Nationality: British. Born: Northwood, Middlesex, 31 January 1942. Education: King's College, London, 1960–63; Slade School of Fine Art, 1963–67. Career: First exhibition, Lisson Gallery, London, 1967; set designer for Royal Ballet, Ballet Rambert, and English National Opera, 1968; film designer for Ken Russell on The Devils, 1970; began working in Super-8 film, 1971; directed first feature, Sebastiane, 1976; directed promo videos for The Smiths,1986; diagnosed as being HIV-positive, 1987; revealed his condition, and began actively speaking out in favor of AIDS research, 1987; directed video and stage show for Pet Shop Boys, 1989. Awards: Peter Stuyvesant Award for painting, 1967; British Film Institute Award, 1990. Died: Of AIDS-related illnesses, 19 February 1994.
Films as Director (short Super-8 Films unless stated otherwise):
Studio Bankside; Miss Gaby; A Journey to Avebury
Garden of Luxor (Burning the Pyramids); Andrew LoganKisses the Glitterati; Tarot (The Magician)
The Art of Mirrors (Sulphur); Building the Pyramids
The Devils at the Elgin (Reworking the Devils); Fire Island; Duggie Fields
Ula's Fête (Ula's Chandelier); Picnic at Ray's; SebastianeWrap
Gerald's Film; Sloane Square, A Room of One's Own (Removal Party); Houston Texas; Sebastiane (16mm feature)
Jordan's Dance; Every Woman for Herself and All for Art
Jubilee (16mm feature)
Broken English (short, Super-8 and 16mm); The Tempest (16mm feature)
In the Shadow of the Sun (includes re-edited versions of earlier 8mm films)
TG Psychic Rally in Heaven
Diese Machine ist mein antihumanistisches Kunstwerk; Pirate Tape (W.S. Burroughs); Pontormo and Punks at SantaCroce
Waiting for Godot (short, Super-8 and video); B2 Tape/Film; The Dream Machine
Catalan (for TV); Imagining October
The Angelic Conversation (Super-8 and video)
The Queen Is Dead (promo videos on Super-8); Caravaggio (35mm feature)
"Depuis le jour" episode of Aria (Super-8 and 35mm); TheLast of England (Super-8 feature)
L'Ispirazione; War Requiem (35mm feature)
The Garden (Super-8 and 16mm feature)
Edward II (35mm feature)
Wittgenstein (35mm feature); Blue (35mm feature); Glitterbug (video)
The Devils (Russell) (designs)
Savage Messiah (Russell) (designs)
The Bible (Russell) (sc)
Nighthawks (Peck, Hallam) (role)
Prick up Your Ears (Frears) (role)
Behind Closed Doors (role); Derek Jarman: You Know What I Mean; Cactus Land (narration)
There We Are John (role); Love Undefeated: Conversations with Derek Jarman
By JARMAN: books—
Dancing Ledge, edited by Shaun Allen, London, 1984.
Caravaggio, London, 1986.
Last of England, London, 1987; as Kicking the Pricks, Woodstock, New York, 1997.
War Requiem: The Film, London, 1990.
Queer Edward II, London, 1992.
Dancing Ledge, London, 1993
At Your Own Risk: A Saint's Testament, London, 1994.
Modern Nature, London, 1994.
Blue: Text of a Film, New York, 1994.
Chroma, New York, 1995.
Derek Jarman's Garden, Woodstock, New York, 1996.
Kicking the Pricks, New York, 1997.
By JARMAN: articles—
Interviews in Time Out (London), November 1976 and 31 January 1985.
Interview in Film Directions (Belfast), vol. 2, no. 8, 1979.
Interviews with Michael O'Pray, in Monthly FilmBulletin (London), June 1984 and April 1986.
"Renaissance Man," an interview with M. Sutton, in Stills (London), April 1986.
Interview in American Film (Washington, D.C.), September1986.
Interview in Filmfaust (Frankfurt), September/October 1986.
Interview with Anne-Marie Hewitt, in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), September 1987.
Interview with D. Heinrich, in Cinéma (Paris), 16 December 1987.
Interview in City Limits (London), 6 July 1989.
Interview in Listener (London), 16 August 1990.
"History and the Gay Viewfinder," interview with R. Grundmamy, Cineaste (New York), vol. 18, 1991.
Interview with P. Loewe in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 33, no.6, 1991/1992.
Jarman, Derek, "Jag filmar mitt liv," in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 33, no. 6., 1991/1992.
"Blue Yonder," interview with P. Burston, Time Out (London), 18 August 1993.
On JARMAN: books—
O'Pray, Michael, Derek Jarman: Dreams of England, London, 1996.
Wollen, Roger, editor, Derek Jarman, a Portrait: Artist, Filmmaker,Designer, London, 1996.
Lippard, Chris, By Angels Driven: The Films of Derek Jarman, Westport, Connecticut, 1996.
Butler, Ken, Derek Jarman, NewYork, 1997.
On JARMAN: articles—
"Jarman Issue" of Afterimage (London), Autumn1985.
Rayns, Tony, "Unnatural Lighting," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), September 1986.
Olofsson, A., article in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 30, no. 1,1990.
O'Pray, M., "The Art of Mirrors: Derek Jarman," in Monthly FilmBulletin (London), January 1991.
Ball, E., "I, Camera," in Village Voice (NewYork), 29 January 1991.
"Past for the Present," interview with A. Cogolo, Cinema andCinema (Bologna), no. 62, September-December 1991.
McCabe, Colin, "Throne of Blood," in Sight and Sound (London), October 1991.
O'Pray, M., "Damning Desire," in Sight and Sound (London), October 1991.
Rich, B. R., and others, "New Queer Cinema," Sight and Sound (London), vol. 2, September 1992.
