25 years since Derek Jarman’s untimely death, this is the second volume of Jarman’s films, comprising six feature films, alongside several short films associated with Jarman, numerous interview extras, and documentary material. It would be a must for any fan of Jarman, but also a worthy purchase for anyone not familiar with this director and wanting to find out more. Jarman’s films embody the politics and issues of his time. His career starting in the late sixties following completing studies in both the classics and then fine art. These disciplines were his route to making films.
Disc one’s main feature is Last of England (1987) – by this stage in his career Jarman had developed the confidence to surround himself with a varied ensemble of actors and technicians, and develop a feature length film from what are essentially political and experimental notions. This film is mostly filmed on super 8 and video, then spliced together and re-imagined in 16mm. This in itself creates interesting visual effects. There’s no actual dialogue, it has a silent beginning, then narration by Nigel Terry. A series of images and set pieces offer shots and portraits of what appear to be a disenfranchised underclass; imagery both brutal and angelic; derelict buildings, queer punks and skinheads abusing substances, smashed windows. This is the fabric of society caving in on itself. This is Jarman’s film representation of Thatcher’s England, given a gay twist; queer is where love and hope are to be found. For Jarman it would seem opportunities of subversive and queer sexual encounters are a source of the sublime. Sinister footage of corporate monolith architecture is interspersed with nostalgic scenes taken from what would seem to be a super 8 archive of fond scenes of a family life in the 1950s. But is the image of ideal nuclear family now an oppressive lie? Recurring imagery of fires burning, the river Thames, industrial sites, a gathering of vagrants, the underclass. It’s clearly an unstructured approach to film making, where the narrative is sorted out in the editing. Is this a future fascist state? Music used in the soundtrack is by amongst others, Simon Fisher Turner, Barry Adamson, Andy Gill, Marion Faithful, and Diamanda Galas. Although the film was to all intensive purposes a flop when released in the cinema, in retrospect it seems to sum up a feeling of anger and frustration that was present at the time.
Extras on this first disk include some short films.
Dead Cat (1989 20 minutes) is a quirky post punk industrialist collage, worthy of a Francis Bacon painting or a brief written sketch by Franz Kafka. A small cast involving a man and woman, and a dead cat. Mechanical sex apparatus plays a part also. Make of it what you will. There’s another extra where the student of film at Canterbury University remembers the making of this film and his involvement.
Isle of Sheppy (1984 7 minutes) is a wonky video diary following two arty types (Derek Jarman and Jon Savage) arriving from London (one would assume) to the Isle of Sheppy. Random images of dogs , a pebbly beach, flat open spaces, the Kent marshes, and caravan sites. These are somewhat cliched and stereotype representations of the working class communities. To some extent the images expose Jarman’s snobbishness, but perhaps there is a brave honesty in this approach; he was just showing things as they were, and in so doing feeding off the intersection of the high culture from where he came and the immediacy of the then remote and somewhat forgotten Kentish landscape.
Aria (1987 6 minutes) is a rather lovely film soundtracked by Deputies Le Jour from the opera Louise by Gustave Charpentier. It stars Tilda Swinton, Amy Johnson and Spencer Leigh. It’s an impressionistic film, cutting between present and past, about an old woman remembering a love affair from when she was a beautiful young woman. Flower petals float in the air, tones of nostalgia, remembering realised in the contrasting of Super 8 film and 35mm. In some regards it preempts many of the pop promo videos of the time to follow.
Further extras on these discs include interviews with the actors (Tilda Swinton, Lee Drysdale), producers (James Mackay, Don Boyd), musician (Simon Fisher Turner) and technicians (David Lewis, Richard Heslop, Christopher Hobbs, Sandy Powell). All these people worked alongside Jarman in making his films. His process is discussed, showing how nothing was fixed, and he would more than likely change his mind. For some these Extras might shine a light on how Jarman was unique in his approach to making films.
