One of the great iconoclasts of British cinema, Derek Jarman (1942–1994) was a multidisciplinary artist par excellence whose tirelessly provocative, unapologetically queer and highly influential filmmaking career was tragically abbreviated by his death from AIDS-related illnesses. His filmography constitutes an extraordinarily rich body of work which subsumes the many other creative practices he engaged and excelled in, from writing, painting and stage and set design – prior to embarking upon his own feature-filmmaking career he provided striking sets for Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) and Savage Messiah (1972) – to costuming and gardening. His films also incorporated an abiding interest in occult matters, a flair for anachronism and, increasingly stridently, a militant gay rights activism – Jarman having been open about his HIV-positive status from as early as 1987, after a diagnosis late the previous year. This program ranges across Jarman’s oeuvre, encompassing remarkable portraits of artists and historical figures – 1986’s Caravaggio, in which regular Jarman collaborator Tilda Swinton made her screen debut, and 1993’s Wittgenstein – and of Britain in decay – his solo-directorial feature debut, 1978’s punk classic Jubilee, and 1987’s poetic, yet scathing, indictment of Thatcherism, The Last of England. This season also includes The Garden (1990), a radical, personal and pointedly activist late work, along with a smattering of Jarman’s avant-garde shorts and celebrated pop videos for The Smiths, before culminating with his extraordinary valedictory feature, Blue (1993).
Presented in partnership with the Melbourne Queer Film Festival.
Derek Jarman (1986) 93 mins – M
Jarman’s avant-garde biography of the 17th century Baroque painter was his most widely seen film to this time, winning the Silver Bear for outstanding single achievement at the 36th Berlin International Film Festival. With its postmodern combination of vibrant, painterly aesthetics – the film recreates many of Caravaggio’s paintings – and anachronistic details, it makes explicit the painter’s reputed queerness. It features costumes designed by Sandy Powell, was co-written, unaccredited, by Suso Cecchi d’Amico, and stars Nigel Terry (in the title role), Sean Bean, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gough and frequent Jarman collaborator Tilda Swinton in her film debut.
Derek Jarman (1993) 72 mins – M
Jarman’s portrait of the titular philosopher, co-written with literary theorist Terry Eagleton and played with elegantly controlled enthusiasm by Karl Johnson, is both irreverent and deeply affectionate. Entirely studio-bound, Jarman presents episodes from Wittgenstein’s biography interspersed with philosophical treatises and debates, mixing serious inquiry into the nature of consciousness with unapologetically camp theatricality. Sandy Powell’s remarkable costumes add just the right amount of flamboyance. Co-stars Tilda Swinton and Michael Gough as Bertrand Russell. Winner of the Teddy for Best Feature at the Berlin International Film Festival.
35mm print courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia.
Derek Jarman (1994) 54 mins – Unclassified 15+
Assembled after Jarman’s death in early 1994, this evocative collage of Super 8 footage shot by Jarman over the course of his creative life provides fascinating insights into his creative process and his collaborations with figures like William S. Burroughs, Adam Ant, Genesis P-Orridge, Toyah Wilcox and Tilda Swinton. Mostly consisting of home movies and behind-the-scenes footage shot between 1970 and 1986, it is also an extraordinarily intimate and unguarded document of the avant-garde, queer and punk scenes in Britain and features a mesmerising score by Brian Eno.
7:00pm THE LAST OF ENGLAND
Derek Jarman (1987) 87 mins – M
Named after Ford Madox Brown’s iconic painting, Jarman’s bleakest vision is a violent howl against both the loss of traditional English culture and the Thatcher government’s creation of totalitarian anti-LGBTQI+ legislation. Jarman’s layered small-gauge images of a world in ruin are tied together by his own poetic narration, Christopher Hobbs’ audacious production design, Sandy Powell’s indelible costumes and Simon Fisher Turner’s hypnotic soundscape of blended score and sound design, pre-empting their final collaboration on 1993’s Blue. With Tilda Swinton. Winner of the Teddy for Best Feature at the Berlin International Film Festival.
35mm print courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia.
8:40pm THE GARDEN
Derek Jarman (1990) 95 mins – M
In many ways a companion piece to The Last of England, Jarman’s first feature of the 1990s is a highly personal, almost dialogue-free film reflecting on the hostility and violence faced by gay, queer and trans people in the aftermath of the AIDS epidemic. Drawing together a collage of home movies of Jarman’s cottage in Dungeness, numerous references to classical and popular culture, and a bold retelling of the Passion of the Christ featuring a gay couple in the lead role, it is one of Jarman’s most startling meditations on mortality, loss and queer politics. With Tilda Swinton and a voiceover by Michael Gough.
Preceded by Imagining October Derek Jarman (1984) 27 mins – Unclassified 15+. Commissioned by the 1984 London Film Festival, Jarman’s politically charged film explores the links between redacted history in the Soviet Union and Thatcher’s Britain. Featuring a score by Genesis P-Orridge and David Ball.
Derek Jarman (1978) 106 mins – M
Satirically named for the 25th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, crime, revolution and disorder are cast against a stiflingly conservative nation. Filmed on location, Jarman’s portrait of a crumbling monarchy includes vivid images of London’s grand icons alongside rubble-strewn areas of the city, markers of the Blitz over three decades earlier. Influenced by the aesthetics and anti-establishment stance of punk, yet scorning its partial fascination with fascism, this messy, thrilling satire is the movement’s perfect incarnation and includes appearances and music by Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Slits, Jayne County, Toyah Wilcox, Adam Ant and Brian Eno.
Preceded by The Queen is Dead Derek Jarman (1986) 13 mins – PG. Jarman’s iconic, brilliantly fragmented Super 8 music videos for three songs by The Smiths. 35mm print.
Derek Jarman (1993) 79 mins – Unclassified 15+
Dedicated to his partner Keith Collins (aka “H.B.”) “and all true lovers”, Jarman’s last feature stands as one of the great final films and as a singularly poetic and affecting account of living and dying with AIDS. Famously, in acknowledgment of, and in meditation upon, his failing eyesight, the image consists wholly, unflinchingly, of a hue as close to Yves Klein’s patented “International Klein Blue” as could be captured on film. John Quentin, Nigel Terry, Tilda Swinton and Jarman himself read excerpts from the director’s hospital diaries and recite his poetry, atop an immersive soundscape created by Simon Fisher Turner and several of Jarman’s other musical collaborators.