Am I Blue?

FINALLY, I’m watching Derek Jarman’s BLUE.

In common with Jarman’s collaborator Ken Russell, for whom Jarman designed THE DEVILS and SAVAGE MESSIAH, I loved Jarman more than I loved his films. Russell identified Jarman’s personal joyousness as being the quality somewhat lacking in his films. But the same charge was leveled at Ingmar Bergman, who claimed to be a fun guy. Jarman was a force of life — I was lucky enough to see him speak a number of times, at Filmhouse and the DeMarco Gallery, and each time I felt I’d seen a whole movie.

THE LAST OF ENGLAND marks the beginning of Jarman’s late period — he goes from early to late without a middle, thanks to AIDS. I believe we’d have seen a whole series of films building on the particular strengths of CARAVAGGIO and featuring Tilda Swinton as muse, if not for that terrible illness. When ENGLAND screened at Edinburgh, we were told that Jarman hadn’t even been able to watch it — the shattering music and sound design was too strong for him to withstand.

BLUE comes on as a gentler work — not just because it almost totally lacks an image track, just that luminous blue. Of course, your eyes keep working, and won’t accept such a blank picture.

A friend who saw the film projected remarked that he fixated on a spot of damage on the cinema screen. The version I’m looking at has a fair bit of sparkle on the original print, so my eyes are darting around to follow these little glitterballs. And I don’t have the benefit of a darkened auditorium. But at least the cat has shut up.

For some reason I hadn’t anticipated the effect of natural sounds — initiially, a cafe — in this film, shorn of the usual visual accompaniment. The blue screen — blue was all that Jarman could see at this point — makes us feel blind, in a way that we never do listening to a radio play. Something is less than nothing.

“I have played this scenario back and forth for a year,” says the VO, and Simon Fisher Turner follows it with a discordant recurring set of chimes that perfectly captures the sensation of an unshakeable thought spiralling around in your mind.

“Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.”

The last time I saw Jarman he was very thin, very frail, and being assisted across the Filmhouse lobby. Though I’d heard he was dying, his appearance was shocking to me since I’d last seen him a few years before in good health.

But he was smiling.

“Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.”

BLUE is the film where Jarman expresses his joy, his love of life, as it is ending.

“Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.”

“Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.”

“Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.”

13 Responses to “Am I Blue?”

  1. ooh oh I adored his writing and he was very very kind and encouraging. I wrote to him at university as someone told me he was really ill saying how much I liked his films. I came down to my post box in my hall of residence to a parcel from him with Dancing Ledge in it. Still a treasured possession. And once at a booksigning at the Filmhouse a saw a young man go up apologise for not having the book as too broke and Jarman just filched a copy off the pile beside him and inscribed it to him.

  2. I missed the Blue premiere at EIFF as I was busy making my first short film … was Fiona with us? Off Your Trolley

  3. Danny Carr Says:

    I remember being amused when Channel 4 showed it letterboxed.

  4. At the time I couldn’t face sitting in a cinema looking at blueness for 70 mins. It felt demented, though I think I respected the reasons the movie was the way it was. Though I wasn’t sure you could call it a movie. Now I’m fascinated.

    I suppose it’s the ultimate example of film shrinking to fit its director’s state of health, as with late Bertolucci.

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