Disc two’s main feature is War Requiem (1989), a performance based around the opera of the same title by Benjamin Britten. The film stars Laurence Olivier in his last acting role, playing the part of a war veteran in a wheel chair reminiscing about his time as a soldier in the Great War. Tilda Swinton is his nurse, Nathaniel Owen plays the part as the young soldier, and Sean Bean plays the part of a German soldier who he meets on the battle ground. Jarman manages to reference many different eras. Initially focusing on the plight of young men, and evoking images from the poem ‘Strange Meeting’ by Wilfred Owen who in his poems exposed the futility of war, but was to die an early death one week before the Armistice. Later in the film references are made to the conflict in Cambodia, the Vietnam War, shots of the Atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Britain’s war with Argentina, and the threat of nuclear war. It’s a colourful film, full of bold images. In comparison to more conventional war films this is somewhat camp in it’s presentation, some might say a bit ridiculous. It does not really have a clear point to make, and by the latter part has descended into a nondescript series of iconic Christian and apocalyptic images. No doubt these scenes reference classic paintings, the visual art approach that is core to Jarman’s method of film making. Jarman once again manages to include a gay subtext, invoking scenes of poets subject to the brutalities of greedy capitalist leaders of business. It’s a film that exposes the sanctification of war. Enjoyment of the film may require an appreciation of opera, I found it quite a challenge to watch, but on reflection can appreciate Jarman was original in his unconventional take on the war movie.
There is an Extra on this disc that runs for 32 minutes, shot in 1989, which is of Derek Jarman in conversation with film producer Simon Field, previously director of the ICA cinema in central London. Jarman discusses his origins as a painter, denies the notion of the auteur as significant to his film making, and is open about his approach which looks to fuse the creations of ‘many minds’. They cover the subjects of gay activism, films without a clear narrative, the qualities of Super 8 film, his interest in John Dee (mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occult philosopher, and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I), and magic as a metaphor for secrecy. It’s an interesting discussion, showing how despite being isolated as a film maker, Jarman found family in the community of film. The sense of community is further referred to in other interviews throughout the discs, and is a quality key to the experience of Jarman’s films; a community whom main stream audiences will no doubt find it hard to embrace.
Disc three’s main feature is The Garden (1990), this is one of Jarman’s strongest and most personal films. Once again, it’s impressionistic and made up of different formats and approaches to film making; rich visual imagery, concern with religion and morality, queerness, perversion, capitalism and power. At heart Jarman’s own life and his concerns are the subject. It was filmed around his small cottage and garden at the coastal setting of Dungeness. By this time Jarman was HIV positive and facing death from AIDS. The soundtrack, which was put together by Simon Fisher Turner, is also a key part to the film, combining ambient orchestration, and the occasional song, such as the queer protest ditty ‘ Think Pink’. The film starts with the voice of a narrator, actor Michael Gough, which in it’s self provides a biblical tone, ‘I want to share this silence with you’. Tilda Swinton plays the part of a Madonna figure set in modern time, she is followed around by the paparazzi, and metaphorically raped by the press. It’s a modern take on the plight of woman, whilst critiquing the iconography of Madonna in the history of western art. Throughout the film Jarman superimposes stories from the bible on to his world; the garden he creates around his cottage at Dungeness is his version of the garden of Eden.
The constructed montage of colourfully lit dancers, bondage scenarios, and elemental scenes suggesting worship and magic, combine to make for a surreal and disorientating cinematic world.
There are several other short films on this disc. The Wanderer (1991 30 minutes) is one of the Extras on this disc. It’s a film based on an Anglo Saxon poem. It’s different to a lot of other Jarman films, almost like a homage to Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. The poem is read by actor Michael Gough, the imagery is atmospheric; a warrior wonders a bleak landscape in knights armour, images of flames and war horses are superimposed. Jarman goes on to run through a montage of found footage and newsreels which reference the brutality of the first world war, Stonehenge, tower blocks, Glastonbury Tor, the Poll Tax riots. The final line of the poem is ‘all joy has perished’, kind of apt seeing that Jarman was facing death, and the political state of the nation was facing an all time low. An interesting side note, the opening titles are based on wood prints by garage punk musician and Stuckist artist Wild Billy Childish.
Orange Juice (1984 41 minutes) is another of the Extras. It’s based on a visit Jarman makes to the then minor league indie pop star Edwyn Collins (leader of the band Orange Juice) and house mates. Jarman has a hand held video camera, and is making test films of Edwyn in and around the house. Jarman is talking to Edwyn Collins and a few of his housemates whilst making the film. On the surface they engage in small talk and discuss preparations for the following days main shoot. What I find interesting about this short film is it demonstrates Jarman’s great ability to create art from any situation. He manages to tap in to the sensibility and personalities of all the people in the house, people he has never met before. They open up about their personal lives and artistic interests. Whilst this conversation is going Jarman is operating the camera making impressionistic images of the house and garden, zooming in and out. It’s a lo fidelity version of cinema veritie, where Jarman manages to unveil a truth which highlights subjects hidden behind the housemates crude reality. He comes across as a very kind man that people easily warm to.
