"Wonderful Unique Work From a Wonderful Unique Mind"
It's been 24 years since Derek Jarman died at the age of just 52, depriving the world of a unique, passionate, and creative visual talent. The BFI are releasing two box sets of his work. Volume One is due out very soon, and here's what you get:
Disc One: Sebastiane (1976) & In the Shadow of the Sun (1972)
The first BFI disc is mainly given over to Jarman's 1976 hyper homo-erotic telling of the story of Saint Sebastian, from his offending of the Emperor Diocletian at the opening orgy through his banishment to a remote Roman garrison (actually Sardinia) where sexual tensions are many and the soldiers' clothes are few.
The final execution scene is genuinely eerie, while overall Jarman's loving depictions of the nude male have definitely stood the test of time. Fans of 1973's THE WICKER MAN will be tickled to learn that it's landlord Lindsay Kemp who is the centrepiece of the giant penis dance sequence at the start (he choreographed it as well), while fans of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW may well spot Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell and Peter Hinwood amongst the 'party-goers'.
IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUN is a very strange, experimental piece with a Throbbing Gristle soundtrack. More an extended 'art installation' than anything resembling a narrative, you may want to give this one a watch in installments.
Extras include: Jazz Calendar - a black and white contemporary jazz ballet rendition of the days of the week, sadly missing its original Richard Rodney Bennet score and with replacement music instead. SEBASTIANE - a work in progress is a newly restored black and white edit of the film without subtitles but with a substantially different plot construction. There's an 8mm making of filmed at the time, the short film SLOANE SQUARE - A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN, John Scarlett-Davis' memories of working on the opening scene of the picture, plus a still gallery.
Disc Two: Jubilee (1978)
In which Queen Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre from THE CREEPING FLESH & THE FINAL PROGRAMME) tasks astrologer Dr John Dee (a post ROCKY Richard O’Brien) to conjure Ariel (David STAGEFRIGHT Brandon, here acting under the name David Haughton) who takes them to an apocalyptic extrapolation of the punk 1970s had not New Romantics & their synthesisers presumably come in to save the day.
Pram burning and barbed-wire tightrope walking feature in a loosely-plotted narrative in which we follow Bod (Runacre again) and her gang of miscreants including arsonist Mad (Toyah Willcox) and rewriter of history Amyl Nitrate (Jordan. No, not that one).
Littered with the kind of interesting character actors we only seemed to see in 1970s movies (Nell Campbell, Jack Birkett aka Orlando, even more Lindsay Kemp & his dancing troupe), JUBILEE was very shocking back in its day. The murders are still horrible, but what still shines oh so brightly is Jarman’s energy and style as a director. The soundtrack includes music by Adam and the Ants (Version 1.0) and Siouxsie and the Banshees, as well as Brian Eno.
Extras on the BFI’s new Blu-ray include a short but interesting interview with Toyah Willcox from 2014, a much lengthier interview with Jordan (not that one) and an interview with Jarman’s helper / dogsbody on the film Lee Drysdale that’s full of juicy stories. You also get some Jarman short pieces including MESSAGE FROM THE TEMPLE (1981), TG: PSYCHIC RALLY IN HEAVEN (1981) and the William S Burroughs ‘film’ PIRATE TAPE (1983).
Disc Three: The Tempest (1979)
If the inmates of the asylum in S F Brownrigg's DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973) put on a Shakespeare play with only Roger Corman Poe movies as their reference then the result might look something like Derek Jarman's version of THE TEMPEST. Regular readers of this site will appreciate that, far from this being considered a negative, I can actually offer no higher praise for this wondrous, Old Dark House-style adaptation that comes complete with Toyah Willcox as Miranda, Jack Birkett as a fantastic Caliban, and Heathcote Williams looking just like Charlie Chuck as Prospero.
Oh, and of course there are troupes of dancing gay sailors, a musical number at the end from Elisabeth Welch dressed as the sun, plus Mr Jarman's distinctive and frequently beautiful visual style. As far as Shakespeare on celluloid goes, THE TEMPEST is second only to Polanski's MACBETH as a unique, creative and above all accessible interpretation of the play.
Extras include Toyah Willcox interviewed at the BFI in 2014; Stormy Weather is a lovely piece on Derek Jarman's notebooks for his productions; John Scarlett-Davis gives us a fascinating talking head piece on the making of the film; Executive Producer Don Boyd talks about the picture; production designer Christopher Hobbs looks back on his association with Derek Jarman, and finally you also get the UK trailer and an image gallery.
Disc Four: The Angelic Conversation (1985)
In which Judi Dench reads fourteen of Shakespeare's sonnets over Jarman's 8mm imagery accompanied by the music of Coil. Possibly the answer to the question "What's an art film?" or at least a very good example, there is no conventional narrative to the 77 minute running time, rather it is a series of images from which you have to take your own interpretation.
Extras include James MacKay talking about working with Jarman, a fascinating look at the Jarman projects that never came to fruition including NEUTRON and AKHENATEN, for which we also get storyboards and an image gallery.
Disc Five: Caravaggio (1986)
Arguably Derek Jarman's masterpiece, CARAVAGGIO is less a biopic (it isn't one at all, really) and more a series of meticulously constructed and lit tableaux reproducing some of the artist's paintings. Fine art enthusiasts will get the most out of this, as sometimes we don't see the paintings at all, but just get in-jokes referencing them - for example, at one point Caravaggio (Nigel Terry) sustains an injury similar to that probed by Doubting Thomas in the painting of the same name. As usual, there is more anachronism than accuracy on display, and so amidst the 17th century frolics we get Sean Bean polishing his motorbike, Jonathan Hyde on a typewriter and Nigel Davenport using a pocket calculator. Best of all (and likely period-accurate) Michael Gough plays the harpsichord!
Extras include an audio commentary by DP Gabriel Beristain, archive interviews with Nigel Terry and Tilda Swinton, two pieces with production designer Christopher Hobbs, an interview with Dexter Fletcher, recording sessions, Jarman's notebook for the film, and five galleries of storyboards, production designs and notes.
As well as all the above you get an 80 page book with new writing on the film, reviews from the time and full credits for each film. Well done BFI.
JARMAN VOLUME ONE: 1972 - 1986 is a five-disc limited edition box set available from the BFI from Monday 2nd April 2018