by Harlan Kennedy



You do not yet taste some subtilties o' the isle, that will not let you believe things certain... ─W.S.

Extinguish your preconceptions; slip your mind into a receptive position; welcome to the world of British filmmaker Derek Jarman. Those who enter it are seldom the same again. And those who stand back to frown or censure condemn themselves to miss out on one of the oddest, brav­est bodies of work in modern cinema.

We knew what we were in for, or could have guessed, 23 years ago. Jar­man's first movie – called Derek Jarman Film Diary or Studio Bankside – was shot on Super-8 in 1970. A ten-minute cut-up impromptu filmed in his Thame­side studio in London, it looks like the brainstorm of a demented home-movie freak. Chairs, flower vases, paintings, a mannequin, a pair of spectacles, faces of friends.... Like a series of jagged-angled flashbulb snaps the images flare and die, punctuated by semisubliminal shots of a glowing red wire.

All this and, just under the floorboards, the ghost of William Shake­speare. For Jarman's studio, now demolished, was on the sight of none other than the old Globe Theatre. This adds weight to the suspicion some Brit­ons have long had: that Derek Jarman is old Bill the Bard himself, reborn for the late 20th century.

His career sits up and begs for the phrase "renaissance man" He's a poet and diarist, painter and designer (from opera and ballet to Ken Russell's The Devils and Savage Messiah), and the most perversely independent filmmaker in England. He made the homoerotic Sebastiane, the punk Tempest, the Thatcher-bashing The Last of England, the gay-rights Edward II, the pop-Brech­tian Wittgenstein. He's also an occa­sional actor – in his own Caravaggio and The Garden – as well as a gay activist and prolific interviewee.

But Jarman isn't Mr. Renaissance, he's Mr. Post-Renaissance. That's the secret of his place in British cinema and his uniquely powerful (nec)romantic vision. That first short movie was the work of a bricolage artist in love not with perfec­tion but with fallen perfection; not with harmony but with the forensic fragments and lost chords of a bygone Utopia, an unrecapturable past.

Like his idol and spiritual ancestor Michael Powell ("the only British feature director whose work is in the first rank"), Jarman is a looker-back at golden ages: chiefly at an England/Europe that once or never was. And he finds his alter egos among men-who-came-after like the philosopher Wittgenstein, kicking against classical philosophy, or the painter Caravaggio, warping quattro­cento idealism into the gymnastic emo­tional articulations that would lead on to Baroque.

Jarman's art – not just his films but his caustic-melancholy poetry and tachist-lyrical paintings – is a bonfire of human vanity. It rejoices in the possibility that if you reduce Progress, Prosperity, and established cultural Priorities to ashes, you'll find a new Phoenix in there some­where that will rise and soar. The charm of that high romanticism – and of Jarman himself, a gawky, garrulous human champagne bottle, forever fizzing with ideas and humor – may explain why he has spent two decades getting away with near-murder (scandal, outrage, gale-force controversy) as an artist-commen­tator in Britain.

Born in the genteel county of Mid­dlesex, son of an RAF officer and a dress designer's assistant, he threw off the cucumber sandwich milieu at 18 and joined the bohemian set at London Uni­versity and the Slade School of Art (alma mater to David Hockney, Patrick Caulfield, & Co.). After épatering the bourgeoisie with his first movie designs – a white-bricked Loudun in The Devils that looked to some like a giant British public toilet – he repeated the medicine with his first feature as director. Sebas­tiane ('76), stuffed with nude saints and soldiers, shocked Britain's moralists and then won a pornhouses-only certificate in America. More cinescandals followed, including his rude-to-the-Royals Jubilee and his Molotov cocktail lobbed at Mag­gie's Britain, The Last of England.

