An artist spends his or her existence examining life through their art, so why is it often so hard to use art to examine the artist’s life in turn? We’ve all seen biopics that merely scratch the surface of a creative existence, either spending too much time focusing on the travails of the individual and leaving their creations by the wayside, or flat studies of the work alone that seemingly forget that there was a person behind the words or images.
Isaac Julien’s new documentary Derek tries to have the best of everything in its portrait of painter and visionary filmmaker Derek Jarman, and for the most part, it succeeds. As a tribute to the man, Julien and his collaborators, producer Colin MacCabe and actress Tilda Swinton, let the viewer behind the curtain to see who Jarman was and what fueled his inspired works; at the same time, we see pieces of that work, and we learn what it meant to him as a person and to the culture at large. Continue reading