Essential Insights: Derek Jarman


This week we celebrate the life and art of the late Derek Jarman, one of Britain’s most influential film artists of the past three decades, and certainly one of its most daring of all time. All week long we will feature original articles paying tribute to Jarman’s films, many of which can be viewed on Fandor. Click on any of the thumbnails on the left to view his features.

Out on a Ledge: The Visionary Films of Derek Jarman by David Ehrenstein

A Film “Closest to My Heart:” Derek Jarman’s The Angelic Conversation by Dan Callahan

Radical Shakespeare: The Alchemy of Derek Jarman’s The Tempest by Kimberly Lindbergs

A Light that Never Went Out: The MTV Legacy of Derek Jarman by Kimberly Lindbergs

A Swan Song Self-Portrait in Sound: Derek Jarman’s “Blue” by Nick Davis

In the Time of Fear: Bergman and Jarman by Masha Tupitsyn

Making Films for the Company: Tilda Swinton on Derek Jarman

In addition, we’ve compiled the following list of essential links on Jarman available online, with a sampling of excerpts:

“Derek Jarman was the maverick radical of the British cinema during the late 1970s, ’80s, and early ’90s. His highly idiosyncratic form of avant-garde art cinema managed to sustain itself due to his personal reputation as an auteur, as an enfant terrible, and to his more or less public private life.”

“Jarman was an artist of many dimensions: an author of autobiographical journals, a poet, a painter, a scriptwriter, a film director, a cinematographer, and a set designer. Jarman was at the same time a modernist and a Renaissance artist. His scathing attacks on present-day British politics and challenging use of aesthetic forms as well as images from popular culture were combined with a neo-romantic fascination for and a subversion of traditional English high art. Jarman’s fame, however, mostly derived from his outspoken homosexuality, his never-ending public fight for gay rights, and his subsequent personal struggle with AIDS.”

– BFI Screen Online

“Sometimes fusing the personal and political, and sometimes pitting them against each other, Jarman’s films are animated by the interplay between past and present, accuracy and anachronism, nostalgia and protest. They are, quite often and quite openly, at war with themselves, tied to national and cinematic traditions and rebelling against them. If there were a Derek Jarman of today, he or she might be as preoccupied with shunning Jarman’s influence as succumbing to it.

– Overview of Jarman’s Legacy at the Moving Image Source by Sam Adams

“He made his pictures on the low-budget but liberating independent scene: His first seven films all together cost only $3 million, which is pocket change for any one Hollywood blockbuster. This financial freedom allowed him to evolve a distinctively personal cinema, and all of his pictures seem to have jumped out of his head directly onto the screen. Although he often used friends, and sometimes lovers, as cast and crew, and delighted in the relaxed atmosphere he maintained on set, Jarman always focused on creating powerfully original and dramatic images, even as he eschewed commercial narrative structures. It is a testament to his vision that his films are more visually exciting, not to mention enduring, than movies with budgets tens, or even hundreds, of times greater. It is also to Jarman’s credit that, even with the complexity of his art and ideas, you can often imagine him winking mischievously to us.”

– From Derek Jarman Page at Jim’s Reviews

“Things have got awfully tidy recently. There is a lot of finish on things. Clingfilm gloss and the neatest of hospital corners. The formula merchants are out in force. They are in the market for guaranteed product. They go out looking for film-makers with the nous of one who might consider employing halogen spotlights in the hopes of attracting wild cats into a suburban garden. They are missing the point. Don’t they know the roulette wheel is fixed? That the croupier is a cardsharp? Do these people not watch old movies? It’s the spirited that hold the hands in the long run, it always was – the low-key for the long term, the irreverent, the cheats, the undaunted and inspired rule-breakers, not the goody-goody industrial types with their bedside manners and managerial know-how…”

“I have always wholeheartedly treasured in your work the whiff of the school play. It tickles me still and I miss it terribly. The antidote it offers to the mirror ball of the marketable – the artful without the art, the meaningful devoid of meaning – is meat and drink to so many of us looking for that dodgy wig, that moment of awkward zing, that loose corner where we might prise up the carpet and uncover the rich slates of something we might recognise as spirit underneath. Something raw and dusty and inarticulate, for heaven’s sake.”

– From “Letter to an Angel,” a remembrance by Tilda Swinton at The Guardian

“The fact that home movies are called home movies had a sort of particular ring for him, I think, because it was very important for him to create a sense, almost an alternative sense for home in his life, of the people, lovers, friends whatever, that he could create a sense of home with and feel comfortable at home with. I think partly because as a child, and a child of very conventional family, and with a rather strict and rigid father, he didn’t always feel comfortable and at home in terms of his artistic interests, although, I mean, in fact his father was to an extent more supportive of him than Derek often made out. But he had very different interests to his father and in terms of his sexuality which was not acceptable in terms of the kind of conventional family model, so he needed to find this other model.”

– From an interview with Jarman’s biographer Tony Peake on Jarman’s life and work


– A short video overview of Jarman’s legacy by the Guardian

– Jarman’s entry in the “Great Directors” Database at Senses of Cinema by Brian Hoyle

Detailed Analysis of the queer content in Jarman’s films at Cinemaqueer

– Overview and analysis of Jarman’s work at Spike Magazine

– Obituary by Colin MacCabe for the Independent


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