Just as mischief-making have been his writings, paintings, sayings, and doings. His diary-memoirs Dancing Ledge and Modern Nature, two of five books of discursive self-portraiture he's published, have bits of gay confessional that read like a Cruiser's Guide to Lon­don's Heathland. His canvases range from early Pop abstracts impaled with 3-D trimmings (real water faucets), via satiric crucifixions, to the paintings gath­ered for his 1989 exhibit "Queer": smears of excremental impasto over cut-out newspaper headlines (SEX BOYS FOR SALE AT QUEEN'S GROCERS). And when­ever Jarman has a spare moment, he jumps on the TV screen to slam hetero­sexual-supremacist culture or Tory poli­ties. To crown a great career as the artist laureate of Up Yours, Jarman was arrested by the police during an equal rights demo.

Today Jarman's rebel romanticism sits oddly – but oddly majestically – on a 51-year-old man who, as everyone in Britain knows, is dying of AIDS. (If the newspa­pers don't tell you, Jarman's say-it-from-the-rooftops candor will.) His latest film, which may be his last, is called Blue, and may not be a film at all: it depends on the elasticity of your definitions. Blue is 76 solid minutes of blue screen. And we don't mean special effects thrown into a hi-tech magic surface. We mean B-L-U-E screen.

That single color is projected sans alteration, inflection, or interruption. Only the odd blemish on the celluloid or explosion of scratches at end of reel affords variety: those and the volatile perceptions of the viewer, nudged to see subtle visual changes even when there aren't any (see under K for Kuleshov) by the film's amazing soundtrack.

This aural cut-up of voices, music, and sound effects could be a career bookend to the imagistic cut-up with which Jarman and we began. There are musings on art, color, and infinity: "Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits." There are dispatches from the AIDS front-line: "The doctor in St. Bartholomew's Hospital thought he could detect lesions in my retina... `Look up, look down'... blue flashes in my eyes." There are fantasy sound-trips to far-off times or places: a café in Bos­nia, a scene from Marco Polo's travels (wind, goat bells, barking dogs, human cries). And there is Simon Fisher Turn­er's astounding music: Jarman's longtime composer pulling out all elemental stops as he places individual effects against an ostinato of chiming eternity (glocken­spiel, Aeolian harp, wind chimes).

The movie doesn't so much move forward as swell around us. It's about an artist's vision intensifying with failing sight. "In the bottom of your heart" says the voiceover, "you pray to be released from image." And we are: released from it into new-created powers of seeing. The color blue suggests all the things Jarman most loves: sea and sky, favorite plants (cornflowers, delphiniums). It is also for Jarman the AIDS victim the port­cullis of his mortality: blue, the color he kept seeing when doctors treated his deteriorating sight.

Blue has its meaning and power for the audience, too. At first as featureless-looking as a trampoline, it soon becomes as versatile and animating. Thoughts bounce off it higher and higher, propelled by its elastic invoca­tions from ocean depth to furthest firma­ment. Colors creep in where there are none: blink and you see its polar hue in the spectrum, orange. Space is dis­placed: blink again and the single screen-rectangle overlappingly multi­plies like a Cubist painting. And other invocations flood in from art or litera­ture. Blue the color of forbidden erotic cinema; blue the color of Arcadian mel­ancholy from Poussin to Picasso. Above all, that "little tent of blue' Wilde saw through his jail cell window that became one gay martyr's badge of dissonant free­dom handed down to others.


Blue's triumph is to dissolve a dichot­omy that's been at the heart of Jar­man's cinema for twenty years. He
himself has talked of the "uncomforta­bleness" between his Super-8/experi­mental work – nonnarrative, oblique, hallucinatory – and his feature films, with their hi-fi visuals, dialogue, and characters: story-structures strained but seldom snapped by subversive devices like anachronism, non sequitur, and sur­real mise-en-scène. Both these arms of his art are faithful to Jarman's vision: that lyrical-satirical post-Utopianism secure alike in camp mockery, golden longing, and sulphurous scorn. But the two styles come at their targets from different flanks, wielding different weapons.