Disc four’s main feature is Edward II (1991), it’s Jarman’s take on a play by Elizabethan dramatist Christopher Marlowe. The plot revolves around Edward ll (Steven Waddington) King of England’s infatuation with Piers Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan). The infatuation leads to his downfall; his disgruntled wife Queen Isabella (Tilda Swinton) forms an alliance with powerful nobleman Roger Mortimer (Nigel Terry) which results in Edward and Gaveston’s downfall. The film is a good example of the post modern fashions of the time, mixing up the medieval with the modern. Unsurprisingly Jarman gives the film a queer emphasis, with allusion to modern day polemics and the mainstream intolerance to homosexualtiy. Jarman manages to include singing (including the cameo of pop star Annie Lennox) and dancing, to portray the sensibilities of the King. Another scene involves a game of squash between Edward and Gaveston; the post match sweaty men in conversation makes for a somewhat laughable take on camp Athena greetings card type erotica. Perhaps more seriously, in Edward II Jarman manages to reference the political discontent of the time, splicing in images of the 1980s Poll Tax riots, and a gay army protesting Clause 28 (which is contrasted with The Ordinances of 1311, or restrictions, place on King Edward ll by the peerage and clergy of the time). Jarman’s message is pretty straightforward; being gay is not a crime. Steven Wadding delivers a powerful performance, and one of the closing lines from the dramatist and poet Marlowe seems to sum Jarman’s aim to interpret the original story as a satire on current day society and the position of gay people as scapegoats for the intolerances of the powerful, ‘This dungeon where they keep me is the sink where in the filth of all the castle falls’. As what would seem to be an amusing and throw away protest and act of defiance, Jarman ends the film with the tune of Tchaikosky’s Nut Cracker.
One of the Extras on this disc staring Jarman, rather than being directed by him, is The Clearing (1993 7 minutes) directed by Alexis Bistikas. Essentially it’s an atmospheric scene of gay male ‘cruisers’ gathering in a clearing of Hampstead Heath. To some extent it regurgitates queer stereotypes; pretty boy skinheads meeting up for illicit sex. Odd to say, but it’s tastefully done, the lighting and camera direction manages to combine a sense of the forbidden and the enticing, with an emotive soundtrack played out by a jazz saxophonist. This disc has several other extras, including an extended interview from 1991 with Jarman, where Colin Mcabe discusses his films with him.
There is also another short film Ostia (1987 20 minutes), directed by Julian Coles, and starring Jarman recreating the death of Pier Paolo Pasolini in his own image. Jarman plays himself picking up a younger gay man. They go for a drive in Jarman’s car and end up having sex, Jarman is then brutally murdered by his pick up and buried in mud. Perhaps there’s some irony at play. Jarman’s cinema explores similar themes to Pasolini; religion, sexuality, politics (Marxism), consumerism. By this time Jarman knew he had AIDS, in agreeing to act in this film he was not only paying homage to Pasolini, but also recording a document of his own experiences as a film maker and being a gay man in the late 20th century.
The main feature on disc five is Wittgenstein (1993), the script by literary critic Terry Eagleton is interpreted by Derek Jarman, and is his take on both the life and philosophy of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. The adult Wittgenstein is played by actor Karl Johnson, and the child Wittgenstein is played by Clancy Chassay. In many ways it’s the funniest of Jarman’s films. It’s also different in style to many of Jarman’s films, clearly filmed in a studio base with dark background, intense colourful lighting, flamboyant costumes and scenery. In essence the film is a series of tableaux. Wittgenstein is shown indulging in philosophical fantasies where he is in discussion with an alien dwarf painted green, played by Nabil Shaban. These contrast with the real life scenes, which cover both Wittgenstein growing up and his eccentric rich family, as well as his time spent at Cambridge University under British philosopher Bertrand Russel (Michael Gough). Russel in turn introduces Wittgenstein to the elite intellectual and aristocratic social set through his lover, society hostess Lady Ottoline Morrell (Tilda Swinton). Jarman does a good job of playfully outlining some of the key concepts of Wittgenstein’s philosophy. The film making mirrors Wittgenstein’s original and playful use of language. In these filmic tableaux Jarman shows how Wittgenstein saw philosophy as relying on there being language; if there were no language there would not be philosophy. In one scene Wittgenstein tells his students, to imagine a language is to imagine a form of life. He goes on to state philosophy is a product of the misunderstandings of language. There is a striking image in the scene where Wittgenstein is portrayed stuck in a cage conversing with the green alien; the image of a self tortured eccentric. Jarman depicts Wittgenstein as a gay man involved in intimate relationships with other men. Critics have queried whether Wittgenstein was actually gay, and that Jarman may have misrepresented Wittgenstein. Jarman picks up on Wittgenstein’s sense of alienation, how this upsets equilibrium, perhaps an interpretation that further uses Wittgenstein to convey Jarman’s sense of queerness. As Wittgenstein states in one of the closing scenes of the film, ‘the real world is battered tarnished and ambiguous’, ‘salvation is the only thing that is important’. It seems fitting that this is Jarman’s penultimate film released in his life time. One of the Extras is an interview with the producer Tariq Ali who says the film was made in two weeks on a budget of £550 000, which is a pretty amazing achievement in itself considering the high quality of the film.
