The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Derek Jarman Day

 

‘By the time of his death from AIDS related complications in February 1994, Derek Jarman had amassed a reputation as one of Britain’s most controversial filmmakers. Indeed, only Michael Powell, Ken Russell and Jarman’s more direct contemporary, Peter Greenaway, demonstrate a similar proclivity towards taboo-breaking, provocation and sheer bad taste. However, Jarman also belongs alongside these names as one of the truly distinctive, original and even idiosyncratic talents in British film. His debut, Sebastiane (1976), was shot in Latin, he was nominated for the 1986 Turner Prize “in recognition of the outstanding visual qualities of his films”, yet his final film, Blue (1993), contained no images at all.

‘Critically problematic to a fault, to many he remains a marginal figure whose highly personal body of work is too experimental to be considered mainstream; yet his work is also ironically viewed as being too artistically conservative and conventional to be wholly accepted by the avant-garde. To his admirers, however, Jarman was at the centre of what Peter Wollen called “the Last New Wave”, Britain’s belated answer to the great Modernist movements in post-war Continental art cinema. For others still, Jarman has a significance that goes beyond his contributions to his own national cinema. One of the fathers of international “New Queer Cinema”, Jarman’s sexuality had always been a significant part of his work, but after his diagnosis as HIV it became its “principal, determining factor”.

‘Jarman saw himself as a queer artist following in the footsteps of Jean Cocteau and Pier Paolo Pasolini, and like his forebears, was an inveterate polymath – a notable painter, set-designer, writer, gardener and political activist – who nevertheless remains best remembered for his films. Jarman was, however, a Renaissance man in more than one sense. Indeed, five of his eleven feature films centre around the “interface between the Renaissance and the present”, an historical space that Jarman made his own, and which is essential to one’s understanding of his work. It is in his fascinating, often original and at times controversial engagement with the past – the art, literature and cultural heritage of Britain and Europe – that Jarman proved himself to be the true successor to Pasolini. Indeed, Jarman felt a kinship with the Italian director not only as a fellow queer filmmaker, but also as another critically problematic director who had gained an unshakable, though partly undeserved, reputation for controversy, despite being largely drawn to “traditional” material. Indeed, as Jarman himself noted of his own work, “Shakespeare, the Sonnets, Caravaggio, [Benjamin] Britten’s [War] Requiem, what more traditional subject matter could a film-maker take on? And yet I’m still seen by some as a menace.”

‘This tension between radicalism and tradition stems from Jarman’s upbringing, a period Jarman stresses is “crucial to understanding the nature of his films”. Michael Derek Elworthy Jarman was born on the 31st of January 1942 in Northwood, Middlesex, where his father, Lance Jarman, an RAF bomber pilot, was stationed. His mother, Elizabeth, was a warm, supportive and artistic woman with whom Jarman certainly identified more strongly than his father, who, by Jarman’s own admission, created his “aversion to all authority”. However, their relationship nevertheless remained complex and Jarman’s attempts to reconcile himself to his father and gain his approval carried over into his work, a fact emphasised by the eroticism, as well as horror, associated with men in uniform in so many of Jarman’s films. However, Lance Jarman also certainly instilled in his son the belief in tradition that would be as much a part of Jarman’s art and personality as his proclivity towards provocation, and Jarman understood that “without men like my father the war would never have been won”.Furthermore, Jarman’s father was an enthusiastic amateur filmmaker, whose colour home movie footage of young Derek, his sister and his mother plays such a crucial part in The Last of England (1987). Indeed, by 1987, when the film was being made, Jarman, who was righteously angered by the homophobia and authoritarianism of eight years of the Thatcher government, and who had recently learned of his own HIV positive status, began to empathise with his father, who “stared at disbelief at the society he had helped to save”.

‘A gifted painter, Jarman was accepted to the Slade School of Art in 1960. However, his father was skeptical about this path and agreed to support his son at the Slade only if he first earned a “proper” qualification. Respecting his father’s wish, Jarman went up to King’s College, London, to read English, History and History of Art. This eclectic course of study facilitated Jarman’s development as a serious artist and gave him “a range of cultural and historical reference which is apparent in all his films”.  Indeed, it was during this first degree that Jarman would develop his love and understanding of Renaissance history, art and literature. Studious and seemingly chaste, Jarman was still uncomfortable with his sexuality and began to “read between the lines of history” searching for forebears to validate his existence. He did however, find “some heavyweight soulmates”, not least Caravaggio, Shakespeare and Marlowe.

‘Upon graduation from King’s in 1963, Jarman took up his place at the Slade. Arriving at a time of great liberation, it was here that he truly came to terms with his sexuality and allowed it to inform his art. In addition to studying painting and theatre design, Jarman also enrolled on a course taught by Thorald Dickinson which enabled him to see the work of great European filmmakers including Sergei Eisenstein, Jean Cocteau, Federico Fellini and Pasolini, amongst many others, as well as screenings of American avant-garde films by the likes of Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger and Andy Warhol. Cinematically speaking, Jarman’s own work falls between these two categories, producing examples of European-style art cinema, such as Caravaggio (1986), and more radical, avant-garde work such as Blue, as well as films such as The Garden (1990), which combine elements of both in “an eclectic, hybrid manner”.’ — Brian Hoyle

 

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Stills












































 

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Further

Derek Jarman @ IMDb
Video: Saintmaking: the canonisation of Derek Jarman by queer ‘nuns’
DEREK JARMAN: A SAINT IN THE GARDEN
Derek Jarman @ MUBI
Book: ‘Modern Nature: The Journals of Derek Jarman’
Derek Jarman Profile @ Senses of Cinema
Director Derek Jarman remembered, 40 years after his controversial debut
Six definitive films: A beginner’s guide to Derek Jarman
Derek Jarman: Artist, Activist, Gardener, Writer, ‘Cock Sucking, Straight Acting Lesbian Man’
REMEMBERING ICONIC FILMMAKER AND LGBTQ ACTIVIST DEREK JARMAN 25 YEARS AFTER HIS DEATH
Growing Through Grief: Derek Jarman on Gardening
Derek Jarman by Michael Charlesworth
Time-travelling Derek Jarman is a beacon for the humanities
Adrian Searle on Derek Jarman
Why Derek Jarman’s life was even more influential than his films
Basking in Derek Jarman’s Private Utopia
Derek Jarman: the enfant terrible whose brilliance unnerved the establishment
The Derek Jarman Lab @ Instagram
The Much Missed Radicalism of Derek Jarman
Why Derek Jarman matters
The Legacy of Derek Jarman
Into the Blue: Transposing the Frame in Derek Jarman’s ‘Blue’
Derek Jarman’s apocalyptic visions of England are as relevant as ever