The "experimental" movies – not just the early shorts but the feature-length ballads or broadsides in nonnarrative form like The Angelic Conversation or The Last of Englandare direct exten­sions of Jarman's work as a painter. Inspiration
is visual/aural/intuitive/prelit­
erate. The nonjudgmental randomness of his short subjects is itself a plea for an Edenic pantheism. Shadows and sun­light on a ruined Victorian boathouse in Gerald's Film ('75); camera flickering over faces, hands, and paper plates, undifferentiated in the Renoirian sun­light, in Picnic at Rae's ('75); color-filtered landscapes swelling and dis­solving with a dark/bright Turneresque beauty in Fire Island ('74).

Another early film, Pontormo Punks at Santa Croce ('82), showcases a fresco by the Italian Renaissance artist, trav­eled over in Jarman's stop-start slow motion – every detail of faces, gestures, and drapery fixed on for that serial milli­second that will store it in the witness's memory bank. Later medium-length experimental films like Imagining Octo­ber ('84) and In the Shadow of the Sun ('80) extend the style of flicker-book expressionism while reemphasizing its roots in painting. October is about the act of painting: 27 minutes of fire-licked images depicting the creation of a Socialist Realist–style canvas of British soldiers carrying a red flag. (The film was inspired by a trip to Russia.) Shadow weaves together earlier Jarman footage – from Fire Island, Tarot ('72), and A Journey to Avebury ('71) – into a mystical collage wedding pastoral to paranormal.

In his book Dancing Ledge, Jarman gives an idea of how painterly in another sense – the budget-improvising, artist-in-garret sense – movies like In the Shadow of the Sun were. "The camera I used was a simple NIXO 480 which cost £ 140. Most of the sections were filmed for the price of the stock, usually about £20some lavish sequences, the fiery images for instance, had a budget: costumes £5, sawdust £4, paraffin £2, roses £10, can­dles £4.50, notebook £ 1, taxis £5."

Jarman's technique in these films extends that lyrical shoestring staccato first fashioned in Derek Jarman Film Diary. One of his standard methods is to film on Super-8 at three to six frames per second, then project the footage at the same rate (often on his livingroom wall) while recording it anew on normal-speed VHS video. Result: a fluid, dream-like stop-motion that, together with the blurry-oneiric textures of the "degraded" footage, makes the movie resemble a painting half-come to life.

The Angelic Conversation and The Last of Englandand parts of The Gar­den – push this Hallucination-as-Style to feature dimensions. Blown up to 16 or 35mm, the infinite annihilates the finite in a series of form-dissolving "brush-stroke" swirls. If Jarman's paintings are anchored in tachisme, so is his most intense experimental cinema. The Angelic Conversation ('85) is a power­fully beautiful meditation on nature and love: a selection of Shakespeare's son­nets recited on the soundtrack (by Dame Judi Dench) while the screen shimmers to sun-blazed rockscapes, sil­ver-flaking seas, and two male bodies baptized and rebaptized in their own and the water's embrace.

The Last of England ('87) – loathed by British critics almost as much as The Angelic Conversation was loved – applies the same visual pixilations to a landscape where past beauty is under threat from present brutality. The film's title comes from a Victorian painting showing two exile-bound newlyweds in a boat gazing their last at British shores. In Jarman's metaphor for 1986, the whole population is looking its last on Britain as the land falls foul of greed, decay, and Thatcherite government ter­rorism. The visual Walpurgisnacht, shot in an ugly unreclaimed corner of Lon­don's dockland (supposedly Mrs. T's capitalist New Jerusalem), climaxes in a pyrotechnic danse macabre. Tilda Swin­ton tears her white wedding-dress in a long, hypnotic, jagged-rhythmed ballet that suggests Salome's famous party piece filmed by that other well-known terpsichorean, St. Vitus.

