, powerful and moving final episode. As the final credits roll, we're left marvelling at Potter's ability to cram so many original and startling twists and turns into what amounts to just four days in the life of Daniel Feeld.

Karaoke is also an impressively multilayered text: in following the activities of Feeld and those who he interacts with, we have to focus on three distinct planes of representation: the show's own diegetic real plane, the fictional plane of the Karaoke film project's content and a disquieting third plane where the gap between reality and fiction becomes momentarily blurred. Linda Langer (Keeley Hawes of Ashes to Ashes) is the model-turned-actress who plays Sandra's corresponding number in the Karaoke film project and she acts as a physical bridge that links the planes of reality and fiction in a tangible way. But when events from the film seemingly start to play out in Feeld's day-to-day life, we're left wondering whether he is suffering from paranoid delusions or simply encountering a bizarre series of extreme coincidences. All is cleverly and satisfactorily revealed and explained come the show's denouement. Potter's signature use of popular songs in decidedly postmodern but interesting and affecting ways acts as a further pleasing point of engagement here too.

When Karaoke's three planes of representation bump against each other or elements and occurrences seemingly cross from one plane to the other, a really effective sense of slippage and disorientation arises. At these key moments a tangible feeling of dread is prompted by the presence of a simple but ominous piano riff on the show's soundtrack. The experience is comparable to that encountered when watching similarly multilayered shows: Karaoke features a few dizzy moments that bring to mind the disorientating set-pieces found in David Cronenberg's eXistenZ and Michel Deville's La Lectrice. In order to set in place the show's key enigmas and intrigues, Potter offers up some necessarily vague and baffling events early on in the proceedings. For example, the first few narrative flips between Feeld's real world experiences and the fictional events taking place within the Karaoke film project occur without us knowing that two distinct worlds are being represented simultaneously. Thankfully the exceptional acting talent assembled here effortlessly manages to keep us interested until things become much clearer. You can't go far wrong with old school talent like Albert Finney and Julie Christie and (then) new school talent like Richard E. Grant and Anna Chancellor on board.

The quality of the show's acting and its richly drawn characters undoubtedly plays a big part in making Karaoke the quite unique viewing experience that it is. The acting on display here is generally excellent but the passion and emotional depth that Albert Finney infuses Feeld with results in him stealing the show. Finney's work here and in other British TV dramas from the 1990s (Cold Lazarus, The Green Man and A Rather English Marriage) would secure his status as a national treasure. Feeld is a brash and cynical but wholly sympathetic working class Brit who has managed to make a success of his life. He enjoys pouring scorn on born-privileged blue bloods like Balmer and his wife (Julie Christie) but when he encounters Sandra Sollars he is reminded that the social mobility that he has enjoyed is not the norm and he's visibly moved by Sandra and her broken mother's (Alison Steadman of Abigail's Party) plight. As is often the case with Potter's lead characters, it would seem that a certain amount of Potter's own biography and personal experiences found their way into the character of Daniel Feeld.

The show's representations of its working class characters are almost worked to the point of caricature. All seemingly connected -- in one way or another -- to a seedy criminal underworld, most of these characters are portrayed in an almost Dickensian way. Hywel Bennett (Endless Night) plays the show's slimy and devious criminal antagonist, Arthur 'Pig' Mailion, like he's a cross between Oliver Twist's Bill Sikes and David Copperfield's Uriah Heep. Professor Henry Higgins would have undoubtedly passed Eliza Doolittle over in favour of the more challenging Sandra Sollars if their paths had ever crossed. Funny man Roy Hudd offers a gentle and slightly humorous point of contrast as Feeld's genuinely caring agent, Ben Baglin. The somewhat nervy Baglin employs spoonerisms when talking and he is often heard muttering phrases like "hucking fell". Baglin's mischievous mother (Liz Smith of The Royle Family and Sir Henry at Rawlinson End) is a decidedly eccentric old dear. All in all Karaoke is a highly original and unpredictable show that succeeds in its efforts to emotionally involve its audience.