 

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Select Music Videos


Marianne Faithfull – Broken English (1979)


Throbbing Gristle – Psychic Rally in Heaven (1980 – 1981)

Wang Chung – Dance Hall Days (1983)


Psychic TV – Catalan (1984)


Bryan Ferry – Windswept (1985)


The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead (1986)


Pet Shop Boys – It’s A Sin (1987)


The Mighty Lemon Drops – Out Of Hand (1987)


Suede – The Next Life (1993)


Coil – Egyptian Basses (1993)

 

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Interview
by Akiko Hada & Rieko Fujii

 

WORD ASSOCIATIONS

Chaos: Chaos… (laughs)… most of my friends.

Energy: I am certainly lacking it (laughs) .

Death: I think about it every day, particularly at the moment. That what happens… well, it doen’t really associate with anything in particular. Certainly my friends’ death. I think about it an awful lot, I mean, we are living at the end of the world.

[The telephone rings. It’s Jordan. She’ll ring back in three quarters of an hour.]

Flower: Camellias… They’ve got bright green leaves, and they are red and pink and sometimes white. They come out at the wrong time of the year, almost in winter, and they look as if they should be tropical. They are a most tropical looking flower you get around here. When you see them in the spring here… such a surprise, they don’t look as if they should be here. They’re wonderful.

Kinship/Family: Oh, definitely my mum, and my grandmother. I don’t really like families, I find them rather terrifying. So, fear. Yes… (laughs).

Fog: There isn’t any left in England. We don’t have fogs like we used to have. We used to have wonderful fogs in London. I mean, people die in them, they are so strong (laughs.) Probably you can see them in a room, you can look across the room and actually see the fog in the room. When they stopped burning coal, fogs really stopped as well. Los Angeles… it’s another thing which reminds me of.

Volcano: Kenneth Anger. He put volcanoes all over his new film. They are wonderful, they are all over the film.

PASSION, FILM, PAINTING

What is your passion in life?

Oh, I don’t know. I think it alters. When I was a kid, I was passionate about flowers, butterflies – I used to collect butterflies – and paintings. And when I grew up a bit, I became passionate about music at that period, and theatre. And then I changed again. I’m not so passionate any longer, I am too old for passion (laughs). The Romans used to think passion as a madness. I’m not passionate any longer, am I, James?

[His friend and producer James Mackay is sitting on his bed, reading a magazine.]

James: Films?

Film… Am I passionate about films? When I see the old movies I made 10 years ago, it’s fascinating to see my friends 10 years before. I think the older the film is, the more fascinating it gets. The first photographs are really fascinating, and the first films are really wonderful to watch. I think a film gets more and more extraordinary when it gets older, and having been doing it for 10 years, some of the things I have done are old and have that feeling, for me anyway.

Do you like 30’s Expressionist films?

Yes, very much so. [Dr. Caligari?] Yes. Also, some Japanese films of that time as well. Mizoguchi’s wonderful films… I love his films, those are my favourite films.

I feel your films are not a kind of a media for giving some concrete message through them, but more for creating an interesting imagery. Do you agree with that?

Very much so, because I was a painter, I came to film from being a painter. I’ve never worked in the film industry as such, I’ve never worked in television. What I am looking at is always important in my films. I have also worked as a designer, of course, I worked for Ken Russell as a designer, so that influenced me as well. I suspect my weakest spot is having to write my own script as well. But they [the films] are all visual, that’s what interests me.

What is the reason why you work on both feature films and experimental films?

It is really one grown out of the other. I started as a painter, as I said, and I rented a super 8 camera from my friend, and I went and took a lot of super 8 films. As the time I was still designing for Ken Russell, and still painting, and slowly films took over. And I’ve never stopped making my own super 8 movies, but after doing that for 5 years, it is also exciting to make a feature film. And a situation occurred where it was possible to make Sebastiane in 1975. We made it with very little money, a friend of mine got a loan against his house, and we went away and made that film. In fact, all my roots are painting and home movie making, the underground area of film making, on the whole, rather than the commercial cinema.

What is the difference, in terms of your ambition, between feature films like Sebastiane and Jubilee, and those experimental films such as In the Shadow of the Sun?

That was a very private film in a way, because I was working with friends, it was just made for my friends. We never expected that film to go further than my studio, maybe shown to friends or Co-op [London Film-Makers’ Co-op] or something like that. All those films in those days were really made in our own cinema, a group of people who were living in studios, we all lived in a close proximities to each other, so we were making a sort of bigger home movies. That’s what those films are, and I actually rather like them. They are very private films compared to the feature films.

What kind of paintings did you used to do?

[Pointing to a painting on the wall] That’s the last one I did, those little ones there with a star in it, there in a black picture. It’s a sort of landscape, but it is difficult to ascertain that, it’s a sort of apocalypse picture, rather like John Martin’s, a 19th century painter. I started painting landscape, and these became very abstract. In fact, for a long time I was doing rather big abstract pictures, sort of influenced by American painting, then I stopped, but I still work on these.

Do you still paint then?

I do a little bit, every now and again. They start off like that there, and I do a bit each day, but they are like drawings rather than paintings, they are very simple. I don’t do any big pictures, I don’t have any room. I need to work in this room, it’s not just big enough for paintings. it’s only 15 square feet at most [he must have meant 15 x 15 feet], I think. So I have to move my desk to paint, that’s why they are so small.

Talking of painting, when and how did you get interested in Caravaggio?

It was suggested by a man who commissioned this film, called Jackson. It wasn’t an idea that I had myself. He came up to me at a gallery opening about four years ago, before I did The Tempest, and asked me whether I was interested in writing a script, and he sat me down to write a script for three months. I’ve left it for a while as I worked on The Tempest, and then re-written it again in the last month or two. We’ve set up an office and I hope we’ll start filming at the end of this summer. But like all these things, you just never know. Because of the situation here in London, to actually get organised… [is] very hard.

