Derek Jarman – The Garden (1990)


Partly set against the backdrop of his coastal home in the shadow of Dungeness power station, this astonishing work from Derek Jarman is a dramatic mix of artistic set pieces and raw, often abstract footage. Yet it is more than that, for this is undoubtedly Jarman’s most religious feature, even more so than his homoerotic reworking of the life and death of the Christian martyr Saint Sebastian.

For this is a piece that finds Jarman at rest, surrounded by Christian iconography that via a series of vivid dreamlike vignettes, transpose New Testament events into a contemporary and at times homoerotic context. Taking no prisoners, he strikes out at the foundations of
political and religious homophobia by depicting in the manner of Jesus Christ, two male lovers persecuted, tortured and crucified for their beliefs and very sexuality.

Yet what makes this work standout, are the set-piece designs Jarman has used. Screen projections of intense colour, mixed with avant-garde imagery, of the like of the artwork of Pierre et Gilles – only put to film. Yet such scenes lie in stark contrast to sequences of rapid-
motion photography, footage that includes the cinematic contribution of Kevin Collins, who Jarman first met in 1987 at the Tyneside Film Festival and who would come to care for Jarman for the final seven years of his life.

Uncompromising, experimental, but above all poignant, here is an extraordinary journey of artistic depth; namely a visual discourse on the two-edged sword that is religion and homosexuality. For with the most minimal of dialogue Jarman allows us to enter his garden, to the haunting score of Simon Fisher Turner, together with the surprise rendering of the ‘Think Pink’ (think PRIDE) production number from the 1957 musical Funny Face. For make no mistake, this is Jarman on an artistic high, using the screen like a canvas to showcase his feelings on AIDS, homophobia and ultimately of death itself. Yet having said that, I dare say that the end result may well make for hard viewing for those who do not appreciate the beauty of abstract imagery, even when delivered – Jarman style!


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