All these technically adventurous movies, long and short, seek out the hidden atomic energy in places, people, and events by splitting the atom of the image or the sequence itself. Action is filmed, then un-filmed (i.e., slowed to virtual standstill), then re-filmed. Never deconstructionist in the dry sense – Jar­man once said that branch of avant-gard­ism was "like calling water H2O" – the films take a dead past or elusive present and use their fissioning imagery to cre­ate what Jarman calls "a shimmering mystery/energy."

It's a cine-optical version of what goes on in his other artworks. Opera designs for a Gielgud-produced Don Giovanni (skittery abstract shapes sug­gesting predatory tricorn hats) or for a Ken Russell Rake's Progress (giant dino­saur skeleton as proscenium arch; last scene set in a subway station) subject classic texts to a wittily seismic molecu­lar reconstruction. And his paintings – even the semilyrical landscapes of his beloved Dungeness – seek a destructive energy in their subjects' cores as a war­ranty of the desired rebirth. The key to death is the key to life. Who else, after all, with the whole of England to choose from, would live in a country cottage next to a nuclear power station?


Jumping from Jarman's experimental cinema to his more mainstream story-films should shock us with contrast, and sometimes does. In Jubilee and Caravaggio and Edward II there are clear lines – narrative, visual, thematicand well-known actors reciting recogniz­able dialogue in recognizable (if some­times spoofed-up) settings. But a similar decon–recon impulse is at work. The manner changes, not the post-Renais­sance matter, nor the hunger for a lost wholeness of soul and society that stands Jarman in the same relation to post-greatness Britain as Caravaggio to Italy-after-Michelangelo or Webster and Jonson to England-after-Shakespeare.

Jarman's narrative movies are a mir­ror-play between diffèrent phases of his­tory. One of his early shorts, The Art of Mirrors ('73), an eerie arabesque involv­ing three costumed figures playing light-semaphore with a square of glass, could be a mocking template for his later approach to story cinema. Modern sen­sibility is used to reflect and refract the past – to offer reversals, multiplications, dazzlements – and the invocations here are literary as much as painterly. If the experimental movies are indebted to Blake and Turner, the narrative feature films owe as much to Jonathan Swift or Laurence Sterne.

Dystopic worlds lit by shafts of bil­ious humor. Characters in whom gran­deur and aspiration are punctured by bathos and shaggy-dog non sequitur. Where Jarman's experimental films shat­ter form with lyric formlessness, his story-films and biopics use satire, surre­alism, anachronism, and comic lèse-majesté to crack the tablets of received wisdom about what makes political, intellectual, or artistic "greatness"

In Jubilee ('78), Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre) is a time-tripping monarch vis­iting the New Elizabethan age – London in the year of Liz II's silver jubilee – and finding a world of punks, drug addicts, and graffiti-scrawlers. Buckingham Pal­ace has become a recording studio. Westminster Cathedral hosts an orgy. And Deptford, once the River Thames' welcome-home point for New World explorers, is a giant waste tip. (Not far wrong: take a look today.) Jubilee, reel­ing in Queen Bess from the depths of luxurious oblivion and throwing her twitching on the riverbank of UK-Today, is one fish-out-of-water movie we'd never expect from Hollywood: savage, absurd­ist, rude: using incongruity as a form of perceptual rape. In Wittgenstein, made at the other end of Jarman's career ('92), the Viennese-born philosopher is thrown no less incongruously-if more authentically-on the banks of a near-cartoonish Cambridge, England. Here Bertrand Russell, Maynard Keynes, et. al., plus a Green Martian, gambol about in funny costumes, making a monkey of the notion that Great Thoughts come from sculptured dignitaries adopting Rodin postures. Wittgenstein is cartoon iconoclasm: but tenderized by a moving central performance (Karl Johnson's Ludwig) and a wry playoff between Wittgenstein's austere idealism in public and the modest guilts of his private life (gay lovelife, fondness for B movies).