OTHER DIRECTORS’ FILMS

I heard you had trouble with David Bowie [in regards to the Neutron project.]

No trouble with David Bowie whatsoever. David Bowie was going to do it, but in the end we couldn’t get the money together fast enough, so he had to find something else, which was Elephant Man. Then he started Elephant Man and he was working really hard, he was so exhausted by it, so he said to me, “I don’t think I can do it next January”. That’s when we could probably have done it. In the mean time, I was having problems, which I think he sensed, with the company that commissioned it, they were having problems, so we decided to call it off. But I’m certain that I will work with David Bowie one day. I think he wants to work with me, and I certainly want to work with him, just this time it was not quite right.

What do you think of his films?

I quite liked The Man Who Fell to the Earth, I thought he was quite good in that. I liked that film. I didn’t see the other one [Just a Gigolo], I heard the other one was terrible. Everyone said it was terrible, so I decided I didn’t want to see it. I never go to see films because of the actor, and I only go and see one if people said it was a good film. Everyone said this one was terrible, and I believed them this time. Sometimes I don’t believe them, but I believed them about this film.

Any recent films you’ve seen and liked?

I saw Tarkovsky’s Stalker, I thought that was wonderful, a lovely film. It looks so wonderful at the beginning, all that landscape. I went to the Berlin Film Festival, but I didn’t see many films I really liked. Most of them that I like are things like super 8 films from New York, Caroline Key and people like that, Scott B and Bess B, more or less underground – I don’t know if that’s still the right word for it. Honestly, I preferred that sort of cinema while I was in Berlin, though I went to see one or two commercial films.

I can tell you films I hated, that’s very easy. I hated Elephant Man, I thought it was absolutely awful, unbearable. I can give you the reasons which are specific. I think it was [?? – illegible] the way the English life was set up; it was very conventional, made like a television documentary; had a certain style of acting that I didn’t like. I thought the only nice thing about it was the photography, which was beautiful, wonderful, but everything else was absolutely haywire.

I hated Long Good Friday, it was so boring I nearly went to sleep in it. In fact, there is a whole area of English cinema which are so terrible. Alan Parker is another one. Fame and that dreadful film called Midnight Express, which is so nasty because that man had his head beaten up, and all the audience were cheering for it. That is the English yawn cinema. I call that a “yawn between two long adverts”.

But there are English directors who are interesting. People like Chris Petit who made Radio On, Ron Peck who made Nighthawks, and there are others as well. There are underground film makers, there is a young super 8 film maker called John Maybury who has made a film recently, which is absolutely wonderful, and he’s going to show it at the ICA this summer.

Have you seen any of Julien Temple’s films?

Great Rock & Roll Swindle? I liked that, I thought it was fun, light-hearted and funny, like the English Carry On films of the 1950’s.

Yes, I think Julien likes those films.

Absolutely, so do I. Julien Temple is another one who could probably produce very interesting films. Jim Sharman, though he’s Australian, I don’t know. We will see. I don’t like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but there is a new one so we’ll see what it’s like.

Did you like the Rocky Horror stage show?

I didn’t like the film at all, the stage version is much more interesting. Somehow the film did not work in England, no one liked it in England, it only lasted for a week. It’s only been successful in America.

What kind of reactions do your films get abroad?

I don’t know. In Germany very favourably, they get very good reactions in Germany. Different films differently. For example, Sebastiane did very well in Italy. None of them did particularly well in America. It’s very difficult to break into the American market, although none of them yet has done disasterously. Considering the budgets, which are all very small, all of the films made profits, which is excellent. I don’t know about Japan, I don’t know if any of them even got there. I don’t think so. The Tempest did very well in Australia, and now Jubilee is also released in Australia. I think Jubilee was before its time, because now it seems people are interested in that film again, it seems to be coming back. I don’t know, every country is different. I think the films are most consistently liked in Germany, of all the coutries.

Are you usually aware of what other directors are doing?

I don’t know a huge amount about films, I know a lot about paintings. I am brought up as a painter, I have never consistently studied film, I have never been to film school or anything. I think one is aware of other film makers, one is in contact with a lot of people who see films. I do see films, there are hundreds of things one misses. But, for example, going to the Berlin Film Festival for ten days, you see 2 films a day or 3 a day, so you do see a lot of films in places like that, very often the sort of films that I really liked, particularly ones from abroad. I am not very keen on English film-makers. But you can understand it: if one is working in a particular country, one would have to be very critical about the sort of films that are being made around them. I like the German cinema very much. I like Werner Herzog’s films, not all of them but I like The Heart of Glass very much. I like Japanese films. Like most people, I seem to like films that come from abroad.

I tell you the one film that I was disappointed by, though – Kurosawa’s last film, Kagemusha. Everyone thought it was absolutely wonderful, but I thought it was terrible. I found it unbelievably boring. It had none of the finess of real Japanese cinema, it seemed to be terribly infected by the sort of Western music that I always loved, but I just found it warring. I suppose Japan is like that, Western music is played everywhere. But I found it odd because the film was set back in the past. If it was a film about modern Japan, it wouldn’t matter. But it did seem to me that it was muddled, for me it was.

What was that wonderful film, I always forget. There is a wonderful film about a boy who has been painted with in a temple, a singer who is painted with signs and the demon tears his ears off, and he goes off to the graveyard and there is a princess…. That film [Kwaidan] is absolutely wonderful.

PRODUCTION

What degree of power do you have in the production of the films?

What sort of power? Control of the subject, or…

Do you have an absolute power?

Of course not. The whole thing about film making is so enormous that I don’t know how you interpret power, it’s a very broad question. I think I’ve always [used] my own material, or adapted Shakespeare, for a start. I have always made the decision what I was going to make. I haven’t made anything that I didn’t personally want to make. I don’t know if that’s power or not.

When it comes to actually making a film, they are made on a fairly communal basis, everyone suggests ideas and things, and I don’t work in a way a normal commercial film director does, because we don’t have the resources. When you’re making a film with very little money, you don’t have that sort of power. When you’ve got millions of dollars, then you can say “paint that house red!”, “I want that river to go blue!” and so on. Working with small budgets, you have to improvise all the time.

Do you get much influence from people you work with?

Yes I do. I work with people I know, people I have known for a long time. They are people I know quite well outside of the film, and whom I listen to normally, so one is listened to when one is making a film.

