Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A barbed-wire maypole: Three Derek Jarman movies

Jubilee (1977 film) poster.jpg
"Jubilee (1977 film) poster" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

Jubilee (1977)

Jubilee is Derek Jarman's wet kiss welcoming and also saying a last good bye to England during the economic despair that led to the punk movement. It has a Shakespearean cant to it - much of the dialog involves a wild-eyed seer making a speech to a gathering of dim bulbs until it is time to watch one of them light up and say their part. There is a time-travel plot involving the arrival of Elizabeth I into the ruins of Elizabeth II, but really, it is a cascade of punk apocalypse charm. The recurring theme throughout the film is scavenging among the dead. Car wreck victims, royalty, one poor girl (presumed dead) being trussed on the street by a barbed-wire maypole are stripped of their earrings and jewelry. Everything is ravaged. And over-acted.

If this sounds like too much of a downer, there is a healthy dose of groovy 70's nudity and the introduction of a baby-faced Adam Ant.

VHS Cover from Brainwashed

In the Shadow of the Sun (1974, finished and soundtracked in 1980)

I've always known of this film for the Throbbing Gristle soundtrack. Fittingly, the imagery of this 48-minute mood piece consists of layers of washed out film juxtaposed so you have slow-moving figures engaged in some kind of trance ritual mixed with anonymous car-window landscapes and people tapping on typewriters. Like how the noodling soundtrack never commits to a song, the film never commits to a vision and yet together the impression emerges. The world is layed waste not by politics or punks, but by a wearisome existence. All that is left is a ghost. If I'd seen this when I was nineteen, I would have declared it the greatest movie ever made and likely thrown a copy of Naked Lunch at you for disagreeing.

Blue (1993)

Jarman's last film is part conceptual art joke, part intimate poem. The filmmaker was in the final throes of AIDS related illnesses, rendered nearly blind, when he released this film consisting of a single shot of the color blue as a number of actors and musicians muse in an ethereal collage over the various meanings of blue: sadness, the sky, the planet Earth, the wind. The soundtrack is a compelling, stream-of-consciousness sound collage. It's easy to think the image isn't important, but I found myself turning to it as if I was going to miss something. I suspect Jarman felt the same way. It is a final joke on transformation, in that there isn't any.

A common misconception is that the blue in this film is International Klein Blue, the pigment created by avant-garde artist Yves Klein. It is a similar hue, inspired by Klein's color and his "leap into the void" as Jarman faced his own.


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