The final disc in the set has two features, Blue (1993) and Glitterbug (1994).
Blue picked up a lot of attention when released, the clear subject matter being Jarman’s immanent death from full blown AIDS, and advanced stage of blindness. The entire visual content of the film is a blue screen. The action of the film is in the narration and the soundtrack. The narration describes a character named Blue, a muse it would seem, a muse to memory, dreams, and the image of the sea. Staring at the blue screen, the viewer can’t help but project their imagination, feel empathy for the plight of this film maker. Narration is by John Quentin, Nigel Terry, Derek Jarman, and Tilda Swinton, music is by Simon Fisher Turner and Brian Eno. Parts of the film have Jarman describing his day dreams, his way of continuing to have vision, but without physical sight, he quotes from William Blake’s poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would be seen as it is; infinite.’ Seems apt in light of Jarman’s oeuvre and overall approach to film making. The last image of the film is when the narrator describes a blue delphinium being placed on a grave.
Glitterbug (1994) is the second film on disc six. It was broadcast on Channel Four the year after Jarman’s death. It’s a series of images with a original soundtrack by musician Brian Eno. Much of the film is made from original Super 8 home movies; scenes of London and Jarman’s flat where he lived in the 1970s on the Shad Thames. The collage of images are arresting and up tempo. Scenes of life, people in cafes, then scenes from a slaughter house and a butcher’s shop, switching to a carnival of transvestites. Jarman goes on to portray his love of all history, in particular British history and a mythical Albion. with scenes of megalithic sites such as the stone circle at Avebury. He splices in Super 8 film documents he made when filming Sebastian and Jubilee, his meeting with William Burroughs, and making pop videos for the occult pop band of the early 1980s, Psychic TV. These subject are interspersed with impressionistic shots of sunsets, the architecture of London. The camera zooms in and out, constantly changing the field of focus. The edit gives the sense of travel, meeting lots of different friends in different places. A bohemian sense evoked by images of flowers, the sea, cigarettes, children playing, skyscapes. Glitterbug seems to be an apt gesture of posterity, and an appropriate conclusion to a vast and impressive box set.
The Complete list of Extras on this box set are:
- Dead Cat (1989, 20 mins): Derek Jarman and his friend and collaborator Genesis P
- Orridge both feature in this startling surrealist films in which a young man is
- terrorised and humiliated, later engaging in a mechanised, industrial sexual
- Isle of Sheppey (1984, 7 mins): edited highlights from a VHS video shot on a
- location-hunting expedition, cameraman Derek Jarman chats to writer and cultural
- historian Jon Savage
- Depuis le jour: excerpt from Aria (1987, 5 mins): Derek Jarman’s sequence from the anthology film Aria
- Depuis le jour audio commentary by producer Don Boyd
- Remembering Derek Jarman (2014, 13 mins)
- James Mackay Remembers The Last of England (2019, 14 mins)
- Don Boyd Remembers The Last of England and Aria (2019, 16 mins)
- Homemade Stuff and Wild Ideas: Simon Fisher Turner on Derek Jarman (2019, 16 mins): the musician and composer looks back on his long and unconventional involvement with Derek Jarman’s art
- Another Derek: Jarman’s Life Away From the Limelight (2019, 5 mins): interview with artist filmmaker John Scarlett-Davis
- An Odd Morality (2019, 4 mins): interview with Lee Drysdale
- Another World for Ourselves (2019, 9 mins): director John Maybury remembers meeting Jarman
- David Lewis Remembers Dead Cat (2019, 15 mins)
- Audio commentary on The Last of England with James Mackay, Christopher Hughes, Christopher Hobbs and Simon Fisher Turner
- Books By My Bedside: Derek Jarman (1989, 25 mins)
- Derek Jarman in Conversation with Simon Field (1989, 32 mins)
