When it comes to analyzable scenes, it really is hard to beat The Singing Detective. In this scene from episode one Skin (link goes to recap)Mark is finding it uncomfortably hot in Skinskapes, the disreputable club which seems to be hotbed of prostitution, spying, and general chicanery.
Brief bit of back story first: The noir sections (which feature Mark Binney, Amanda and Sonia) in The Singing Detective are created in hospitalized writer’s Philip Marlow’s (Michael Gambon) head. He suffers from crippling psoriasis and one of the symptoms is an intense increase in temperature.
RF: Hmmm, makes perfect sense that when one’s hallucinating, one would create a character like Mark Binney in one’s head. And even in his hallucinations, there’s some self-referencing; the name “Skinskapes” is yet another nod back to Marlow’s severe illness.
Amanda: You find it alright?
Binney: [after a pause] Uh…yes, yes, I found it alright. [mops self with hankie]
Amanda: What’s up, sugar?
Binney: It’s, uh, hot in here. Baking. I feel as if I’m burning up.
Admin: The pause is because he has just found his associate dead in what appears to be a broom closet. He had told the delightful Amanda (Charon Bourke) he was off to find the Gents’ room. Not quite true. Amanda detects there is something amiss, though it isn’t exactly perception on her part as he is sweating up a storm.
RF: I also noticed that Binney took care to “accidentally” wander into the ladies’ changing room on his way to find the Gents (which wasn’t really to find the Gents). The ladies didn’t seem too put out when he walked in, but he didn’t stay. Also note Binney’s posture and demeanour as he sits back down at the table: he’s a bit stooped and seems to be moving slowly, almost on autopilot. He’s plainly very distracted by both his sudden fever and his discovery, but going through the motions anyway.
Admin: Of course, finding the corpse of an associate should be enough to make anyone sweat, but what is interesting here is that Mark Binney appears to be confused as to why he is sweating.
RF: Binney has also been playing it cool up to this point, but finding his associate dead (I particularly loved it when he (the busker) sarcastically played “Deutschland Über Alles” when Binney first appeared) seems to have seriously rattled him. However, you’re right that there are lots of other factors we’re about to discover. Binney’s words about “burning up” are a direct carry-over from what Marlow’s experiencing.
Amanda: You’re dripping. (runs finger over his face and licks the sweat of it) It shows a passionate nature, sugar.
Binney: And what about you? You seem very cool to me?
Amanda: Oooh…only when I’m upright.
Admin: Ewwww! I actually find that a bit gross where she licks his sweat off her finger. I like the way he looks briefly annoyed at having his face touched that way, but he recovers nicely with the “very cool” comment. Though I wonder if he is feeling a bit paranoid that she might be in on it all. Whatever it all is. However, clever (?) Amanda quickly drags the conversation right back into the gutter where it belongs.
RF: Yeah, Amanda’s whole sweat-tasting thing was really oogy, although I suppose it was meant to be. Binney does look annoyed at the unwanted touching, almost flinching away, which is interesting when you consider why he’s supposedly at Skinskapes (besides to meet his now-deceased contact) in the first place. You’d think if he really had a “passionate nature” that he wouldn’t mind. He does seem to be nonchalantly trying to carry on the sort of conversation he’s expected to have, despite finding the corpse and being somewhat distracted. Amanda, however, seems to have a lot of practice at all of this with comeback lines at the ready, no matter how he reacts.
Admin: Those big red nails somehow manage to make it oogier, but I’m not sure why. It is also very disconcerting how Binney is filmed from such an extreme lopsided angle. It gives the scene a dizzying effect.
RF: Very true that the angles are cockeyed and askew. Maybe emphasizing Binney’s (and therefore Marlow’s) fevered state, or Binney’s discomfort with the situation.
[Sonia (Kate McKenzie) appears with more champagne.]
Binney: Oh not another bottle?
Amanda: You have to keep coughing up in here if you want my company. Sorry, toots, in’t I worth it? No need to drink it though.
Binney: What? At £2/10 a bottle?
Amanda: Mark. It is Mark, isn’t it?
Binney: As in the second gospel.
Amanda: What do you mean?
Binney: Never mind.
Admin: Skinskapes knows how to fleece them. 🙂 I like how Amanda is being terribly honest. It is also funny when she tells him he doesn’t have to drink it, probably because they would like to keep it. And he is so charming with the “second gospel” comment. I think he’s used that line before. Amanda doesn’t seem too up on her biblical references, and Binney isn’t at all surprised.
RF: Well, if they don’t drink it, presumably they can also just re-sell the bottle to the next fleecing customer. Very economical; Arthur Daley would approve. I like Binney’s brusque “Never mind” when Amanda doesn’t get his little joke about his name. It was an abortive attempt at flirting that he decided to drop; plainly he knows the types he’s dealing with here and that it’s not worth the effort – as also shown by his complete lack of surprise at having to get out his wallet so often.
