ENTRY: Jarman, Derek
Derek Jarman (January 31, 1942 – February 19, 1994) was an English film director,
stage designer, artist, and writer.
Jarman was born in Northwood, Middlesex, and from 1960 studied at King's College London.
At King's he studied with, went on field-trips with, and became friendly with Nikolaus Pevsner.
This was followed by four years at the Slade School of Art, starting in 1963. His early works were landscapes,
increasingly empty and abstract ones until around 1970 when he concetrated on film-making. He had a
studio at Butler's Wharf, London, and was part of the Andrew Logan
social scene in the 1970s. During this time he became interested in performance art.
Jarman's first films were experimental symbolist super-8mm shorts, a form he never entirely abandoned,
and later developed further (in his films Imagining October (1984), The Angelic Conversation (1985),
The Last Of England (1987) and The Garden (1990)) as a parallel to his narrative work.
Jarman first became known as a stage designer getting a break into the film industry as production
designer for Ken Russell's The Devils (1970), and later made his debut in "overground"
narrative filmmaking with the groundbreaking Sebastiane (1976), arguably the first
British film to feature positive images of gay sexuality, and the first (and to date,
only) film entirely in Latin. He followed this with the film many regard as his first masterpiece, Jubilee (shot 1977, released 1978),
in which Queen Elizabeth I of England is transported forward in time to a desolate and
brutal wasteland ruled by her twentieth century namesake. Jarman constantly looked back to Elizabethan England
as a touchstone and pivot of English culture.
After making the masterly Shakespeare adaptation The Tempest in 1979, Jarman was unable to make films due to the
prevailing cultural climate and spent seven years "in the wilderness"
making experimental super-8mm films and attempting to raise money for
his film of the artist Caravaggio, which was inally released in 1986 due to the
involvement of the newly established broadcaster Channel 4.
Jarman returned to and expanded upon the super 8mm-based form he had previously worked in on
Imagining October and the determinedly neo-romantic The Angelic Conversation, based on Shakespeare's sonnets.
The first film to result from this new semi-narrative phase, The Last of England
tolled the death of a country, ravaged by its own internal decay and
the economic restructuring of the time.
"Wrenchingly beautiful…the film is one of the few commanding works of personal cinema in the late 80's - a call to open our eyes to a world violated by greed and repression, to see what irrevocable damage has been wrought on city, countryside and soul, how our skies, our bodies, have turned poisonous," -- wrote The Village Voice.During the 1980s Jarman was still one of the few openly gay public figures in Britain. On December 22, 1986 he was diagnosed HIV positive, and was notable for later discussing his condition in public. His illness prompted him to move to Prospect Cottage, Dungeness, near to the nuclear power station, where he created a notable and influential garden. During the making of The Garden, Jarman became seriously ill. Although he recovered sufficiently to complete the film, he never attempted anything on a comparable scale . The film Blue was his last testament as a film-maker. At the time when he made the film, he was blind and dying of AIDS related complications. Blue consists of a single shot of saturated blue colour filling the screen, as background to a soundtrack composed by Simon Fisher Turner featuring original music by Coil and other artists, where Jarman describes his life and vision. When it was shown on British television, Channel Four carried the image whilst the soundtrack was broadcast simultaneously in synchronised high-quality stereo on BBC Radio 3, a collaborative project unique for its time. In 1994, after much activism on behalf od people with AIDS, he himself died of AIDS. Jarman deserves significant credit for his work in creating and expanding the fledgling form of 'the pop video' in England, and as a forthright and prominent gay rights activist. Several volumes of his diaries have been published. He is also remembered for his famous shingle cottage-garden, created in the latter years of his life, in the shadow of the Dungeness power station. The fisherman's house was built in tarred timber. Its beach garden was made using local materials and has been the subject of several books. At this time, he also began painting again (see the book: Evil Queen: The Last Paintings, 1994). Selected Filmography: 1974 - In the Shadow of the Sun 1979 – The Tempest 1985 - The Angelic Conversation 1987 – The Last of England 1988 – War Requiem 1990 – The Garden 1993 – Blue Jarman's early Super-8 mm work has been included on some of the DVD releases of his films. Further reading: Steven Dillon. Derek Jarman and Lyric Film: The Mirror and the Sea. (2004).
Tony Peake. Derek Jarman (Little, Brown & Co, 2000). 600-page biography.
Michael O'Pray. Derek Jarman: Dreams of England. (British Film Institute, 1996).
Howard Sooley. Derek Jarman's Garden. (Thames & Hudson, 1995).
Made in Staffordshire, England. © 2007.
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