Obviously, if we are going to get the film together, the last decision is going to be mine, but you can see, it’s sort of reciprocal. I’ve been working with highly intelligent and articulate actors, for instance in The Tempest, Heathcote Williams who knows much more about Shakespeare than I do. So if Heathcote says in the morning, “I think this line should be put it back again” or “we should cut it out”, I will listen. That’s how we work. I don’t work in the dictatorial manner, I don’t think. But I have a very firm idea what I want to do before I go filming, and this is a question of setting up. You see, if you get all the right people in the beginning, you never have to ask anyone to do anything they don’t want to do, because you have worked out what people would want to do in any case. That’s where the art is, finding the right people before you start, and when you start, everyone does just whatever they want do do more or less. That’s how it’s worked.

What relationships do you have with your actors?

They are all different, obviously. Some are friends and some are friends’ friends. There are very few people who don’t come out of my circle of friends. Nearly every one of them knows someone else on the film, or someone on one of the other films. Although they are not all great friends of mine, maybe, and I don’t see them often, they are all people whom I’m likely to bump into in the course of ordinary life. I probably see Jordan once every month, or somewhere or other I go and say hello to her. I’ve kept in contact with most of them, not all of them. Just like life, some of them go away completely. But they are all people whom I know or they know friends of mine.

SPIRITUALITY, RELIGION, ETC.

Have you had any spiritual experience?

It’s very difficult to know about it, isn’t it? Have I seen ghosts and have I seen angels? I don’t think I have.

Any memories of funny, strange or shocking experience?

I have hundreds of funny, strange or shocking experiences. I have hundreds of them, I don’t know where to begin. Talking about religious experiences, I have got a very strange experience which, I don’t know if it will mean very much to you because obviously you come from a very different culture, but ancient Greece is the root of Western culture, and in Delphi, which is sacred to Apollo, where the sacred well was that used to speak prophecies, and it still exists. I was hitch-hiking through Greece when I was much younger, I was hitch-hiking down to Delphi to see the famous bronze of Charioteer. It was a group of three of us, and we got in very late at night. The lorry which took us stopped before we got to the village, and we had to walk to it at night. There was this waterfall, and it was very hot, obviously in the middle of summer in Greece, and we decided to sleep out by this waterfall. And when we woke up very early int he morning, because the sun came up at four thirty in the morning, we found a sort of ravine where water came out of a cave, and there was a big stone and we cooked our breakfast on this stone and washed all our clothes in it. Then a little later, at about six o’clock, several people arrived, looked at us very strangely and disappeared, and about twenty minutes later, about 100 policemen in 4 police vans arrived. I’ve never seen so many policemen in so few vans, just hundreds of them everywhere, arrived and arrested us. It turned out that we had washed our clothes in the sacred well of Apollo, the well that gave you prophecies, and we cooked our breakfast on the altar. We didn’t know that we’d done it, it was completely innocent, but obviously, it was one of the most awful things you could possibly do. Afterwards I thought it was rather wonderful, it was almost a religious experience. There you are. It is the answer to both of your questions – it was religious experience and a funny story . And we never saw a thing in Delphi, we were thrown out of the town, they wouldn’t let us back in. They took us out and said, go away.

What does religion mean to you?

I have no organised religion whatsoever. I was bought up in the Church of England, and there was nothing I could learn from the Church. I have a totally secular view of life. I mean, in a way, I believe in this fatalism but it is nothing to do with organised religion. If I got my hands on England, I’d make them all read “Tempest” instead of the Bible. I think they would learn more.

Are you interested in the religions of the East?

I have been, but not deeply. There was a huge fashion in England about 10 or 15 years ago. As a young student I almost reacted against that, because I was slightly younger, you can imagine the situation. I am much more interested in the Art of the East. One of the great influences of my life was a man who had deeply known about the Japanese art, who’d been to Japan. He had always told me the stories of things that happened to him in Japan, and he had a Japanese tea bowl. I’ve still got one of his Japanese tea bowls, up there. It’s a rather nice one, I love it. It’s not a very old one, apparently it’s 19th century, but it’s beautiful, isn’t it? I think it is. Perhaps it’s very ordinary to you. I think it’s wonderful. It is used, I’m afraid it’s used for very English tea instead.

 

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19 of Derek Jarman’s 24 films

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A Journey to Avebury (1971)
A Journey to Avebury is a short experimental Super 8 film made by Jarman in 1971, in a period when he was just beginning to transition to film as his preferred medium. It charts a walking journey he made through the Wiltshire landscape to the Neolithic stones at Avebury.’ — Tibor Nagy


the entirety

 

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Garden of Luxor (1972)
‘A silent avant-garde experience created by Derek Jarman, filled with superimposed images forming a whole picture. His palette consists mostly of reddish random images of Egypt and the pyramids; a strange garden destroyed from time to time by a man with a whip; a young peaceful man relaxing on the floor; other smoking and eating insects. This is Jarman’s view of the Garden of Luxor and its mysteries.’ — IMDb


the entirety

 

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Stolen Apples for Karen Blixen (1973)
‘Begins with a portrait of Karen Blixen taken from a photograph which is then superimposed with images of Gerald Incandela in a cloak collecting apples dropped from a tree and holding them up in tribute to her.’ — MUBI


the entirety

 

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Art of Mirrors (1973)
The Art of Mirrors is an abstract film made in 1973 by director, Derek Jarman. The film, shot in super 8 features figures moving in the foreground and background of an empty space holding mirrors which occasionally flash in the lens of the camera. The images portrayed in the film are reminiscent of Jarman’s Abstract Landscape paintings of the same period. In his diary Jarman wrote of this film, ‘this is only something that could only be done on a Super 8 camera, with it’s built in meters and effects.’ The film’s title was reworked in the script for ‘Dr Dee The Art Of Mirrors and The Summoning Of Angels’ in 1975.’ — Letterboxd


the entirety

 

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Sebastiane (1976)
‘Derek Jarman’s 1976 film Sebastiane is a loose retelling of the story of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian. The martyr’s tale is recontextualised from its Christian origins into an unapologetic representation of queer male desire and a commentary on the nature of reception. Jarman is certainly playing ‘fast and loose with history’ here but to dismiss the film because of this is to entirely miss the point. He is not disregarding history with this film in order to create a purely fictional story of queerness with a historical veneer superficially painted over it. He in fact shows a great interest in the historical process, interrogating how history is used and constructed by the present. In this film we see a pure expression of queer individuals striving to find a place for themselves within the past, negotiating the lines between heritage, history, and reception. This results in a highly unique work to which we should direct greater attention.’ — Alex Grindley


