Sunday, August 13, 2006

fires were started

"As long as the music's loud enough, we won't hear the world falling apart."
Borgia Ginz, Jubilee

Derek Jarman's first film to be produced after he found out he was HIV-positive, The Last of England (1987), was initially titled The Dead Sea - "the Dead Sea of Victorian values (a particularly loaded phrase taken from one of Thatcher's many hectoring speeches to the nation), and of 'post-industrial decline, whose stagnant waters erode the crumbling cities'."* Tilda Swinton talked him out of it, and the film was then named after the Ford Madox Brown painting, The Last of England, of an anxious Victorian couple on a crowded ship of exiles headed out of England, alluding to Jarman's grandparents who left England for New Zealand, forming one of the film's many personal references. The painting is directly evoked in the film's final shot (that follows Swinton's dance), when several displaced figures sail out of a war-torn, post-apocalyptic London.

Jarman is at work here - the author visible, as in his subsequent film, The Garden (his physical presence caught in the process of creation, and the collage of home movies shot by his father and grandfather manifests Jarman-the-person and Jarman-the-history as inextricable from the text) - within the political context of post-Falklands' Thatcher era and framing a place for his sexuality within it, while freely utilising the art forms of painting (the aforementioned Brown painting, plus Caravaggio's Amor Vincit Omnia, which is fucked in an early scene by a wandering semi-nude male prostitute, Spring - an ex-lover of Jarman, according to Jarman's biographer, Tony Peake), poetry (primarily T.S. Eliot, as explored here), prose (his own diaries, Hitler's speeches), and cinema (some of the imagery and poeticism recall the films of Pasolini, Cocteau, Genet, and most importantly, Jarman's own post-apocalyptic punk film, Jubilee, while, in spirit being somewhat antithetical to Humphrey Jennings' Listen To Britain), and it's all set to an ominous electronic score by frequent collaborator, Simon Fisher Turner and songs by Marianne Faithful, Diamanda Galas, et al.

This film is a storm of heightened imagery! Super 8mm shots transferred to 35mm, the images flow between black-and-white and various states of sepia and colour, between slow motion and fast motion effects, culminating in the film's third orgasm: the immortal shot of Tilda Swinton, tearing up her wedding dress with scissors, and dancing next to the recurring shot of the fire along the Thames, with the sun rising in the background, the shot rendered and protracted until she's indistinguishable from the fire. The temper of this image is a gorgeous paradox - her anger and outrage seem to be morphing into a release of sorts, translating into an emancipation for the prisoners of this nightmarish land. (And I haven't seen Jubilee in a long time, but I remember there being a similar scene in it where a woman dances next to a bonfire on the street, deepening the links between the two films. It was a film I disliked then - it may be due for a revisit now.)

* quote taken from Derek Jarman: A Biography, by Tony Peake (1999).
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And just because I haven't dropped an mp3 link here in a while... The following are just some of the songs which I've been listening to over and over in the past week or so (not all are linked). Some of these are favourites, others 'merely' current obsessions. Available for a couple of days.

In The Evening (It's So Hard To Tell Who's Going To Love You The Best) - Karen Dalton
Black Haven - Jana Hunter
An Die Musik - Josephine Foster
We Want You To Stay - Bill Fay
Voodoo Woman - Silver Convention
Let's Mend What's Been Broken - Gloria Gaynor
P.S. Goodbye - The Chameleons
100,000 Fireflies - The Magnetic Fields
Masttillah - Ghost
Miekkakala - Ø
What Is Love - Haddaway
Good Old Germany - Giorgio Moroder

5 Comments:

Blogger Zach Campbell said...

A Jarman Appreciation Society will no doubt form itself soon enough. I plan on seeing Jubilee and/or War Requiem sometime in the next few weeks ... thanks for the write-up!

1:53 PM  
Blogger Ouyang Feng said...

Shame on me who still haven't got around to watch the Jarman's films I have....

Well, Caravaggio and Edward II are the only ones I have watched actually, and liked them very much (especially Caravaggio - also one of my fave painters).

1:02 AM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Yeah, it's taken me some time to come around to his films. I myself plan to revisit Jubilee soon, and see a couple others for the first time. Wish War Requiem was available on DVD...

Ouyang, I think you'll like The Last of England a lot. But after looking at your short films, I think you'll like The Angelic Conversation even more - it comes across as a series of highly textured erotic paintings in stop-motion animation, and set to Coil's music (and Judi Dench's recitals of Shakespeare's love sonnets, which isn't as bad as it as it sounds!).

1:12 PM  
Blogger Ouyang Feng said...

Yes, I don't have the film - The Angelic Conversation - but I have the CD of it by Coil with Judy Dench.
I think once I come back and finish a couple of things, I will do a Jarman's session. ;-)

1:35 AM  
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