Archive for Derek Jarman

Am I Blue?

Posted in FILM with tags , , on December 4, 2019 by dcairns

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.”

Stealing Time

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2019 by dcairns

I’m in the edit today — Fiona and I have recorded a video essay for KWAIDAN. So not much time for blogathoning. But I tell you what — Timo Langer and I are cutting at Mark Cousins’ place. How about I wander about and see if I can find any late films to write about, in between cuts?

The reference material from Mark’s THE EYES OF ORSON WELLES lie all around, so there’s CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, F FOR FAKE and THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND.

There’s a Derek Jarman box set, but it doesn’t contain BLUE, which I really ought to write about — one of the ultimate late films, you could argue, made when its director had been struck blind by AIDS.

Ah, there’s WAR REQUIEM, late-ish Jarman and positively final Olivier. You can’t get later than late Olivier.

(Is it bad manners to blog about somebody’s flat when they’re out?)

Two Theo Angelopoulos box sets. Haven’t seen THE DUST OF TIME, but it’s a great title for a last film, even though its creator probably wasn’t planning to curtail his career by stepping in front of an off-duty cop’s on-coming motorcycle.

Wow, here’s THE BRAVE, the only film directed by Johnny Depp, to date. (And a follow-up seems less and less likely.)

This place is a treasure trove of cinema, including late cinema…

Mark’s back, now I feel guilty and furtive.

He’s OK with it — in fact, he mentions an article he wrote on Late Style, which you can read here, at The Prospect. Quick discussion follows on why, so often, filmmakers’ work becomes tired or boring in old age, whereas that doesn’t happen so often with visual artists. The weight of all that equipment seems to be a burden. “Look at Bertolucci, how his films shrank, until they were one-room films.” Maybe lightweight digital cameras will transform this. But the filmmaker’s

I suggest that there’s a feeling that film is done best by people who are still discovering everything. It’s when we think we know what we’re doing that we get dull. It’s like those seventies Disney films where they had filing cabinets full of old animation cels as reference. You want a dancing bear, you just trace one somebody did earlier. Sometimes our brains get like filing cabinets.

There’s a relevant line in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND: “It’s alright to steal from others, what we must never do is steal from ourselves.”

The Devils and Miss Jones

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2016 by dcairns

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I totally missed an excellent opportunity to interview Gemma Jones this week. I could have called in THE DEVILS and Miss Jones. It didn’t even occur to me to ask, as I was all geared up to interview somebody else — and the fruits of THAT interview will appear here soon.

I would have asked her all about THE DEVILS, of course — I’m pretty well totally ignorant about the rest of her career. But she manages an important and difficult task in that, her debut film (wait, hang on, just looking it up — yes, it WAS her debut film). She’s the least extreme character in the movie — and yet, surrounded by lunatics and scheming villains, she holds our interest. Though the movie seems at times to endorse a Catholic Madonna/whore schism, GJ’s character is neither — she has a perfectly healthy sex drive and the film respects her for it. She is puzzled and vexed by the challenge of living a good life according to the precepts of the Church, whilst surrounded by corruption and things that don’t seem to fit with what the Book says — as anyone might be. Besides marrying Oliver Reed (in a “blasphemous midnight nuptial,” my favourite kind), her main plot role is to ask intelligent questions.

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As madness takes over, Jones disappears from the movie, only to abruptly take over in the final shot, which is a stunner. I actually suggested this film to Sight & Sound when invited to write about a movie ending. This is surely the best of its year. I’m kind of glad I wasn’t tasked with writing a thousand words for publication on it, though, since I don’t know what I’d have said, other than raving on about its magnificence.

Well, maybe I’d have referred back to the two dream sequences — actually, masturbatory fantasies would be more accurate. Looks to me like these were shot in Russell’s beloved Lake District (Russell fans should totally go there — it’d be like TOMMY going back to the source at the end of his film), although the only non-Pinewood location listed is Bamburgh* — a stone’s throw from me! (But we know they also filmed in a prison somewhere, for Richelieu’s library, and some stately gardens for the King to shoot his Protestant crow in.) Russell always regretted not shooting both of these in black & white, for consistency’s sake. I say the hell with consistency — the vibrant red of Vanessa Redgrave’s hair is reason enough for colour.

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Vanessa’s Sister Jeanne has hair in these sequences as she imagines herself as Mary Magdalen, drying Christ’s feet with her hair — probably the sexiest bit in the New Testament — if you need porn and all you have to hand is the Bible, I recommend turning to Book One. The red is great, but admittedly what cinematographer David Watkin does with the b&w is also wonderful — printed on colour stock, it emerges with quite a strong indigo tint, and it has the blown-out highlights he discovered on THE KNACK.

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How does this reflect on the ending, in which Gemma Jones wanders from close-up into extreme longshot, through the broken walls of Loudun (up a hill of shattered masonry) and off along a narrow road lined with skeletons broken on the wheel. Well, that shot imperceptibly turns to b&w as it cranes up, helped by the lack of colour in the setting anyway, so that by the time we’ve risen over the wall to see the distant terrain, the world has performed a reverse Oz transformation, just in time for the end credits to appear in bold RED.

It’s beautiful and bleak, and it feels meaningful too, in a poetic way I can’t pin down. I want to suggest that the world has been subsumed into Sister Jeanne’s fantasies. Madness has won. Her perverted view of religion has triumphed even as the city walls came tumbling down. The connection is not really that literal, of course, since Russell does not use words to express it, only images, which speak more powerfully and more primitively to us.

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*Bamburgh Castle doubles for Loudun in the long shot near the film’s start, where Dudley Sutton and a Protestant slave gang is transporting a vast, grey, slug-like tarpaulin-swathed cart of demolition equipment across your basic blasted heath. It’s probably the same landscape from the final shot — I never knew it was Scotland! The castle and adjoining beach also feature in Polanski’s MACBETH, BECKETT and THE TEMPEST, directed by DEVILS’ designer Derek Jarman.