Excerpt


the entirety

 

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Jubilee (1977)
‘When Queen Elizabeth I asks her court alchemist to show her England in the future, she’s transported 400 years to a post-apocalyptic wasteland of roving girl gangs, an all-powerful media mogul, fascistic police, scattered filth, and twisted sex. With Jubilee, legendary British filmmaker Derek Jarman channeled political dissent and artistic daring into a revolutionary blend of history and fantasy, musical and cinematic experimentation, satire and anger, fashion and philosophy. With its uninhibited punk petulance and sloganeering, Jubilee brings together many cultural and musical icons of the time, including Jordan, Toyah Willcox, Little Nell, Wayne County, Adam Ant, and Brian Eno (with his first original film score), to create a genuinely unique, unforgettable vision. Ahead of its time and often frighteningly accurate in its predictions, it is a fascinating historical document and a gorgeous work of film art.’ — The Criterion Collection


Trailer


Jubilee by Derek Jarman reduced to 1 minute

 

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The Tempest (1979)
‘Shot on 16mm on a characteristically tiny budget, Derek Jarman’s third feature was just as playfully wayward as Sebastiane (co-d. Paul Humfress, 1976) and Jubilee (1978), with which it has rather more in common than any conventional adaptation of a Shakespeare play. There is copious nudity (mostly male, but also the distressingly unforgettable sight of Caliban’s mother Sycorax breastfeeding her son), unconventional casting (Toyah Willcox’s Miranda hardly suggests innocent purity) and setting (a crumbling mansion as opposed to an island), and an approach to the text that clearly regards it as a springboard rather than a sacrament.

‘Yet the result is one of the most imaginative of all Shakespeare films, and comes far closer to capturing the play’s sense of magic than the lacklustre BBC Television Shakespeare production that was broadcast only a few months after its release. It was a long-term labour of love for Jarman – he’d been obsessed with the play since his schooldays, and had made a serious attempt at getting the film produced in 1974, when his lack of experience counted against him.’ — Michael Brooke


Excerpt


Excerpt

 

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In the Shadow of the Sun (1981)
‘Derek Jarman’s In the Shadow of the Sun is part home movie, part fever dream; a fantasy and a reverie and a technicolour nightmare, made more surreal, menacing, and beautiful with an electronic soundtrack by Throbbing Gristle.’ — forestpunk


the entirety

 

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Imagining October (1984)
‘Produced for the 1984 London Film Festival, Derek Jarman’s Imagining October is a dreamlike meditation on art and politics in the final years of the Cold War.’ — MUBI


Excerpt

 

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The Angelic Conversation (1985)
‘”My most austere work, but also the closest to my heart.” So Derek Jarman described THE ANGELIC CONVERSATION, his lyrical celebration of gay love set within the context of a series of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Ethereal Super-8 images slowed to a magical, meditative pace follow the love affair between two men, as Dame Judi Dench provides a soothing presence with her narration of fourteen sonnets. The disruption of the narrative with images of barren and threatening landscapes echoes perfectly the exaltation and torment explored in the works. Polished off with dreamlike music by Coil, Jarman’s most cherished film is an intoxicating portrait of love.’ –Zeitgeist Films


Excerpt

 

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Caravaggio (1986)
‘Derek Jarman struggled for seven years to bring his portrait of the great Renaissance painter Michelangelo Caravaggio to the screen, producing a critically acclaimed masterwork and powerful meditation on sexuality, criminality and art. Told in flashback as the artist (Nigel Terry – Troy) lies dying in poverty, the film brilliantly recreates the look and colour of Caravaggio’s original paintings while exploring the homoerotic subtext of his work. Speculating on the artist’s relationship with his model Ranuccio (Sean Bean – Lord of the Rings), the film explores a vicious love triangle also involving the model’s wife, played brilliantly by Tilda Swinton (Orlando, Michael Clayton) Jarman’s muse and collaborator throughout several films, this was Swinton’s first feature role. With luscious production design it was the first major film production for award-winning costume designer Sandy Powell (The Aviator, Shakespeare in Love) the dazzling Caravaggio is arguably the most accessible of Jarman’s films.’ — Umbrella


Trailer


Derek Jarman about Caravaggio

 

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Pirate Tape (1987)
‘For fans of the film Decoder, here is a shared cinematic universe of Derek Jarman’s 1983 Super-8mm collaborative short, Pirate Tape. Re-coded at the corrected speed, it stars William S. Burroughs & FM Einheit with sound by Psychic TV, who at that time featured: Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Peter Christopherson (Sleazy of COIL), Geoffrey Nigel Laurence Rushton (Jhonn Balance of COIL), Alex Fergusson (of Alternative TV), John Gosling (of Zos Kia), and Paula P-Orridge.’ — Romain Frequency


the entirety

 

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The Last of England (1987)
The Last of England is not a conventional film by any means, but it does feature many of Jarman’s typical hues. From his earliest film experiments, the director had been using Super 8 to realign visual perception, going so far as to shoot at literally a handful of frames per second only. He had already began to push the medium in longer works, such as In The Shadow of The Sun (1984), and the previous year’s The Angelic Conversation (1987), but this is the first instance of the feature-length film being fully realised in this beautifully grainy medium (before being transferred to video, aptly creating further degradation).