Presented in an anamorphic encoding that has an aspect ratio that appears to be slightly wider than 1.66:1 at times, Karaoke looks pretty good. The show's picture and sound quality are both fine.


Cold Lazarus
Acorn Media UK
1996 / Colour / 1.66:1 flat / 222 m.
Starring Albert Finney, Frances de la Tour, Ciaran Hinds, Henry Goodman, Diane Ladd, Grant Masters, Ganiat Kasumu, Carmen Ejogo, Claudia Malkovich, Joe Roberts
Cinematography Remi Adefarasin and Ashley Rowe
Production Designers Christopher Hobbs and Gary Williamson
Film Editor Clare Douglas
Original Music Christopher Gunning
Written by Dennis Potter
Produced by Kenith Trodd and Rosemarie Whitman
Directed by Renny Rye

Synopsis:

In the year 2368, Professor Emma Porlock (Frances de la Tour) and her research team -- Fyodor Glazunov (Ciaran Hinds), Tony (Grant Masters), Luanda (Ganiat Kasumu), Blinda (Carmen Ejogo) and Kaya (Claudia Malkovich) -- are attempting to extract memories from the cryogenically preserved head of Daniel Feeld (Albert Finney). The team's disinterested sponsor, Martina Masdon (Diane Ladd), is the owner of an American pharmaceuticals corporation and, unaware of the scientists' growing success in projecting video reproductions of fragments of Feeld's memory onto a giant living video screen, she is petulantly tempted to cut off their funding. When Masdon's associate, the media mogul David Siltz (Henry Goodman), inadvertently discovers what Porlock's team are doing he becomes determined to get the scientists to defect to his corporation: he figures broadcasting Feeld's memories on his TV channels and virtual reality networks will be a big money-maker. Siltz travels to what remains of the UK in order to put his duplicitous plans into effect but he's in for a rough ride. Firstly, violent insurgents known as the RONs (they demand Reality or Nothing) are causing havoc on the streets. Secondly, when Porlock and her team suddenly get the impression that Feeld might somehow be aware of what they are doing to him, they begin to question the moral and ethical aspects of their work.

Cold Lazarus's most original narrative conceit -- Daniel Feeld's cryogenically preserved head being experimented on in a future time -- once again allows Potter to set up two distinct planes of representation within a single show. Representations of fragments of Feeld's memories take us back to the twentieth century and allow us to learn more about the events that shaped his life. We see episodes from his working class childhood, his first meeting with the love of his life, his success at university, etc. We also see bits and pieces from the four days that made up Karaoke's narrative and some events that occurred after Karaoke's narrative ended. At some points, Porlock's team manages to uncover memories that Feeld had buried deep inside his subconscious mind and these memories are deeply traumatic, tragic and upsetting. Albert Finney turns in another really quite superb and thoroughly sympathetic performance here. The more we learn about Feeld's past, the more we understand about his actions and attitude in Karaoke and, as a consequence, our affection for the character just keeps on growing.

But that's only half of this show's quite unique story. Cold Lazarus is also an excellent Sci Fi show and Potter's second plane of representation here is a bleak looking future world. In the year 2368 the UK is a bombed out wreck that hasn't existed as an independent political entity for over two hundred years. Those British citizens who possess a marketable skill or talent work for the American business corporations that control the planet. The rest of the atomized populace lose themselves any way they can: Masdon's corporation supplies mind altering pharmaceuticals while Siltz's corporation supplies crass TV shows and virtual reality experiences. Inter-corporation rivalry and hi-tech industrial espionage is rife (check out the Snoop Kestrel and Snoop Blackbird devices) and each corporation has its own armed militia that seemingly carry almost as much power and authority as the British police.