Amanda: Mark, this is my friend Sonia.
Sonia: [with a strong Russian accent] Hello.
Amanda: Sonia likes a tip, Mark.
[Binney hands Sonia the tip as a suspicious looking pair of men wearing trench-coats watch.]
Admin: Sonia’s Russian accent seems to stun Binney because he just doesn’t know what to say. He looks very uncomfortable. Amanda’s further demands of tips actually seem to be a relief to him. He doesn’t notice the two nosy parkers in the background, but maybe he should!
RF: We find out later that Binney’s a little more familiar with Russians and Russian accents than he lets on; I thought his discomfort might be because he’s wondering if Sonia’s presence has anything to do with his contact’s murder. He does seem relieved when it turns out Sonia’s only waiting for a tip; hopefully he brought a lot of money with him, because it looks as if he’s going to get clipped every few minutes. I also like the introduction of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (not their real names, but that’s how I thought of them) because they seem to be everywhere at once, looking very suspicious even though they haven’t done anything yet.
Admin: They continue using angles by exaggerating the way Sonia has to look down as Mark looks up. The effect gives her a somewhat intimidating look. Plus, her serious and statuesque appearance makes her seem completely out-of-place in the cute sailor costume (complete with her name written helpfully on her hat).
Sonia: Thank you. (leaves)
Binney: Well…let’s hope I get something back for it.
Amanda: That all depends, don’t it, sugar.
Binney: On what?
Amanda: On what you mean.
Admin: Binney seems antagonistic with his “well…let’s hope” comment. Amanda’s lines are perfect because we as viewers aren’t really sure what Binney means either. Considering the venue, he should be talking about something sexual, but his enigmatically hostile and confused expressions suggest something else entirely. But what that something else might be, we’re not really sure of other than they may have something to do with secretive and dangerous post-WWII activities.
RF: He does seem a little more antagonistic; obviously he’s not going to just sit and pay for drinks and tips forever. Evidently Binney expects more than just the privilege of paying for Amanda’s drinks (that she’s not drinking), but everything else is left nicely euphemistically ambiguous (try saying that three times fast) as they tap-dance around the negotiations. However, Binney seems the worldly sort and nothing of this should really be a surprise to him; he definitely has a resigned and slightly annoyed expression as he takes out his wallet yet again.
[They move in to kiss, but Binney pulls back.]
Binney: I’m sorry, it is awfully hot in here. Why am I so hot? [scene fades to a train sound]
Admin: I actually feel sorry for Binney here. He is so confused and is clearly physically uncomfortable as the sweat just pours down his face. As the scene fades, he is left looking completely perplexed and even frightened.
RF: It almost seems odd to me that he’d move in for a kiss because nothing about this situation is “romantic”. But you’re completely right about how confused and distressed Binney looks (and another strange angle in the shot too, although this time Binney is looking down at Amanda). We, the viewers, have a bit more to go on as to why he’s so hot, although “Singing Detective” will go on to further cement the ties between Marlow’s physical state and his characters’ experiences. But for now, Binney has no idea what’s happening to him and the lack of control certainly seems to frighten him. It’s also interesting to contrast his very smooth, put-together appearance (he is so well-dressed and groomed!) with his acute discomfort; the two things are very incongruous. Binney doesn’t look like the sort of fellow this kind of thing should be happening to.
Admin: Absolutely. You couldn’t imagine a more together man, he looks like he should always be in control and above it all. Yet there he is sweating away, confused, and nearly frightened of a waitress in a sexy sailor costume.
RF: I also really liked the way the scene lit Mr. Malahide’s face, in particular drawing attention to his left eye, as it faded to the shot of the train’s headlights with the loud, disruptive sound of the train’s whistle. We’re not sure what the connection between those two things is just yet, but we’re going to find out.
Admin: The lighting is spectacular. And all the peculiar elements, confusion and odd angles give it a surreal vibe.
Admin: Mr. Malahide turns in a epic performance alternating smoothly between caddish confidence, general paranoia, and confused fear. The way he slips from one to other so effortless gives the scene a massive sense of intrigue of more than just the typical “noir” style. It also has intrigue because it is so discomforting to see someone who should be in far better control of the situation freak out because he can’t figure out why he is so hot.
RF: You’re absolutely right about Mr. Malahide’s performance. In the space of less than two minutes, he shows us incredible self-assurance and worldliness which are quickly thrown into distress, loss of self-control, and confusion, for reasons we’re not entirely sure of yet. It’s all within the film noir spectrum, but there’s a lot more going on than just that. I really enjoyed this scene because it’s the set-up for much of what we’re going to see in the rest of “Singing Detective” as a whole, establishing the tone and letting us know that nothing is going to be quite as it appears.