‘Within its disintegrating frames, Jarman unleashes his anger at the state of Thatcherite Britain; a violent, grey place verging on the totalitarian and the decrepit. The film takes its name from Ford Maddox Brown’s painting of 1855, and shares its themes of escape and the changing of place, but in the most poetic and impressionistic of senses. Whereas the characters of Brown’s painting are saying goodbye to the white cliffs of Dover, Jarman is saying goodbye in an emotional way; he’s stuck in the place physically but is witnessing a higher establishment dismantle the world around him. If Jarman were to recreate Brown’s painting, the cliffs would be crumbling.’ — Adam Scovell

Trailer


Excerpt


Excerpt

 

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War Requiem (1989)
‘Derek Jarman creates a visual evocation of Benjamin Britten’s choral masterpiece, The War Requiem, which blends the Latin Mass of the Dead with the poignant poetry of Wilfred Owen. Dramatised scenes featuring spellbinding performances from an extraordinary cast are interwoven with cinematic, poetic images and harrowing archive footage, which all serve to recreate the horrors of 20th century wars – the loss of innocence, the unbearable suffering, the nightmares, the tragic waste of life. Critically acclaimed on its release, Derek Jarman’s War Requiem is perhaps the visionary director’s greatest film. As a testament to the futility of war it is a unique, poignant and haunting experience.’ — Hibrow


Trailer


the entirety

 

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The Garden (1990)
‘In his film The Garden (1990) Derek explored what it meant to be gay in the 20th century, against the political backdrop of Section 28 and the HIV crisis. Filmed on location in Dungeness against the backdrop of Prospect Cottage and the nuclear power station. Filmed on Super 8, laid down on to tape and then 35mm film. Shifting from the personal to the political these excerpts from the film show Jarman working in his garden.’ — Garden Museum


Trailer


Excerpts

 

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Edward II (1991)
‘One of final masterpieces from director Derek Jarman, the iconic New Queer Cinema classic Edward II offers a radical, postmodern take on Christopher Marlowe’s Elizabethan tragedy. Newly crowned, the youthful King Edward II (Steven Waddington) sets the stage for palace revolt when he takes the ambitious Piers Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan) as his lover. Neglecting both his wife, Isabella (Tilda Swinton), and his royal responsibilities, Edward heaps titles and honors on Gaveston, while indulging in a life of ease and pleasure. Distraught with jealousy, Isabella conspires with her husband’s powerful enemies to depose the king and have her vengeance.’ — Film Movement


Trailer


Excerpt


Excerpt

 

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Wittgenstein (1993)
‘A bold, offbeat biography of the great Viennese philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, personalised in Derek Jarman’s unique style to address the politics and sexuality of the troubled intellectual.’ — MUBI


Excerpt


Excerpt

 

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Blue (1993)
‘Against a plain, unchanging blue screen, a densely interwoven soundtrack of voices, sound effects and music attempt to convey a portrait of Derek Jarman’s experiences with AIDS, both literally and allegorically, together with an exploration of the meanings associated with the colour blue.’ — Noah


the entirety

 

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Glitterbug (1994)
‘An hour-long companion piece to Blue, Glitterbug is a collage of Derek Jarman’s Super 8 videos, assembled posthumously by his close friends as a tribute to the late artist.’ — MUBI


Excerpt


Excerpts

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** David, Hi. Early 90s: lo-fi indie rock, rave culture, writing my novel ‘Try’, queer punk, … It was nice, better than nice even, but I never long for the past. Nostalgia doesn’t agree with me for some reason. I’m a forward momentum kind of guy. What awards show? I like awards shows, I don’t know why. Award shows and disaster movies, big guilty pleasures. I keep feeling better, thank you. Still pretty imperfect internally, but righter every day. Have a weekend full of joy and all of that good stuff. ** Misanthrope, How was Cornstalkers? Tell me, tell me! Bon weekend away from the work load, buddy. ** Dominik, Hi!!! Glad you dug it, of course. Skelley to the rescue. Yes, I have a sniffle and still a bit of internal clog/haze, but I’m living like I don’t. If I was in university I would maybe write my dissertation about depressing Russian twink porn of the early 00’s. It was so unique. I’d love to locate and interview the people who made it and find out whether it was intentionally depressing and disturbing or if they didn’t realise it was or just didn’t care if the models seemed so desperate and miserable. But alas. Love rewiring everyone’s brain until they have zero interest in what Kanye West does or thinks or feels, G. ** Your Nightmare, Mine or everybody’s? ** Cunt Fucker, Oh, no, you played the ‘you’ll never equal Bresson’ card! ** FuckYou., Okay, now you’re just boring. ** Jack Skelley, Hi, Jack! Thank you ever so much, sir and pal. Brendan’s opening is tonight! Or today! As is our book club. What a day! Everyone, If you’re in the LA environs, amazing artist and blog d.l. Brendan Lott has a show of his photographs opening today with a catalogue that includes an essay by yesterday’s guest host with the most Jack Skelley. Go if you can! Here’s the scoop, courtesy of Jack: ‘Artist Brendan Lott’s new show at Walter Maciel Gallery here in L.A. opens Sat. Nov.6. Here’s the gallery website. Brendan published a gorgeous book to accompany his stunner photos and kindly asked me to write an essay. Brendan’s book is here. See you a little later! ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Oh, Guy Fawkes, right. So the fireworks tradition is people imagining they’re him and that the air is the House of Lords? Is that the idea? ** David Ehrenstein, I’m so very sorry for your loss, David. A close friend of mine died unexpectedly recently, and I know how very hard that feels. Hugs. ** alex beaumais, Hi, alex! Welcome! I’m very happy to have facilitated Mr. Skelley’s getting you in the door. I never watch TV, it’s weird. Thanks for wanting to watch PGL, and I hope you like it. How are you generally or specifically? What’s going on? Have a terrific weekend. ** politekid, Hey, O. Yeah, I don’t know what was up with the trolls. It’s weird to get attacked out of the blue with no known impetus, although I guess the post somehow triggered it? I don’t know. Thanks for having my back, my friend. How are you? What’s your latest? ** Steve Erickson, Gisele leant me a little money, so I’ll be good, I think. Thank you. Curious about that new track, obviously. Yeah, that was confusing: the Schwab thing. Makes you wonder. Have a fine weekend, sir. ** Okay. It was odd to realise that I’d never made a Derek Jarman post before, but, as soon as I realised that, I made one, and now everything is hunky dory. Enjoy yourselves with it and otherwise. See you on Monday.

