Premiered at the 1980 Berlin Film Festival and later released on video in the UK, this collection of short films by Derek Jarman is in effect, a cinematic medley of Super-8 footage taken from such home movies as 'A Journey to Avebury,' 'Tarot' aka 'The Magician' and 'Fire Island,' amongst others. The footage itself spans the years 1972 to 1980, with the title referring to the Philosophers' Stone, courtesy of William Gratacolle's 1652 collation of names for the Holy Grail of Western alchemy; namely the mythical substance supposedly capable of transforming inexpensive metals into gold.
For it is the element of transformation that is key to this work, as Jarman plays with the footage, superimposing one image on top of another, transforming the original material via a series of colour effects, into a dreamlike, if at times almost psychedelic vision. Far removed from the homoerotic compilation piece Glitterbug,
this collage of Super-8 footage as set to the haunting industrial music of Throbbing Gristle is in many ways, strictly for Jarman purists only and certainly for those already accustomed to his unique style of abstract imagery.
For here we're talking about a series of shots of a typewriter being struck, a couple dancing, a figure dressed in a masked hood almost Ku Klux Klan like, the shuffling of tarot cards, together with ritualistic ceremonies encompassed, think superimposed, by flames, as the footage is slowed down and colour enhanced to form in the words of the
official description itself 'a dreamlike repetitive quality.' That the result is without doubt Jarman's most surreal work, almost goes without saying, although whether it is to your viewing pleasure, remains an open question. But that said, there is no denying that the footage included here and the way in which it has been manipulated aptly reflects the artistic and highly creative mind that was Derek Jarman.