- Requiem for Jarman (2008, 37 mins): recollections on the making of War Requiem
- Don Boyd Remembers War Requiem (2019, 38 mins)
- John Maybury Remembers War Requiem (2019, 8 mins)
- The Nature of Super 8 (2019, 8 mins)
- Caravaggio Was Accidental (2019, 10 mins): Simon Fisher Turner remembers his first feature soundtrack for Derek Jarman
- Before the Last (2019, 15 mins): James Mackay recalls working with Derek Jarman on The Angelic Conversation and Imagining October
- Derek Jarman Presents (2019, 27 mins): John Maybury remembers the Super 8 filmmaking scene
- Audio commentary on War Requiem with Don Boyd
- Derek’s Shoot in Dungeness (1990, 6 mins)
- The Wanderer (1991, 30 mins): experimental film by David Lewis and Andy Crabb based on the Anglo-Saxon poem of the same name
- Kiss 25 Goodbye (1991, 7 mins): documents, in bold experimental fashion, the 1991 OutRage! ‘kiss-in’ protest at Bow Street police station
- Clause and Effect (1988, 19 mins): showing the gay community uniting against homophobic forces and the government around the issue of Clause 28
- Orange Juice (1984, 41 mins): Derek Jarman’s location shoot for the promo for ‘What Presence?!’ by post-punk band Orange Juice who were fronted by Edwyn Collins
- Shooting the Hunter (2015, 5 mins)
- James Mackay Remembers The Garden (2019, 15 mins)
- Anything Can Happen (2019, 11 mins): Richard Heslop on working with Derek Jarman
- David Lewis Remembers The Garden (2019, 15 mins)
- The Other Great Masterpiece (2019, 6 mins): John Maybury considers Jarman’s enthusiasm for gardening
- Life with Derek: Simon Fisher Turner’s Recordings (2018, 44 mins): The composer’s collage of audio clips recorded during his adventures with Derek Jarman and friends
- Derek’s Edward (2009, 24 mins): the making of Edward II
- Ostia (1987, 27 mins): Jarman embodies Pier Paolo Pasolini in this ambitious student film imagining the last hours of the Italian director’s life
- Ostia audio commentary
- The Clearing (1993, 7 mins): short film by Alex Bistikas starring Derek Jarman and Keith Collins
- The Extended Derek Jarman Interview (1991, 70 mins): Colin McCabe discuses films and filmmaking with Derek Jarman
- Cut/Action (2019, 8 mins): Simon Fisher Turner provides the music and narration for this video essay
- David Lewis Remembers Edward II (2019, 4 mins)
- The Same Spirit (2019, 6 mins): Don Boyd remembers Jarman’s later years
- Truly Beautiful (2019, 19 mins): interview with award-winning costumer designer Sandy Powell
- Derek Jarman in Conversation with Colin McCabe (1991, 97 mins, audio only)
- Karl Johnson on Wittgenstein (2007, 9 mins)
- Tilda Swinton on Wittgenstein and Derek Jarman (2007, 10 mins)
- Tariq Ali on Producing Wittgenstein (2007, 9 mins)
- Wittgenstein: Behind the Scenes (1993, 22 mins)
- Wittgenstein: An Introduction (2007, 4 mins)
- Face to Face: Derek Jarman (1993, 41 mins): Derek Jarman interviewed by Jeremy Isaacs
- Producer Tariq Ali on Wittgenstein (2014, 7 mins)
- Jarmanalia with Simon Fisher Turner (2019, 17 mins)
- Films Made By A Painter (2019, 5 mins): James Mackay reflects on Jarman’s distinctive style as a filmmaker
- 21st Century Nuns (1994, 10 mins)
- Delphinium: A Childhood Portrait of Derek Jarman (2009, 13 mins)
- James Mackay Remembers Blue (2019, 15 mins)
- Simon Fisher Turner Remembers Blue (2019, 8 mins)
- David Lewis Remembers Blue (2019, 13 mins)
- Hard to Imagine (2019, 8 mins): John Maybury recalls Jarman’s journey towards Blue
- After the Garden (2019, 10 mins): Richard Heslop remembers Jarman’s later days
- Total Magic (2019, 6 mins): production designer Christopher Hobbs looks back upon Jarman’s fascination with occult imagey
- After Neutron (2019, 8 mins): interview with Lee Drysdale
- The Best Mentor (2019, 9 mins): John Scarlett-Davis recalls Jarman’s latter days and reflects uponhis artistic legacy
- Glitterbug and Beyond (2019, 7 mins): James Mackay remembers the production of Glitterbug
- David Lewis Remembers Glitterbug (2019, 7 mins)
- Bliss (1991, 40 mins, audio)
When buying this box set you also get a ’100 page perfect bound book of essays, full credits and more’