11 Comments

  1. David

    Twas the pride of ‘dear old blighty’ awards… reimagined in my head.. the antichrist’s nanny throws herself from a window just across the way whilst fireworks go off… shouting ‘it’s all for you David!!’ Jodie Foster is sitting on a bench eating a baguette on the sea front… she nods to me…. I take a sip of my diet cola and nod back from my mother’s sofa… there’s a shooting at a Toronto shopping centre… (the kitchen) as I enter everyone is running out….. I get an icecream and crisps…. on returning….. I make a ‘fuk you all’ speech…. and tell an antichrist-dote about being a failed porn actor… and the time i fashioned fancy underwear for this man… “one pair had an elephant’s trunk and moving eyes…”. my mom’s fake antique statues all ‘giggle’… I then go across the carpet like a dog with worms chanting ‘I’m the winner I’m the winner!!!’ Over and over again….

    glad you are on the mend…

    I love Derek Jarman and i think this post is fantastic!!! Thanks… spotted Marc Almond in one of the pics… when i first moved to London I worked at a bar called the Freedom cafe… he was a part owner and was often in… I’m a big fan of soft cell and his music.

    Cheers Dennis have a sweet weekend x

  2. Dominik

    Hi!!

    Oh, thank you for another fantastic post!!

    I’m glad to hear that your cold’s going away even if it’s not really in a hurry. I hope that by the time you read this, you’ll feel even better, maybe even perfectly fine!

    That’d definitely be a dissertation I’d read, hah. My guess is that it wasn’t intentionally depressing; the directors just didn’t give a single fuck about how the actors felt. But I could be wrong, and I wouldn’t even be surprised.

    Okay, right, this love and I are gonna be friends – he won’t even need to touch my brain to make me completely uninterested in Kanye West’s existence, haha. Love shaving his hair to look like a sexy alien, but he only ends up looking like a thumb, Od.

  3. David Ehrenstein

    Beyond Lovely tosee this Derek Day. When his book “Dancing Ledge” came out it so overwhelmed me with its Gay Insight I began a correspondence with him. There fore in 1986 whn he came to L.A. to publicize “Caravaggio” we were far from strangers. He was accompanied by Tild and a smokin hot littl number named “Sring” — whose real name was Rupert Audley and was the gay punk son of aristocrats. He went to “The Pleasure chest” to buy a new dildo, so Derek, Tilda and I walked around L.A. Derek was fascinated by the engravings on th upper exteriors of buildings on Sunset and he shot them. This footage was included in his masterpiece “The Last of England.” After this visit we kept in touch by mail and phone and I last spoke to him about a week before he died. Somehwat like Donald Cammell, Derek saw Death as an experience that was part of life Not A Day Goes By that I fail to think of him. So much so he doesn’t seem to have “gone” at all. Or rather asAndy would say he’s “Gone to Bloomingdales”

    Besides all the films cited here Ken Russell’s “The Devils” should be included as Derek created the massive white tile sets for that masterpiece.

  4. _Black_Acrylic

    Thank you for this Jarman showcase! Jubilee is a particular favourite that received some inevitable parental DVD disapproval earlier in lockdown. I’d already seen it multiple times but the folks just don’t understand punk I suppose.

    Fireworks still going off outside 24 hours later, I suppose to celebrate the failure of the Gunpowder Plot although I doubt anyone thinks much about the event’s meaning these days. Council events were all cancelled this year but these must all be wildcat domestic garden parties? Who knows.

    The final bit of writing feedback from my tutor was good, and the course starting next week will be microfiction. Apparently this form allows more scope for humour and surrealism so it could well be a winner.

  5. Brendan

    Dennis and Jack – thank you for the show shoutout! Everything is up and I’m done so now I just have to go and stand around today. Love the Jarman day. Glad you are feeling better.
    Love, B

  6. David Fishkind

    Hi Dennis,

    I’ve been trying to write you an email for the past month or so, but I keep getting stalled. (Then, when I was satisfied enough with the following result, I discovered the address I had for you didn’t work. Thus, I’m following the instructions on your website and contacting you through your blog.) I recently reread the George Miles Cycle before reading ‘I Wished.’ There’s so much there to associate about. I’ve been a fan of yours for years, and a number of my friends have made your acquaintance, but I never attempted to, for whatever reasons I had at various times. After revisiting the cycle and going through your new novel, however, I felt some urgency in reaching out. Still, much of what I was able to put down on the page felt inadequate. Here are two less piddling parts that communicate some of what I’ve been attempting to get at:

    1. I tried to read the George Miles Cycle in college, but I was too repressed at the time to get through it. I think it was actually triggering in this unique way, like, these books were advanced, or curated to my tastes, in a manner I wasn’t ready to confront. I don’t mean repressed like I was closeted. Or maybe I was, but not sexually. I was pretty open about exploring my sexuality. And by now I’ve settled into monogamy with a woman I love in a little house in the hills of Vermont, and I’ve ingested such large and sundry doses of psychedelics since then, repression doesn’t really factor. In fact, I feel like I now have to temper my lack of repression in order to interact with my partner’s friends, people at gas stations, coworkers, etc. But I think the violence in ‘Closer’ and ‘Frisk’ intimidated me so much because I didn’t know what to do with it. It spoke to me, but it also frightened me. It stoked embers in me that I would’ve preferred to snuff out. So I did. The same thing happened when I tried to read ‘American Psycho’ as a kid. Anyway, I recently revisited the novels, and I was delighted to discover all the power they held for me twelve years ago was intact—strengthened even—and I’d expanded enough in the interim that I had language and confidence to contextualize their radicalness. Thank you for writing them.

    2. People in my life have startled me from time to time, though consistently, by telling me how angry I am. Not how angry I look, or how angry I’m being, and almost never in reference to something I’ve said or done, but like they sense this force in me. And it’s true. I get startled because I don’t know how they know. I’m almost always wearing a terse, tight, implicit smile, but yeah, I’m angry. It seems normal to me. There’s so much to be mad about. So if I’m not acting on this anger, or being directly malevolent, I don’t get what the problem is. I think it’s probably a sign of cognitive slippage to not be inconsolably irate when considering the state of the world, from its most insignificant minutiae on a peer-to-peer, or solitary, basis, to global, geopolitical issues. It seems like I’m expected to not just act like, but completely take for granted that, everything is okay and is going to be okay when it obviously isn’t. This relates to general problems regarding freedom of imagination. People seem to believe if you have violent thoughts, you will eventually, inevitably behave violently. Rather than internalize the pain you feel projected on you and others from society, nature, the conflict of existing at all, they think you’ll externalize it. I read in ‘The Noonday Demon’ by Andrew Solomon that men who act impulsively with violence experience less depression on average. Shouldn’t it be evident, then, that anger toward [the world, life, whatever] is innocuous in its brooding, to everyone but one’s self?(!) I’ve found your books to be a kind of mirror or magnifier or conveyer belt of this alienation and confusion with how to approach what I sense is a natural emotional, psychosocial response to living. I’ve found the freedom of imagination in the violence of your prose cathartic, and an antidote to the suppression of so much license to think, express, self-determine, feel safe, sane, honest… Whatever.

