Michael Derek Elworthy Jarman as a true 'Renaissance Man' in the colloquial sense of the word, as well as having a strong and permanent interest in the art, thought, and literature of the Renaissance. Although the tone of Jarman's films is frequently melancholic, the threat which death poses for desire is sometimes modulated by an apparent desire for death. He was never comfortable with the label 'gay', regarding it as both too stable and too self-satisfied, too concerned to present a 'positive' image. He preferred the more fluid and mobile term 'queer'. Jarman's first feature-length film was remarkable in many ways and in at least three respects was virtually unique at the time for a commercially distributed picture. In 1977, the year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, punk had spread beyond a handful of clubs and bands in London and New York and was starting to look like a complete new youth culture in the making. From 1978 to 1985, whatever else he was engaged in, Jarman's life was dominated by his desire to make a film about the life of the Italian painter Caravaggio. Wittgenstein had been a completely unexpected commission which Jarman, despite his failing health, had rapidly and brilliantly converted into 'A Derek Jarman Film' through his usual intense personal identification with his subject. Blue was one of a cluster of films addressing the issue of AIDS which were released in the early 1990s.
Wittgenstein had been a
completely unexpected commission which Jarman, despite his failing health,
had rapidly and brilliantly converted into ‘A DerekJarman Film’
through his usual intense personal identification with his subject. By
contrast, his final film Blue was the outcome of nearly twenty years
of creative thinking. Although the combination of an unchanging blue screen
and a soundtrack
soul. (DerekJarman, Kicking the Pricks )
Before he died in 1994 DerekJarman had
achieved distinction in an astonishing number of different activities
– as a film director, painter, writer, set designer, gardener, and
political activist. He was a true ‘Renaissance Man’ in the
colloquial sense of the word, as well as having a strong and permanent
interest in the art, thought, and
There is a detailed discussion of the implications
of this scene in Allen J. Frantzen, ‘Tears for Abraham: The
Chester Play of Abraham and Isaac and Antisacrifice in Works by Wilfred
Owen, Benjamin Britten, and DerekJarman’, Journal of Medieval
and Early Modern Studies , 31:3 (Fall 2001), 445–76.
Wilfred Owen: The Complete
‘Jarman, for all his admirable radicalism, has a very
English middle-class sensibility, which is light years removed from the
austerity and intellectual passion of his subject’. 19 Others, including Ray Monk, thought that
Jarman had remained deeply faithful to his subject whilst making a picture
which, though it was a commissioned project and had been co-written and
codirected, was in every important respect ‘A DerekJarman
screened by the BBC. But the
differences also signal a certain ambivalence in Jarman towards his source
material. The film is titled, neutrally enough, Edward II and its
credits tell us that it is ‘based on the play by Christopher
Marlowe’. By contrast, the script is called Queer Edward II and
has a running title saying ‘improved by DerekJarman’. Every
page of the script is embellished with provocative headings and
See John Roberts, ‘Painting the
Apocalypse’, Afterimage , 12 (1985), 36–9.
William Pencak, The Films of DerekJarman
(Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2002), p. 144.
‘Through Jarman’s feverish, vertiginous
aesthetic, the spectator is almost nauseated by
DerekJarman, DerekJarman’s Caravaggio
(London: Thames and Hudson, 1986), p. 6.
Two good recent biographies are Helen Langdon,
Caravaggio: A Life (London: Chatto and Windus, 1998; repr.
London: Pimlico, 1999) and Peter Robb, M (Sydney: Duffy and
Snelgrove, 1998; repr. with corrections London: Bloomsbury, 1999). Robb
Ibid. , p. 55.
Passage deleted from the typescript of Kicking
the Pricks , BFI Jarman Collection II, Box 21.
The text of the ‘letter’ is quoted in
DerekJarman: A Portrait , ed. Roger Wollen (London: Thames and
Hudson, 1996), p. 27. There is a reproduction of
Jarman’s Film’. His intensely proprietorial feelings are even
more strongly conveyed in a joky draft of the titles which exists in his
unpublished papers: ‘JARMAN FILMS PRESENT / SEBASTIANUS / FROM
AN ORIGINAL IDEA BY DEREKJARMAN / SCRIPT BY DEREKJARMAN / DESIGNED BY D.
JARMAN / COSTUMES BY D. JARMAN (PARIS) / DIRECTED BY DEREKJARMAN AND PAUL
HUMFRESS / ADDITIONAL DIALOGUES BY JARMAN’. 3
The decision to make the film in