Between these two movies came Jar­man's most ambitious and longest-nur­tured bio feature, Caravaggio ('86): six years in the planning and once intended for the full Cinecittâ treatment. Two early drafts were co-written with Vis­conti scenarist Suso Cecchi d'Amico. It's the filmmaker's most serious study of the interface between a man and his myth, and between history and hind­sight. It's also Jarman the painter's study of his own craft, using a 17th century painter, rebel, and rumored homosexual as his alter ego.

As Nigel Terry's Caravaggio turns his life and friends into paint – the canvases-in-progress juxtaposed with the straining models, from restless Cardinals to dressed-up street urchins – the film itself seems to agonize between motion and stillness. And at times between vitality and torpor. For this is Jarman sailing per­ilously close to routine biopickery: risk­ing entrapment by the very hagiographic solemnity he's spent his life attacking.

But between the sober genius-at-work sequences, Jarman slips in the decadent Cardinals, a high camp Pope (the Great Orlando, the circus performer who earlier served as The Tempest's mincing Cali­ban), and time-slip incongruities (motor-bikes, pocket calculators, Italian neorealist clothes). Here his zest for iconoclasm holds history upside down by the ankles and shakes out all the small change. Caravaggio at its keenest, like Sebastiane or The Garden, or like Jar­man's mischievous early painting series "Magic Copes" (mock-religious canvases designed to be wrapped round the body and celebrating the four elements), dis­concerts the historical-hieratic by eliding times and spaces; and by washing up all the witticisms and wisdoms that hind­sight can license onto some terminal beach of wry retrospection.

Even when tackling high art rather than high artist – when commandeering texts like The Tempest ('79) and Edward II ('91) – Jarman subjects them to rebap­tism by hindsight and by forced submer­sion in his own time and culture. All this director's movies are about modern Eng­land even when they're about Settecento Italy (Caravaggio) or Ancient Rome (Sebastiane). A painter's struggles with prejudice and patronage in church-rid­den Italy are readily rhymed with ditto in class- and censorship-ridden Britain. And in the Latin-dialogue Sebastiane there is a brief, acerbic reference to one "Maria Domusalba": that is, Mary Whitehouse, scourge of Britain's National Viewers and Listeners Associa­tion and for many years the country's one-woman Moral Majority.

Anachronism in Jarman is not just a pretty device. It's a way of yoking Then to Now; of insisting that the distance-counter on art's cultural time-machine can be put back to zero suddenly and at will. Thus The Tempest, Shakespeare's late fantasy large with post-Renaissance longing and vanishing magic, becomes Jarman's elegiac-witty tribute to a Swing­ing Britain turning into the silver age of Punk. Singer Toyah Willcox as a street-waif Miranda; artist-playwright Heathcote Williams as an aging-hipping Prospero; and for finale, Elizabeth Welch dressed to the Las Vegas nines as a showbiz Liz One, surrounded by danc­ing sailors as she croons "Stormy Weather."

This was too much for some critics, including Vincent Canby, whose New York Times review – if that word does justice to a delinquent assault by mixed metaphor – helped to close The Tempest and set back Jarman's U.S. exposure by about a decade. "The Tempest would be funny if it weren't very nearly unbear­able," rasped Canby. "It's a finger scratching along a blackboard, sand in spinach, like driving a car whose wind-screen is shattered ... there are no poetry, no ideas, no characterizations, no narrative, no fun" That's the point, Vince. Reductio ad absurdum, followed by resurrectio ex absurdo. To you it might be rubble: but it's not rubble with­out a cause. The received tropes of film­ing Shakespeare are reduced to debris so a new and "now"-referential architec­ture can be built.

As for Christopher Marlowe in Edward II, he gets the anachronism treatment with a vengeance. Jarman knows that Gay King Eddie, killed by Marlowe with a red-hot poker up his ass (no historical corroboration for this), could be a gift of a martyr figure for modern times. So he modernizes him. Lots of leather, shaven heads, and gay rights demos. Annie Lennox singing Cole Porter under a spotlight. Tilda Swinton as Joan Collins as Queen Isa­bella. And the rebel Earl Mortimer heading up a Home Counties fox-hunt­ing crowd, their uppercrust accents as braying as their hunting horns. In addi­tion, Marlowe's dialogue is freely tam­pered with, four-letter words thrown about like shrapnel and tactical-ballistic line changes like "Is it not strange?" becoming "Is it not queer?"