    I won’t push on much further. Only to say your books speak to me, as I know they do to many others, and now if I kill myself listening to Nick Drake music, as I once often imagined, especially in the midst of one very curious and impromptu acid trip, that I’ll feel a certain kind of clichéd attachment to George, though I’d probably still feel justified in going through with it since I conceived of it before ‘I Wished’ was published. (Unless I’m mistaken and that appeared in one of the earlier novels, I don’t have them sitting out beside me this afternoon.) In any case, the music is always soothing. Was glad to see Nick Drake up there alongside Guided by Voices and the gang.

    Naturally, I’m a writer too. And I won’t harass you with details. I’ll just drop a link here to the most recent story I’ve brought out: https://davidfishkind.substack.com/p/the-slaying-at-yesternights. It’s the second installment of a quartet of tales I’m writing. I thought it might appeal to your sensibility. Do with that what you may.
    And enjoy the rest of this Saturday. Thank you again.

    Yours,
    David

  7. scarf

    cellophane was the rage

  8. politekid

    hi dc!! haha of course, i’m glad i could have your back. it’s a shame trolls are so boring in the end. (the Klaus Schwab stuff seems to be based around some vague trite conspiracy stuff re: the ‘Great Reset’, by the way, yawn). i think that’s why i’m drawn to old teenage virus writers, they aren’t exactly more imaginative but there’s definitely something, i don’t know, ‘fresher’ about being told that ‘your computer has been wanked’.
    talking of: that book proposal is still my latest. i’m about a quarter of the way through, which isn’t far enough & it might also be not interesting. i haven’t dared place it in front of another pair of eyes to find out. i have enough ideas to justify it, i think, but i’m being beaten up by my attempts to structure it. (it turns out that the best way to structure something is totally at odds with how it chronologically happened. which i’m sure you know all about. but who’d have thunk it?? maybe the universe ought to be more accommodating to books… or maybe that would spoil the fun.)
    in fact, there’s part of an old 90s book on viruses i was reading the other day that is so ridiculous i’m going to quote it here. all books on viruses tend to be very, very down on those dang rascally teenagers, but this is some above and beyond Freudian shit:
    “The computer underworld is populated with young men (and almost no women) who live out their fantasies of power and glory on a keyboard. Most are single. That some young men find computing a substitute for sexual activity is probably incontrovertible. Just as a handle will often hide a shy and frightened fifteen-year-old, an obsession with computing to the exclusion of all else may represent security for a sexually insecure youngster. The computer is his partner, his handle is his real self… and the virus he writes is the child of his real self and his partner.” (from Brian Clough and Paul Mungo’s _Approaching Zero_)
    i don’t know about you, but i think that’s stunning. i mean, what the hell are you supposed to do with that??
    otherwise, it’s more of the same, which is fine for now. i watched _Ghostwatch_ on halloween, which i’ve been meaning to watch for a while — i was reminded of its existence by a recommendation that popped up in some comments on a post of yours? i started watching it expecting an interesting bit of horror history and finished it terrified. which is awesome. it rarely rarely happens that a film actually scares me. i would love to write some stuff which terrifies other people so it’s good to have an object lesson to learn from. (i therefore highly second that recommendation. the whole thing is on Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/Ghostwatch)
    how are you?? i’ve been seeing glimpses of the various bits of rubbish that life has chucked your way recently. that must really suck. i hope life is getting at least a little easier. how did the virtual haunt go in the end? what’s new now, what’s in the works?

  9. Bill

    Great Jarman day, Dennis. I’m surprised you’ve never had one here. He was such an inspiration to me over the years. Reading Dancing Ledge for the first time was absolutely mind-blowing.

    I still have fond memories of hanging out with a friend on Old Compton Street in ’91, and Jarman walked by. We used to have Jarman screenings in SF all the time in the 90s, but they’re hard to come by now.

    Hope your weekend is pleasant and troll-free…

    Bill

  10. wolf

    DENNISSSSS!!!! How goes, my friend? You’d never done a Jarman day…?! That blows my mind. I could have sworn you’d done at least one, if not a whole bunch of them. Well, anyway, as you say, all rectified now! Do you get this feeling when reading Jarman, either in interviews or his actual writing, of all his wonderful energy coming through every word? He’s just so humble and, I don’t know, innocent? There’s something child-like in him that shines through. I mean, to be able to say of Stalker that’s “a lovely film” hahaha, tells you something. Maybe that’s just his uber-britishness speaking.
    How are things in Paris buddy? My mum is selling the flat they have there so we’re gonna have to leg it and make the most of it pretty quick, before we’re downgraded back to the common mortal lot of people with no Paris address! We might try and pop round for a long weekend before xmas. Much love you you D! XX

  11. Misanthrope

    Dennis, Ha! When I saw “Derek Jarman Day,” I automatically looked for the asterisk, assuming you’d done one before. But it seems not. Good day today.

    Cornstalkers was better this year! Three parts now, and the second was ace. The actors timed everything perfectly. And dude with the chainsaw got Kayla cornered.

    But it fucked all my Saturday plans royally. A friend of ours and her son Hunter (both of whom went with us last year, and the latter of whom we call “young Elio”—if you were to see Call by Your Name and then hang around with this boy a bit, you’d get it :D) came this year too. However…Hunter wasn’t feeling well and was absolutely sick as a dog by the end of the night. So my one friend freaked, assuming he had COVID and that we’d been exposed. She warned everybody that night who was coming to the bonfire Saturday night and they all bailed. I then had to tell my French Dispatch buddies about it and we all bailed.

    Of course, Hunter woke up the next day and was totally normal and 100% fine and none of us is sick. So I guess better safe than sorry. Dude was a little warm but no crazy fever and nothing respiratory and no loss of smell/taste. Looks like it was some little bug that got him for about 24 hours.

    Fucked up thing is that it looks like The French Dispatch won’t be in these theaters this coming week. Erp. Guess I’ll have to watch it at home or something.

    Anyway, still had an okay weekend. Hope yours was swell.

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