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Derek Jarman
Why a tribute to Derek Jarman? Well simply because Derek Jarman was one of the most distinguished independent filmmakers of our time. Yet he was more than that. For he was also a renowned author, painter, poet, gardener and tireless gay rights campaigner, whose personal and political views of life gave rise to groundbreaking cinematic imagery. Yet therein lies the irony, given Jarman drifted into the celluloid medium for which he became famous for, courtesy of his artistic background having secured him work as a set designer on Ken Russell's THE DEVILS / 1971 and SAVAGE MESSIAH / 1972. From here there was no turning back, given Super-8 was already providing him with the ideal format by which to experiment with the art of filmmaking.

By 1976, Jarman had completed his first feature film Sebastiane, an unashamedly homoerotic homage to the legend of the Christian martyr. Only here Jarman literally turned the story of Saint Sebastian on its head, along the way creating a landmark in gay cinema. For this was gay cinema of the like that you had not seen before. For with no-where to go, no-one to fight and nothing to do, here was a group of Roman soldiers who habitually spent their days cleansing their naked bodies and otherwise engaging in acts of a more physical nature. Call it male bonding, call it friendship, but in depicting such this film spoke, albeit in Latin with English subtitles, of homosexual love. And here we're talking about same-sex lovemaking, full frontal male nudity and if the censors of the time missed it, an all out male erection.
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from the film SEBASTIANE by Derek Jarman and Paul Humfress
A year later, Jarman's infamous anti-establishment post-punk vision of England was playing the Jubilee cinema circuit. Only here Britain is far removed from its Golden Age, laden with violence and mass unemployment, complete with a blank generation who "forgot to lead their lives." Monarchy is out, Buckingham Palace is all but a giant recording studio owned by a megalomaniac who has bought everyone and everything that can be bought, leaving a physical wasteland in his wake. The police are corrupt - chaos reigns - there is no future. Have you got the picture? Not content with having outraged royalists, Jarman went on to outrage scholars, by way of his unconventional interpretation of Shakespeare's final work, or to be more precise, the last play solely attributed to the Bard. Then again, The Tempest / 1979 in Jarman's hands was never going to be a traditional rendering of the noted Shakespearean play, with Jarman notably taking a series of liberties with the original text and if anything, the location itself, hereby relocating the main body of the work from the shores of a remote island to a candle-lit abbey style mansion.
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from the films JUBILEE and THE TEMPEST by Derek Jarman
Yet each release came by way of having surmounted numerous obstacles and inparticular endless battles to secure funding, namely the very factor that contributed to a seven-year delay in bringing his remarkably bold account of the life of Michelangelo da Caravaggio to the screen. No surprise then that during this period Jarman returned to the medium that he held most dear, namely Super-8. Then again, he had never really been away from it, given that with the minimal of capital, let alone cast and crew, he could shoot whatever and whenever he liked and incorporate the results into any given conceptual idea, including such works as The Angelic Conversation / 1985 and The Last of England / 1987.
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Inspired by conversations with Nicholas Ward Jackson and brought to the screen thanks to funding from the British Film Institute, 1986 saw the long awaited premiere of Derek Jarman's most accessible and thereby most widely seen work - Caravaggio / 1986. Using the screen like a canvas to paint scene after scene rich in colour, here Jarman told the story of the Bad Boy of the late Italian Renaissance, a man who took the religious art world by storm, never lacking patrons or well-paid commissions, inspite of his rebellious nature. It was a work in which Nigel Terry delivered what many regard as his finest Jarman performance, backed by Sean Bean as rough trade Ranuccio and Tilda Swinton as Lena; an actress who whilst new to the school of Jarman, would soon become one of its key players.
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from the film CARAVAGGIO by Derek Jarman
Only by now, many had more pressing concerns on their minds, given the onset of AIDS had seen so many brave souls, like Jarman himself, come face to face with the reality of being HIV positive. Rather than hide in the shadows, Jarman came out fighting, bravely confronting his battle with AIDS which devoid of the advances in the drug treatments of today, was a fight he knew he could not win. Between then and his death on the 19th February 1994 aged fifty-two, Jarman threw himself into his work and if anything was on an artistic high, directing features as varied as War Requiem / 1989 and The Garden / 1990, a film that in true Jarman fashion saw him strike out at the foundations of political and religious homophobia, by depicting in the manner of Jesus Christ, two male lovers persecuted, tortured and ultimately crucified for their beliefs and very sexuality.
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from the films WAR REQUIEM and THE GARDEN by Derek Jarman
Seizing the moment, Jarman delivered film after film, with his highly innovative, overtly homoerotic and politically to the core outing of the life and homosexual times of Edward II / 1991, marking a perfect example of contemporary filmmaking. Perhaps then, it is of no surprise that his penultimate film would come to be yet another gay biopic, namely a work detailing the life of one Ludwig Wittgenstein / 1993, probably the greatest, certainly the most celebrated, philosopher of the 20th Century.
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from the films EDWARD II and WITTGENSTEIN by Derek Jarman
For by now Jarman was in the final stages of his battle with AIDS and inparticular was confronting his rapidly declining eyesight. In June 1993, Jarman's 35mm swan song Blue premiered at the Venice Biennial. Presented in the universal blue, unchanging in colour or shade, it spoke of the effects of AIDS on the mind and body, together with a spirit weakened in a world in which so many close friends were either dead or dying. The result is a feature that in being Jarman's most personal, is equally his most revealing, one that in his own words made for "a jolly good signing off film."
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from the films BLUE by Derek Jarman and DEREK by Isaac Julien
Derek Jarman once famously said: "it is difficult enough to be queer, but to be queer in the cinema is almost impossible." Thankfully times have changed ... or have they? For how much of our sexual identity have we lost in our fight for acceptance? And how much more will be lost in the years to come, as sexual diversity merges ever more with social conformity? Jarman never compromised on either the political, sexual or artistic front, with such behind-the-scene works as In the Shadow of the Sun / 1980 and Glitterbug / 1994 offering a unique insight into the inventive mind of a man who had the sheer cinematic balls to artistically mix the gay narrative with a highly focused political agenda. His legacy of films remain a vivid reminder of the fact and of the creative genius of a man who died well before his time.
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from the films IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUN and GLITTERBUG by Derek Jarman
" I place a delphinium, blue, upon your grave "

Derek Jarman | 1942 - 1994 | the Father of New Queer Cinema.
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