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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction


The Passion of Dennis Potter

edited by
Vernon W. Gras and John R. Cook

general information | our review | links | about the editors

To purchase The Passion of Dennis Potter

Title: The Passion of Dennis Potter
Author: various
Genre: Essays
Written: (2000)
Length: 251 pages
Availability: The Passion of Dennis Potter
The Passion of Dennis Potter - UK
  • International Collected Essays
  • Includes a Chronology, a Selected Bibliography, and an interview with Dennis Potter, conducted by John Cook in 1990.
  • Collects 15 international essays on Potter.

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Our Assessment:

B : useful survey of Potter's works, addressing various aspects of it

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Dennis Potter was perhaps England's most famous writer for television, and several of his works are landmarks of the genre (and enjoyed huge popularity when first shown in England and America). It is perhaps in the nature of the genre that it is hard to remain in the public eye. Few of Potter's made-for-TV plays are rebroadcast. Only The Singing Detective (see our review) seems to have made the transition to video well. Some of the scripts have been adapted for the stage and are occasionally performed -- notably Blue Remembered Hills (see our review) -- but other than the movies (Gorky Park, Dreamchild, the Hollywood Pennies from Heaven, and Track 29) few of Potter's works are accessible to a larger audience any longer. Some of the Faber & Faber filmscripts are available, and occasionally one might stumble over one of his novels, but it is not that easy to find the work of this remarkable man whose most recent successes came only a few years ago (Karaoke (see our review) and Cold Lazarus (see our review) were both first broadcast in 1996).
       (Long-time Potter associate Kenith Trodd addresses this issue in his short remembrance included in this volume, speaking of the "leanish pickings" of Potter that are currently available, delicately acknowledging that at least some of the blame lies with the literary estate: "not particularly user-friendly, administered by a still-grieving daughter, an agent/confidante and a long-serving accountant".)
       Since Potter's death in 1994 there has, however, been continued popular -- and considerable academic -- interest in Potter and his work. John Cook, one of the editors of this volume, expanded his dissertation into Dennis Potter: A Life on Screen (1995, rev. 1998), and two fat biographies quickly appeared (W.S.Gilbert's Fight & Kick & Bite: The Life and Work of Dennis Potter and Humphrey Carpenter's Dennis Potter (see our review)). It is a telling feature of the modern world that two biographies of the man are readily available (and apparently sell quite well) while his work itself -- his art and accomplishment -- is almost impossible to find.
       This volume of "International Collected Essays" brings together fifteen essays on Potter and his work, a useful broad survey that can serve as a good introduction to the author. A chronology, bibliography, and an interview John Cook had with Dennis Potter all add to the value of the book.
       The pieces are a varied lot, and the editors have found a fairly nice balance. Several pieces are fairly comprehensive, covering much of his life and work -- though from a variety of perspectives. From Peter Stead's brief overview in The Public and the Private in Dennis Potter to John Cook's contribution (on the lost lands of childhood in Potter's work), and Kenith Trodd's summing-up, several of the pieces broadly consider Potter's work. Interesting, too, are those that focus on other aspects of Potter, notably Philip Purser's examination of Potter as television critic.
       Several pieces are more closely analyzed. Rick Wallach examines Lipstick on your Collar (one of Potter's last works, but one that has received far less attention than the other major works of the 1980s and 90s). Chris Lippard usefully turns to some of Potter's early works, including Traitor, Casanova, and Brimstone and Treacle, using them to discuss "memory, paralysis and the self". Heinz Antor considers "Dennis Potter's new humanist postmodernism in Sufficient Carbohydrate", and Gwendolyn Connelly examines Potter's novel, Blackeyes.
       Several essays look at the use of music, again from a variety of perspectives, and The Singing Detective and Pennies from Heaven (the television version) are the most-discussed works.
       These are useful introductory texts, though given Potter's huge output they only scratch the surface of presenting a rounded picture of both the man and his work. Sadly, so little of his work is accessible that one of the most useful aspects of the collection is as a reminder of numerous significant works that are almost forgotten and practically impossible to find. Still, much of his work finds little or no mention here -- there is only a brief discussion of Mesmer, passing mentions of the novels, and many of the TV plays are not mentioned at all. Perhaps the greatest weakness of the collection is the failure to have any piece devoted to the (film) screenplays (or even a consideration of these in some other context). The much-discussed Karaoke and Cold Lazarus also are not covered in depth, though as they are still fairly fresh in minds (and were, indeed, much discussed only a few years ago) this is an acceptable omission.
       Overall, the collection is certainly useful. A variety of aspects of Potter's life and work are covered, some familiar, some less obvious. Questions of class and religion, "Dennis Potter and the culture of advertising" (Eckart Voigts-Virchow), Potter's illness, the use of biography in art, the use of music, popular culture, and much more are addressed in these essays.
       Access to Potter's work itself would be preferable, but in the alternative (or, for those lucky souls who have access to video and print versions of Potter's work, supplementary) to this this volume is certainly of considerable value.

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The Passion of Dennis Potter: Dennis Potter: Books by Dennis Potter under review: Other books about Dennis Potter under review:

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About the Editors:

       Vernon W. Gras is Professor at George Mason University in Virginia.

       John R. Cook is a Lecturer at De Montfort University in Leicester and author of Dennis Potter: A Life on Screen.

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© 2000-2018 the complete review

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