Rayns, T., "Witt's End," Time Out (London), 24 March 1993.
Kennedy, Harlan, "The Two Gardens of Derek Jarman," in FilmComment (New York), November/December, 1993.
Bowen, P., "In the Company of Saints," Filmmaker (Santa Monica), vol. 2, no. 1, 1993.
Obituary, in New York Times, 21 February 1994.
Obituary, in Washington Post, 21 February 1994.
Obituary, in The Times (London), 21 February 1994.
Obituary, in Los Angeles Times, 24 February 1994.
Obituary, in Chicago Tribune, 27 February 1994.
Obituary, in Variety (New York), 28 February 1994.
Macnab, Geoffrey, "Three Cuts and You're Out," Sight and Sound (London), vol. 7, no. 10, October 1997.
* * *
Derek Jarman became one of Britain's most original and highly controversial filmmakers. Vilified by the self-appointed guardians of the nation's morals, he has been hailed as a genius by others. It was Jarman's uncompromising and direct approach to cinema which resulted in such extreme and polarized evaluations of his work. Like Ken Russell, who introduced him to filmmaking by inviting him to design The Devils and Savage Messiah, Jarman consistently assaulted comfortable, conservative assumptions of "good taste." The powerful and explicit treatment of homo-erotic passion in his work has generated the greatest hostility, with Sebastiane, one of the most erotic and uninhibited British films ever made, the target of a particularly nasty anti-homosexual campaign generated by the tabloid press.
Drawing on personal experience to a greater degree than most British filmmakers, Jarman's sexuality and his public school/military background profoundly influenced his cinema. He paid tribute to other gay artists such as Caravaggio, deducing his tragic love affair with RanuccioThomasoni from clues in his paintings, and Benjamin Britten, creating stunning images for his War Requiem. He also interpreted the island in Shakespeare's The Tempest as a metaphor for homosexuality and read his sonnets as homo-erotic love poems, incorporating them into the soundtrack of The Angelic Conversation. Jarman's films also abound with militaristic images, particularly uniformed authority figures. Such images are often ambivalent, an echo of Jarman's own relationship with his father, who was a wing commander in the RAF.
Jarman's later work is more explicitly autobiographical. The Last of England, for example, is constructed around the presence of the artist: the fictional elements of the film are integrated with sequences featuring Jarman working at home and wandering around the streets with a camera. There are also fragments of old home movie footage shot by Jarman's father and grandfather, including images of the filmmaker as a child playing with his mother and sister. Despite being regarded as subversive by many, Jarman is paradoxically a traditionalist. He is nostalgic for a world uncorrupted by the bourgeois bureaucrats and advertising executives whom he regards as forces controlling our culture. The motif of the garden, that very English symbol of personal spaces, a haven to be cherished and protected, occurs time and time again, particularly in his later work such as The Angelic Conversation, his section for Aria, and The Garden, the title of which relates to Jarman's own garden at Dungeness on the Kent coast.
Trained as a painter, Jarman's cinema betrays a diversity of aesthetic influences. In contrast to the dominant literary/theatrical tradition in British cinema, he draws heavily on painting and poetry. He consistently experimented with narrative, from the cut-up collage approach of Jubilee to the poetic open narrative style of his Super-8 work from Imagining October to The Last of England. Such an approach requires an active participation on the part of the audience, often forcing them to impose their own coherence and meaning on the visual and aural collage. This aesthetic eclecticism is reflected in the design of Jarman's productions, which frequently eschew realism by mixing period costumes and props with modern elements, part of the director's effort to generate and communicate living ideas and concepts rather than attempt to excavate a dead past. In contrast to the clutter that characterizes much British realist cinema, the interior designs in Jarman's films are often rather austere, drawing attention to the significance of objects.
Derek Jarman sought to preserve his independence from the aesthetic and ideological compromises inherent in mainstream commercial cinema. This made the task of financing his projects extremely difficult, and he was forced to make his films on shoestring budgets. No other major British filmmaker has consistently worked with such meager resources. The seven-year struggle to raise money for Caravaggio prompted Jarman to return to the Super-8 filmmaking of his pre-Sebastiane days.
By the mid-1980s it was possible to make technically sophisticated experimental films by generating images on Super-8, then transferring this material to video tape for editing and post-production while maintaining the texture and quality of the Super-8 film image in the process. The results have been extremely interesting, culminating in the production of The Last of England, the first full-length British feature film to be made in this way. These experiments confirmed Jarman's status as a genuine innovator who constantly challenged orthodox approaches to filmmaking. His refusal to be absorbed into the mainstream ensured his integrity as an artist but kept him on the margins of a rather conservative British film culture.
Jarman's premature death—he was yet another casualty to the scourge of AIDS—robbed the film world of one of its most daring and controversial talents. Among his last films were Wittgenstein and Edward II, both pointed, characteristically outlandish Jarman concoctions which deal with the lives of famous homosexuals. The former charts the life of the influential Viennese philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, depicting everything from his family background to his association with Bertrand Russell and John Maynard Keynes, examining the evolution of his ideas as well as his gay relationships with younger men. The latter, detailing the undoing of the title monarch and his lover, serves as an expose of gay oppression throughout theages. Meanwhile, The Garden is yet another of Jarman's jarring examinations/condemnations of homophobia. Via striking imagery, he offers comparison between the persecution of gays and the crucifixion of Christ.
Blue (not to be confused with the Krzysztof Kieslowski film of the same title) is a fitting close to Jarman's career. It is a deeply personal meditation on the artist's life in the face of his impending demise. The screen is entirely blue, and via narration Jarman exposes his soul as he considers his existence and his struggle with disease.
—Duncan J. Petrie, updated by Rob Edelman