Derek Jarman – The Last of England (1987)

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Jarman is a tough filmmaker to recommend, but he occasionally rewards. As we’ve seen from practically the first film on, he sets out to make pictures entirely for himself; with each one intellectually structured, creatively shot, but almost always a reflection of his personal thoughts and feelings, his sexuality, and England in decline. Here we have a film that combines all of these preoccupations, told in a combination of wordless images and narrated prose, with little or no clarification given as to what is actually going on. Jarman has said that he wanted the film to feel like a visual poem, but really, this is far from poetic. Instead, this seems more like something that Godard would have directed in the 1970’s; angry, venomous and always seething with contempt. The images here are violent to the extreme and the approach that Jarman brings to the editing room is visceral and heavily kinetic. Here we see the use of various colour filters, tints and distortions used alongside a multitude of film stocks and spliced-in video footage. The images of middle-class households rounded up, driven into the depths of a post-apocalyptic wasteland and detained at gunpoint must have had a shocking relevance at the time, when terrorist attacks and IRA bombings were as common as they were incomprehensible. Continue reading

Derek Jarman – The Tempest (1979)

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Prospero, a potent necromancer, lives on a desolate isle with his virginal daughter, Miranda. He’s in exile, banished from his duchy by his usurping brother and the King of Naples. Providence brings these enemies near; aided by his vassal the spirit Ariel, Prospero conjures a tempest to wreck the Italian ship. The king’s son, thinking all others lost, becomes Prospero’s prisoner, falling in love with Miranda and she with him. Prospero’s brother and the king wander the island, as do a drunken cook and sailor, who conspire with Caliban, Prospero’s beastly slave, to murder Prospero. Prospero wants reason to triumph, Ariel wants his freedom, Miranda a husband; the sailors want to dance. Continue reading

Derek Jarman – The Garden (1990)

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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. Continue reading

Derek Jarman – A Journey to Avebury (1971)

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Journey to Avebury beautifully reflects Derek Jarman’s fascination with ancient history, paganism, and Celtic traditions.

An IMDB review:
Derek Jarman is often said to be a painter rather than a movie director. Indeed, with his films he makes pictures that seem to be more important than the plot (which is usually unclear or missing at all). But those pieces of art he creates using camera are beautiful and astounding.

A JOURNEY TO AVEBURY, his 1971 silent short movie, is a literal journey that we can experience. We are being taken to Avebury and given the chance to admire it for 10 minutes. The shots are incredibly beautiful, as we see a huge stone or trees bathed in orange light of sunset.

The film lacks a plot and sound and should be treated as a collection of images rather than a movie. If you like Jarman’s art – you’ll be pleased with this one. If you like beauty – you’ll love it. But if you’re looking for action or amusement, better walk around it because these 10 minutes might just be too long for you. Continue reading

Derek Jarman – Caravaggio (1986)

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When experimental director Derek Jarman was serving as production designer on 1973’s The Devils, that film’s director, Ken Russell, was already established as a radical master of the biopic, turning historical and pop culture personalities into grist for his own obsessions and visual quirks. Oddly, it took Jarman over a decade to try his hand at the same approach with Caravaggio, a visually overwhelming examination of the famous painter who redefined the use of light in painting and scandalized the church by portraying sacred figures as dirty, commonplace peasants. Of course, the painter’s life was no less remarkable; a ruffian prone to fighting, gambling, and copulating apparently every waking moment he wasn’t holding a paintbrush, Caravaggio could be read in many ways as a prototype for today’s modern celebrity. Continue reading

Derek Jarman – Glitterbug (1994)

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Review

Glitterbug consists of film strips shot by Jarman with his Super-8 between 1971 and 1986, a format he was constantly experimenting with and made use of in the film collage In the Shadow of the Sun (1981) for example, it is an endless montage of loosely connected Super-8 sequences put together alternatively into an impressionistic shimmer of beauty, alternatively with an aggressive, rhetorical edge. The Last of England (1987), similar in a technical way, became even more famous. It was a devastating criticism of Thatcherism and of what Jarman per-ceived to be the decline of Britain. Jarman’s most distinct feature was his constant role as a man against the tide his attacks against anything considered to be part of the Establishment, whether it concerned sexual preferences or political power structures. The boldness re-appears in Glitterbug, where images from Jarman’s own everyday life in London in the early 70’s, with rooms filled with anti-cultural fetishes from the Swinging London era, are mixed with various documentaries from the making of some of Jarman’s notorious successes: the gay film Sebastiane (1975) and the punk protest Jubilee (1977). Continue reading

Paul Humfress & Derek Jarman – Sebastiane (1976)

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In Sebastiane (1976), British writers/directors Derek Jarman and Paul Humfress created a remarkably authentic historical film, and a landmark of gay cinema, about the martyred fourth century Roman soldier, who was later both canonized as Saint Sebastian and revered as an enduring gay icon. The film strikingly balances a cinéma vérité depiction of the everyday life of common soldiers, in a remote desert outpost of the Roman Empire, and a visionary exploration of one man’s defiant growth in faith, even as it subtly questions the nature of that experience. Continue reading