Potter resorts to using caricature-like types when presenting his capitalist figureheads here: Masdon and Siltz are both thoroughly vile creatures. Foul-mouthed, hedonistic, spiteful, avaricious, morally deficient and completely uncaring doesn't begin to describe these two quite despicable antagonists. Diane Ladd supplies a completely appropriate scenery-chewing performance that brings to mind her turn in Wild at Heart. Henry Goodman plays Siltz as if he's a Goodfellas-like gangster who has risen to the top of the media world. The insurgent RONs are determined to bring these capitalists down in order to force the British people to wake up and start thinking for themselves again. Consequently, anybody suspected of being a RON is liable to be subjected to psychological torture methods that are akin to those found in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Porlock's team -- and Daniel Feeld's head -- find themselves caught somewhere in the middle of this titanic struggle. Christopher Gunning's beautiful music -- performed by the London Symphony Orchestra -- underscores the show's dramatic set pieces perfectly.

In terms of production design and special effects, British television's forays into Sci Fi have traditionally been overshadowed by bigger-budgeted US shows. With Cold Lazarus, the BBC and Channel 4 really did Potter proud. Good miniatures and model work are used to represent the mushroom-shaped buildings that Masdon's scientists and other employees work in and effective CGI work is used to represent the sleeker, taller and more futuristic -- but still somewhat mushroom-shaped -- buildings that Siltz and his wealthy associates occupy while visiting the UK. The show's costume designs are pretty good too: the British police force's seemingly samurai outfit-influenced uniforms look really good. The giant living video screen that Feeld's memories are projected onto works a treat too. Porlock's team's research lab and its attendant scientific equipment -- including the device that houses Feeld's head -- all look the part, as do the hover pods that the scientists travel in when moving between home and work and the armoured assault vehicles that are used by the British police.

Unfolding over four episodes, Cold Lazarus has much in common with Karaoke at a textual level. It's a well-cast and well-acted show: in addition to the star turns by Finney, Ladd and Goodman there is good work from the rest of the show's players too. Frances de la Tour is perhaps still best known for her long-running role as the demure Miss Jones in the superior Brit situation comedy Rising Damp, so it's great to have her flexing her acting talents in a more serious show here. Strong-willed and blunt-talking, de la Tour's Emma Porlock isn't afraid to stand her ground when negotiating with Masdon and Siltz. Ciaran Hinds also makes a strong impression as Porlock's brooding deputy, the mysterious Fyodor Glazunov. The rest of Porlock's multi-cultural team are played by less well-known faces but they all acquit themselves well. As with Karaoke, Potter and director Renny Rye take their time setting up the show's characters and the grand machinations that will envelop them. As such, there are some necessarily vague and leisurely paced sequences present during Cold Lazarus's early stages. But fear not, the show's intriguing narrative soon finds itself hurtling towards an exciting and explosive denouement that is just as compelling as -- and even more moving and emotionally involving than -- Karaoke's touching finale.


Cold Lazarus is presented flat with an aspect ratio of roughly 1.66:1. For a flat encoding, this is a pretty good presentation: picture and sound quality are both fine.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Karaoke rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Very Good / Excellent -
Sound: Excellent -
Supplements: Dennis Potter biography, a list of works (print, television and film) by Dennis Potter and cast filmographies.

Cold Lazarus rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Very Good / Excellent -
Sound: Excellent -
Supplements: Dennis Potter biography, a list of works (print, television and film) by Dennis Potter and cast filmographies.

Packaging: Box set
Reviewed: September 12, 2010



Text © Copyright 2010 Lee Broughton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2010 Glenn Erickson

See more exclusive reviews on the Savant Main Page.
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are often updated and annotated with reader input and graphics.
Also, don't forget the 2010 Savant Wish List.
T'was Ever Thus.

Return to Top of Page

Advertise With Us

Review Staff | About DVD Talk | Newsletter Subscribe | Join DVD Talk Forum
Copyright © DVDTalk.com All rights reserved | Privacy Policy

Subscribe to DVDTalk's Newsletters

Email Address

DVD Talk Newsletter (Sample)
DVD Savant Newsletter (Sample)

Release List Reviews Shop Newsletter Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray Advertise