The Tempest and Edward II both highlight the overlap between Jarman's experimental cinema and his up-budget, anti-Masterpiece Theatre canon. Mov­ies like Gerald's Film, Imagining Octo­ber, and The Angelic Conversation destructure idyllic frescoes in order to revitalize them. Reality is shaken into a movie pointillism; the art of perceiving becomes at once more scientific and more lyrical.

In the narrative features a different kind of idyll is dismantled: it's the comfort we feel in the presence of a biopicked "genius" (Caravaggio, Wittgenstein) or a filmed "masterpiece" (The Tempest, Edward 11, War Requiem). Jarman's postrenaissance impulse, like the postimpressionist scientism of Seurat's pointillism or Cézanne's proto-cubism, demands that Golden Age art and thought be celebrated not by a weak, invertebrate nostalgia or hagiogra­phy, but by a ruthless restretching of the old canvases on modern frameworks. No wonder Jarman gets scant support, moral or financial, from a mainstream British film industry that likes its idylls and the jewels in its country's cultural crown preserved intact. All those char­iots of fire; all those expensive travel brochures for imperial India; all those tours-de-Forsters.

Jarman has never made a movie for a million pounds sterling in his life. His most expensive was Edward II at £800,000 ($1.3 million). Lay all his budgets end to end and you might finance the first twelve minutes of Gandhi. He's never claimed a virtue for this exigencyCaravaggio ended up at a mere £450,000, though he once had hopes of a multimillion-pound budgetbut he's also never shown fondness for the British big boys who abandoned their country (as he sees) to chase the bucks in Hollywood. When British Film Year tootled its trumpets back in 1985, hailing the Scotts and Parkers and Putt­nams as our great white hopes, Jarman was right in there flinging mud.

This penurious patriotism takes odd and diverse forms. Jarman the misfit messiah can make The Last of England, a blast of hate at the perceived divisions of a new Tory Britain where "Victorian values" the pursuit of wealth and the intended restoration of the nation's greatness led (he argues) to a storm-trooper climate of suppression, censor­ship, and class hatred. Yet Jarman the patriot-romantic can also make a War Requiem ('88), his tribute of tears to a generation of lost soldiers. This film puts pictures to Benjamin Britten's ora­torio based on the First World War poems of Wilfred Owen. Among those pictures: home-movie footage from Jarman's own childhood (including glimpses of his Royal Air Force dad), shots of Lord Olivier in his last movie being wheeled around by nurse Tilda Swinton (the Olivier voice declaiming Owen s verse on the soundtrack), and a large supplytoo largeof religious imagery, from crowns-of-thorns to cruci­fixes, memorializing British martyrdom.


War Requiem was a commissioned project, and seems it. One doesn't doubt Jarman's sincerity, but it's thinly stretched. How thin is demonstrated by his next and, with Blue, his greatest film: The Garden ('90). There is patriot­ism here, too, but it's more mysterious, more sensual, more touching: a pastoral paean to England's shingly, majestic, luminously changeable shoreline. Sud­denly every passion, every pulsing pictorial nerve, is in place in a film that doesn't just reconcile Jarman the por­traitist of Now with Jarman the chroni­cler/myth-tender of Then, it resolves that central "uncomfortableness" be­tween his experimental and feature cinema.

The Garden is a feature film in that it tells a story, has actors, and lasts 90 minutes. It's also an experimental film that plays games with continuity, rejoices in "forbidden" images (male nudity, gay love, mock-crucifixion), and uses Jarman's old friends, Super-8 and video, to turn cinematography into painting-by-celluloid. Retelling two Bible stories – the Expulsion and the Crucifixion – it turns them into gay fables and surrounds that metamorpho­sis with a vaster, stranger, more volatile quasi-nuclear mythscape.

