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the Complete Review
the complete review - television


Cold Lazarus

Dennis Potter

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To purchase Cold Lazarus

Title: Cold Lazarus
Author: Dennis Potter
Genre: TV script
Written: 1994
Length: 198 pages
Availability: Karaoke and Cold Lazarus - US
Karaoke and Cold Lazarus - UK
Karaoke and Cold Lazarus - Canada
  • Published in one volume with Karaoke
  • First broadcast by Channel Four (26 May-16 June, 1996), in a production directed by Renny Rye and starring Albert Finney, Diane Ladd, Frances de la Tour, and Grant Masters

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Our Assessment:

B : good ideas, and some effective scenes, but not entirely successful

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Mail . 3/6/1996 Nigel Andrew
Daily Telegraph . 1/6/1996 Stephen Pile
Daily Telegraph . 3/6/1996 Sean Day-Lewis
Financial Times . 25/6/1996 Chris Dunkley
The Guardian B- 15/4/1996 Mark Lawson
The Independent . 24/5/1996 W. Stephen Gilbert
The LA Times A 7/8/1996 Howard Rosenberg
New Statesman A+ 3/5/1996 Fay Weldon
The NY Times . 20/6/1996 John J. O'Connor
The NY Times . 30/5/1997 Caryn James
The Observer . 26/6/1996 Allison Pearson
Sunday Telegraph . 2/6/1996 Tom Lubbock
The Washington Post . 2/6/1997 Tom Shales
  Please note that most of these reviews refer to the television broadcasts, and not the actual script itself.

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus whatsoever, though most (but not all) think it is worse than Karaoke.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Cold Lazarus is a bewildering mess." - Nigel Andrew, Daily Mail

  • "(A) work of extraordinary breadth, assurance, intricacy and entertainment." - Chris Dunkley, Financial Times

  • "Because of the scale of their production, the final Potters demand to be considered without sentiment. Regrettably -- on paper, anyway -- they confirm the melancholy pattern of most artistic careers, which, represented as a graph, will almost always display a pyramid shape, in which talent accrues and then reduces." - Mark Lawson, The Guardian

  • "(A) wandering, misshapen, strangely innocent (or perhaps faux naif) script." - W. Stephen Gilbert, The Independent

  • "Karaoke and Cold Lazarus (...) both are striking enough to easily hold your interest, with Potter stripping back his layers of enigma in time to reward inquiring minds, although some may still be inquiring as the final credits roll." - Howard Rosenberg, The Los Angeles Times

  • "I watched four Potter Karaokes and Cold Lazaruses, at one sitting, and was, let me declare myself at once, absorbed, moved and exhilarated by the experience. Glued, as they say (or used to say when such things were more common), to the set. Writers' television once again." - Fay Weldon, New Statesman

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Cold Lazarus is the companion piece to Karaoke (see our review), and the last work Dennis Potter wrote as he struggled against his fatal illness. While Karaoke can stand on its own, Cold Lazarus is best understood as a companion piece or sequel to it. Donald Feeld, the writer from Karaoke (and, in many respects, Dennis Potter's alter ego), hints at his own final project in Karaoke, one in which he wishes to combine virtual reality and cryogenics. That, then, is what Potter did here.
       Cold Lazarus is set in the year 2368. A group of scientists at a cryogenic laboratory have come close to being able to revive the memories of a preserved brain, projecting it in fits and spurts on a huge screen at the lab. The brain -- the mind that they are mining -- is, of course, none other than that of Donald Feeld, and therefore many of the memories are actually scenes from Karaoke.
       All is not well in the 24th century. To get the mind to reveal its secrets is an expensive proposition, and the ultra-rich Martina Masdon for whom the scientists work isn't pleased with how her money is being wasted. A friend of Masdon's, multimedia mogul (president of Uniplanet Total Entertainment) David Siltz, sees a great opportunity here: he sees the memories as marvelous reality-TV (and VR -- virtual reality, now available via big headsets), and he tries to get the scientists to work for him (a betrayal Masdon would never permit). There is also a subversive anti-technological group, RON (Reality or Nothing) that sabotages the technologically-dominated world of that time.
       In Potter's dystopia technology, especially media, dominates all. Virtual Reality helmets and TV are the great escape, while cigarettes and similar substances are outlawed. Society seems little changed, and the caricatures of the wealthy Masdon and the entertainment-mogul Siltz are merely more exaggerated and more powerful versions of stock contemporary figures.
       The scientists, led by Emma Porlock, are fascinated by their discovery, but also wary of it. They come to realize that meddling with this mind and decidedly not letting it rest in peace may not be the right thing to do. "We are his torturers," they come to understand. The memories they see are a varied lot, including scenes from football matches, Feeld's final days, as well as a horrific sexual assault perpetrated on the young Feeld.
       Some of the scientists sympathize (passively and actively) with RON, and there are dangers both in everyday life as well as this particular experiment that begins to attract too much attention.
       Tempted to sell out to Siltz, they also have qualms. But, as Siltz reminds them: "your defrosted lump of gristle is going to be plugged into everybody's TV and VR helmet, no matter what !"
       Potter tells a decent story, but much of it is too simplistic. Evil is presented in unbelievable caricature, and the 24th century resembles a 1950s vision of it (looking even worse in the TV version). There are some good points, and some genuine drama, but it is also a somewhat messy script. It is a good enough read, but not Potter in top form. The highpoints are the interplay between Feeld and the scientists -- Potter gets some of this just right -- but much of the rest is over the top and undermines what Potter tried to accomplish.

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Cold Lazarus: Reviews: Cold Lazarus: Dennis Potter: Other books by Dennis Potter under review: Books about Dennis Potter under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       English author Dennis Potter (1935-1994) is best known for his television scripts Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective.

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