One of the greatest influences on my sense of identity and how I relate to art I both enjoy and create has been Derek Jarman. There used to be a video rental in this town that was the only place I could rent his films (until I started collecting them on DVD, that is), and of the “great directors” have stuff in all sorts of the categories that Liberty Street Video would put arrange their videos, while others only had things in one or two sections. Jarman was a “one or two sections” director, much like another one of my favourite (though not nearly as influential) directors, John Waters. All of John Waters’ films at Liberty Street you could find under “cult” (this was also the only place I’ve ever seen legit copies of Multiple Maniacs and Mondo Trasho available for rent); Derek Jarman’s films were placed either under “Foreign – UK & Ireland” or under “Queer Interest”, and that, I think, sums up his film career as a director in as few words as possible while still making it clear that there may be more to it.
Derek Jarman is what happens when painters are given a Super 8 camera by a friend and get it in their head that they can make feature-length films; and I mean this as a great compliment. The first film of his that I ever saw was Jubilee, and the experience had this paradoxical quality of both opening my eyes to “Punk” in a way I’d never fathomed before, and at the same time summing up my own thoughts on history and culture in a way that I could make sense out of.
As I noted, he was a painter before he started making films, and most child psychologists tend to agree that when a child is drawing any kind of picture, they’re drawing an unconscious self-portrait in allegory. There’s this innocent quality to many of his films, and at the same time, you get the feeling that even when he’s giving us biographical film-portraits of famopus figures passed, that this is an intensely personal look at Jarman’s own self.
His creative process danced freely between careful planning and spontaneous improvisation. Jubilee was both filmed and written over the course of two weeks, the majority of the script was sparse, save for a few monologues that Jarman had to use, but every pre-production choice in casting, every second of editing, was all very meticulous and the whole project took roughly a year and a half to complete, for example. His creative process was also heavily influenced by those who worked with him, and he was just as likely to take script ideas from a cameraman, or costuming and set ideas from an actor as he was to use his own.
Had an AIDS-related death not come to him in 1994, Derek Jarman would have had a sixty-eighth birthday yesterday, 31 January — but I’d rather not dwell on sadness, but instead celebrate his life.
You see, Jarman also did a handful of music videos in his time, and so that’s part of what’s populating things this week — the other part is music from four of his films (Jubilee, Caravaggio, Edward II and The Garden). Just to keep things sounding interesting, I threw in a couple of covers to fill things out.
Sexgang – At Your Own Risk
Suzi Pinns – Rule Britannia
Carter USM – Panic
The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead
Pet Shop Boys – Rent
Marc Almond – Tenderness Is a Weakness
Marianne Faithful – Broken English
Annie Lennox – Every Time We Say Good-bye
Simon Fisher-Tuirner – All Roads Lead to Rome
Suzi Pinns – Jerusalem
Chumbawamba – Song for Derek Jarman
The Garden – Think Pink (originally from FUNNY FACE)