a film by Derek Jarman
1986 | 89 mins | UK
›› Caravaggio
the life and sexual times of Michelangelo da Caravaggio
Caravaggio by Derek Jarman Inspired by conversations with Nicholas Ward Jackson and brought to the screen thanks to funding from the British Film Institute, this remarkably bold piece arguably ranks as Derek Jarman's most accessible and thereby most widely seen work. It details, in effect, the life and sexual times of one Michelangelo da Caravaggio, namely the bad boy of the late Italian Renaissance who burst upon the art scene in Rome around 1600, only to be found dead ten years later. Yet during that decade he took the religious art world by storm, never lacking patrons or well-paid commissions, inspite of his infamous rebellious nature.

Notorious for his love of street-brawls and ever eager for a fight, it is the well documented event of the 29th May, 1606 that Jarman took as the basis for his work, namely the night that Caravaggio whether intentionally or not, killed a young man named Ranuccio Tomassoni and thereafter fled to Naples to escape the jurisdiction of the Roman authorities. Yet the facts end here, given Jarman has woven a story of sexual jealousy around them; that of an imagined love-triangle between Caravaggio, Ranuccio hereby cast as model and object of lust and Ranuccio's own partner Lena. Told in flashback, it opens with Caravaggio on his deathbed, dripping in sweat and with a mind filled with feverish thoughts of times past, instances of himself in his mature and younger years.

Caravaggio by Derek Jarman Only to say that Jarman's commitment to the making of this feature was total, is to state the obvious. For like his subject, Jarman was never afraid to experiment with new mediums, here delighting in the use of anachronisms in a film that one moment takes pride in showcasing beautifully lit tableaux vivants of such Caravaggio classics as 'The Boy with a Basket of Fruit' and 'The Entombment of Christ,' only to throw the timeline out of sync the next by injecting scenes with a modern day calculator, electric light bulbs and an art critic denouncing Caravaggio's work courtesy of words written on a typewriter.

For aided by the vivid production design of Christopher Hobbs, the fine photography of cinematographer Gabriel Beristain and the work of award-winning costume designer Sandy Powell, here Jarman uses the screen like a canvas to paint scene after scene with colours rich. Over seven years in the making, the breathtaking result was committed to film within five weeks thanks to wonderful performances from Nigel Terry as Caravaggio, 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.

Little else remains to be said. Except to say that whilst much has been made of Caravaggio's sexuality, here Jarman lets the heterosexual element of the love-triangle play with the same intensity, if not more so, than that of the homosexual side, thereby letting the sexuality of Caravaggio speak as much through such, as by the homoeroticism of his paintings and thoughts. A pure visual treat and a Jarman classic!
available on DVD as part of the British Film Institute catalogue
starring: Nigel Terry, Sean Bean, Garry Cooper, Dexter Fletcher, Spencer Leigh, Tilda Swinton, Nigel Davenport,
Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gough, Dawn Archibald, Jack Birkett, Vernon Dobtcheff, Jonathan Hyde,
Simon Fisher Turner, Emil Nicolaou, Noam Almaz
Copyright 2007 David Hall - www.gaycelluloid.com.
archive reference #005
›› previous page | back to top | print me ‹‹
click for gay celluloid - home