Fabulous Window into Jarman's Central Question: How Can Outs
David Crumm | Canton, Michigan | 06/27/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm struck by the coincidence that Zeitgeist's remarkable retrospective of some of Jarman's greatest works -- was released in the same week that Disney opened "Wall.E," which also raises the question about accepting outsiders.
Of course, it's a slam dunk that people want to hug the lovable little robot. Jarman's challenge is far higher octane. He was -- until his untimely death from AIDS in the 1990s -- a real-life, sometimes-fire-breathing, British artist and activist.
Solid evidence of Jarman's stature of an artist is the Who's Who of famous British actors and actresses who worked in his avante garde productions, including Judith Dench, Tilda Swinton and even Laurence Olivier, who made his final film, "War Requiem," with Jarman. (However, "War Requiem" isn't in this particular set.)
But, Jarman wasn't interested in celebrity. Rather, he was deadly serious about probing the outer boundaries. He had no interest in producing Hollywood hits. Quite the contrary. In fact, the "extras" in this new DVD set include an interview with Jarman in which he makes precisely that point.
In one interview, he says that his whole body of work was intended as a critique of American cinema. It wasn't a question of artistic options. He had lots of lucrative work from which to choose. In his prime, for instance, Jarman was a sought-after director of music videos. When his late-in-life production, "Blue," was released -- a joint broadcast was arranged involving both British television and radio networks to broadcast the image and the audio in optimal quality throughout the UK. (And, "Blue" is in this new set.)
No, Jarman followed the road less traveled because the question he wanted to ask over and over again is: How do true outsiders form community?
In this new DVD set, you'll get a real glimpse of his range as an artist, designer and director. For example, there is painstaking work behind the shadowy opening scenes of his "Caravaggio." It's a feature-length film about the artist who took Rome by storm around 1600 with huge, dramatic canvases that reinterpreted traditional spiritual themes. These opening scenes are as gorgeous as the artist's paintings themselves. But we soon realize that Jarman is, above all, an artistic provocateur -- when we suddenly hear the distant sound of a freight train! In 1600? And, then, we discover a malicious nobleman tapping on a hand-held calculator -- and suddenly characters show up in tuxedos!
What Jarman really is doing here is extending the questions raised by "Caravaggio" into our present age. By the middle of the film, we already can see how an outsider artist can summon incredible spiritual gifts. Caravaggio's paintings helped people to see biblical stories in entirely new ways. But his status as a highly controversial and emotionally troubled rebel almost defied any community to embrace him.
Jarmans' films are challenging, intellectual, not for young viewers -- and even an aquired taste for adult viewers -- but I am amazed, on the week of the "Wall.E" release to have an opportunity, as well, to reflect on the brilliant insights of a true outsider, as well.
Five by Jarman
Amos Lassen | Little Rock, Arkansas | 05/07/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
Five by Jarman
Derek Jarman was a genius whose life ended too soon. He was always an original filmmaker with original ideas. Now thanks to Zeitgeist Films we have five Jarman films in a boxed ser entitled "Glitterbox". If you love gay cinema, here is a set that belongs in your movie library and these five films give a wonderful introduction to Derek Jarman. Because I am going to review these films separately I am only going to say a little about each movie.
"Wittgenstein" shows in an early Jarman film the queer militancy that characterized the director. Ludwig Wittgenstein was an Austrian-born and British educated. He is considered to be a leading philosopher and Jarman chronicles his life from regal childhood to his position as a professor at Cambridge where he was burdened with guilt because he was homosexual. The characters wear elaborate costumes and they are set against a pitch black background. This is so we will concentrate on the very witty dialog.
"Caravaggio" pays tribute to a controversial painter who was torn between his lover and his mistress. This is a very homoerotic film which is centered on the process of creating.
"The Angelic Conversation" is a film in which Dame Judy Dench reads twelve Shakespearean sonnets which focuses on the director, Jarman himself, in a mission to discover the meaning of life.
"Blue" was made by Jarman after he had been battling AIDS for six years. His health and eyesight had been deteriorating and he brought the viewer into a startling experimental film. The film is a blue screen throughout and Tilda Swinson and Nigel Terry read from Jarman's journals, talk about his medical problems and his reflections on life and art. This is the film that closed Jarman's career and it shows no self-pity and neither does it sermonize.
Finally there is "Glitterbug", a collection of Jarman's video diaries which are set to the music of Brian Eno. The films begin in 1970 and follow the life of the filmmaker and Jarman managed to finish this film before his death in 1984.
The set also includes interviews with Tilda Swinson and Nigel Terry and Christopher Hobbs, production designer. There is also a rare video with Jarman himself, behind the scene footage. For any gay cinema buff, this is a set of films that must be seen to help us understand how far we have come.