Archive for Derek Jarman

Church and State

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2022 by dcairns

OK, I’m on a Damiano Damiani kick now, so impressed was I by BULLET FOR THE GENERAL. And having liked IL STREGHE in the past. Encountering him via his unsuccessful collaboration with Leone was a false start, and misleading — he’s not a sub-Leone figure like Tonino Valerii, he’s his own artist, which is why they couldn’t work together. I’ll postpone his mafiosi and politziotteschi films a bit as I hoover up some outliers.

THE TEMPTER aka THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN aka IL SORRISO DEL GRANDE TENTATORE (1974) seemed like it was going to be a consolation prize for Glenda Jackson walking away from THE DEVILS after finding out the scene where Sister Jeanne’s severed head is worshipped after her death had been cut from the script, or an EXORCIST knock-off (the first?). It was a sensational, nutzoid Ennio Morricone score which does give it a groovy exploitation feel, but as often with this filmmaker, there’s something else going on.

What it really resembles most is ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST. But Jackson’s Sister Geraldine is, though quietly malevolent, also a more complex and sympathetic character than dead-eyed psycho Nurse Ratched, and Damiani’s film eschews misogyny. Sister G is running a hideway for problematic persons — a Polish priest who collaborated with the Nazis, a Prince in love with his own sister, a Bolivian woman who arranged her torturer husband’s assassination, a Cuban priest too sympathetic to communism. Forbidden by the church from conducting confessions, she exerts her power through vicious group therapy sessions…

Claudio Cassinelli is an interloper, a young writer hired to help the Pole (Arnoldo Foà) with his exculpatory memoir. Sister Geraldine comes to regard him as the tempter… we may have similar suspicions of her. In fact, the only quasi-supernatural element is a shadow glimpsed in the chapel at a fraught moment.

Designed by Umberto Turco, the film looks amazing (but badly needs a restoration/transfer) mostly confined to this weird marble living tomb — a good self-isolation movie if you need one. Damiani had been a designer himself, and one way the film does resemble THE DEVILS is in its look — specifically it reminds me of the papal library, ironically one of the few location scenes in that film — Derek Jarman repurposed what was actually a prison.

THE TEMPTER stars Gudrun Brangwen; Jesus; Lizzie Kavanaugh; Emilio Largo; Johnny Spanish; Inspector A; Federico Arturo Von Homburg; and Goya.

THE INQUIRY aka L’INCHIESTA (1987) has a plot that sounds like a good airport novel: in the early years of persecuted Christianity, a Roman consul is tasked with locating the missing body of Christ. Soon put a stop to this resurrection nonsense. And the story is by two greats, Ennio Flaiano (EIGHT AND A HALF) and Suso Cecchi D’Amico (THE LEOPARD).

Keith Carradine is Tito Valerio Tauro and Harvey Keitel is Pilate. A year later he would be Judas for Scorsese. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride… Phyllis Logan is Mrs. Pilate and Sal Borgese turns up to add an echo of spaghetti western days.

It’s a riveting detective drama with a classical history setting. “Ay, Jesus, whaddaya doin’ makin’ crosses for da Romans?” is how a friend caricatured Keitel’s performance in LAST TEMPTATION. It never bothered me, the American accents. Carradine seems to sense that his Californian drawl could be a problem, and tries to smuggle in some Anglo vowels, which is mostly distracting. He still pronounces “stupidly” as “stoopidly.”

A good rule might have been to cast Americans as Romans and Italians as everyone else, but things get a bit mixed up. It doesn’t really do to get religious about these things: cast good actors in roles that suit them and all will be well.

As the investigation goes on, things get intriguing — could Christ have faked his own death? — the Laughing Jesus Heresy (my favourite!) is hinted at, and a miraculous catalepsy-inducing drug is tested — then things get crazy and mystical. Damiani, a Marxist apparently, is perhaps mainly interested in how old power structures can be destabilised by new ideas — Tiberius is right to be worried! — but the Bible stories still exert a hold. Travelling into the wilderness at risk of his life — deep undercover — Keithus Carradinus is at first mistaken for the Messiah — shades of LIFE OF BRIAN — and then momentarily becomes convinced he IS him. Offers to cure a leper or two. “What am I saying? get away from me!”

THE INQUIRY stars Will Rogers; Judas; Lady Jane Felsham; Lucky Luciano; Anna Magnani; Messala; and Henchman.

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.”