The Garden was filmed on Dunge­ness beach in Kent, in full view of Jar­man's own pitch-blackened cottage and of the looming nuclear power station behind it. Self-portraiture and apoca­lypse swirl round the film's edges. Jar­man himself is seen poring over his writing desk, doodling artworks for his garden (designer clusters of old stones and old driftwood, plus a few spiky flowers), or bedridden surreally in the sea's shallows. And as if at the command of this Prospero and his valedictory magic, skies and seascapes are con­stantly paintboxed into new shapes and colors.

While the movie's "chorus" – a row of old women at a (last-)supper table – sit at the beach's edge like Norns or distaff Disciples, the sea behind them sparkles with sudden silver or a stray galleon, and the sky grows bright or dark, red or pur­ple, big with cloud or throbbing with thunder. The metamorphic background so disarms us that we surrender willingly to the weird happenings in the fore­ground. Scribes and Pharisees recast as flashbulbing paparazzi; Adam and Eve as Adam and Adam; Christ as a pair of male lovers set before a sauna-bath hulk crawling serpentlike through the sand clutching a dildo.

Not so much faux-naïf as fauve-naïf. The propagandist blasphemies are full-frontal and the film comes on at times like a school Bible pageant hijacked by Pasolini. It brings up – how couldn't it?the vexed matter of how important gay themes are to a gay artist. Whenever he's away from a movie camera and/or near a TV camera, Jarman loudly insists that he's a champion of gay causes first and a filmmaker or artist second. Sample pro­nouncement: "The films are of no con­sequence and no interest. They're only there for other reasons: to encourage the debate about law reform and to give a sense of solidarity to people who may feel isolated" But the more The Garden hammers its gay themes, the more it knocks right through them to find a broader, louder, more resonant anvil.

There is a planetary pantheism here, as in all Jarman's best work. We sense it in the opening metafictions of The Gar­den's soundtrack, with the director's voice heard crying "That's all right! That's a brilliant rehearsal!" The film itself is to be just one mark on the can­vas. We are here to celebrate, through the film, everything around the film. The process that brought it into being; the landscape that inspired and cradled it; the anything-goes input of its cast, including a rousing "Think pink" musi­cal number by a girl resembling a demented Avon lady. Hardly surprising that Jarman insists, Warhol-like, that he merely guides the creative process while his Factory hands man the levers, watch the dials, make many of the on-floor decisions. The Garden, he claims, was even edited in his absence (he was ill at the time).

Perhaps Jarman believes in a Golden Age of creative togetherness. Or may­be he just realizes that every "personal" signature is written in sand and sooner or later someone will scuff over the traces. He himself has been written out of history more than once. When Ian Charleson starred in Chariots of Fire, the actor was persuaded at producer David Puttnam's insistence to drop his credit in the controversial Jubilee, in which he had also appeared, from his press filmography. (Jarman was not among those sending tributes when the actor later died of AIDS.) And when Peter Greenaway made Prospero's Books in 1989, in which Sir John Gielgud playing Prospero voiced all the roles, there was no acknowledgment of another piquant precedent. In 1975 Derek Jarman planned a Tempest in which Sir John as Prospero "was to have played all the characters" (see Dancing Ledge, published 1984). Sometimes it seems Jarman has all the brainwaves in British cinema and those who come after reap or steal the benefit.

What matter. His legacy is rich enough, multiform enough already; and should Blue be his last film, it will also be his last act of curious, moving, tran­scendent self-annihilation. Beyond pla­giarism; beyond the curses of censors or the grappling hooks of philistines. A film with no pictures, no story, no beginning, middle, or end.... Just an attempt to frame infinity. And to prove that it's a single color made up from all the colors of the earthly, finite world that Jarman has spent a lifetime loving and honoring.







©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved.