Michael Derek Elworthy Jarman
31 January 1942
|Died||19 February 1994 (aged 52)|
St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London, England
|Cause of death||AIDS|
|Resting place||St. Clement Churchyard, Old Romney, Kent|
|Education||Canford School, Dorset|
|Alma mater||King's College London, Slade School of Fine Art (UCL)|
|Occupation||Film director, gay rights activist, gardener, set designer|
|Sebastiane (1976), Jubilee (1977), Caravaggio (1986), The Last of England (1988), Edward II (1991), Wittgenstein (1993), Blue (1993)|
|Style||New Queer Cinema|
|Partner(s)||Keith Collins (1987–94)|
Jarman was born at the Royal Victoria Nursing Home in Northwood, Middlesex, England. the son of Elizabeth Evelyn (née Puttock) and Lancelot Elworthy Jarman. His father was a military officer, born in New Zealand. He boarded at Canford School in Dorset, and from 1960 studied at King's College London. This was followed by four years at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London (UCL), starting in 1963. He had a studio at Butler's Wharf, London, in the 1970s. Jarman was outspoken about homosexuality, his public fight for gay rights, and his personal struggle with AIDS.
On 22 December 1986, Jarman was diagnosed as HIV positive and discussed his condition in public. His illness prompted him to move to Prospect Cottage, Dungeness in Kent, near the nuclear power station. In 1994, he died of an AIDS-related illness in London, aged 52. He was an atheist. He is buried in the graveyard at St. Clement's Church, Old Romney, Kent.
Jarman's first films were experimental Super 8mm shorts, a form he never entirely abandoned, and later developed further in his films Imagining October (1984), The Angelic Conversation (1985), The Last of England (1987) and The Garden (1990) as a parallel to his narrative work. The Garden was entered into the 17th Moscow International Film Festival. The Angelic Conversation featured Toby Mott and other members of the Grey Organisation, a radical artist collective.
Jarman first became known as a stage designer. His break in the film industry came as production designer for Ken Russell's The Devils (1971). He made his mainstream narrative filmmaking debut with Sebastiane (1976), about the martyrdom of St. Sebastian. This was one of the first British films to feature positive images of gay sexuality; its dialogue was entirely in Latin.
He followed this with Jubilee (shot 1977, released 1978), in which Queen Elizabeth I of England is seen to be transported forward in time to a desolate and brutal wasteland ruled by her twentieth-century namesake. Jubilee has been described as "Britain's only decent punk film", and featured punk groups and figures such as Wayne County of Wayne County & the Electric Chairs, Jordan, Toyah Willcox, and Adam and the Ants.
This was followed in 1979 by an unconventional adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Praised by several Shakespeare scholars, but dismissed by some traditionalist critics, the film contains a considerable amount of nudity (mostly male, but also some female, including a scene in which Caliban's mother Sycorax breast-feeds her son), some unconventional casting (Toyah Willcox as Miranda hardly suggests innocent purity) and an unusual setting (a crumbling mansion as opposed to an island).
During the 1980s, Jarman was a leading campaigner against Clause 28, which sought to ban the "promotion" of homosexuality in schools. He also worked to raise awareness of AIDS. His artistic practice in the early 1980s reflected these commitments, especially in The Angelic Conversation (1985), a film in which the imagery is accompanied by Judi Dench's voice reciting Shakespeare's sonnets.
Jarman spent seven years making experimental Super 8mm films and attempting to raise money for Caravaggio (he later claimed to have rewritten the script seventeen times during this period). Released in 1986, Caravaggio attracted a comparatively wide audience; it is still, barring the cult hit Jubilee, probably Jarman's most widely known work. This is partly due to the involvement, for the first time with a Jarman film, of the British television company Channel 4 in funding and distribution. Funded by the British Film Institute and produced by film theorist Colin MacCabe, Caravaggio became Jarman's most famous film to date, and marked the beginning of a new phase in Jarman's filmmaking career: from now on all his films would be partly funded by television companies, often receiving their most prominent exhibition in TV screenings. Caravaggio also saw Jarman work with actress Tilda Swinton for the first time. Overt depictions of homosexual love, narrative ambiguity, and the live representations of Caravaggio's most famous paintings are all prominent features in the film.
The conclusion of Caravaggio also marked the beginning of a temporary abandonment of traditional narrative in Jarman's films. Frustrated by the formality of 35mm film production, and by the dependence on institutions and the resultant prolonged inactivity associated with it (which had already cost him seven years with Caravaggio, as well as derailing several long-term projects), Jarman returned to and expanded the super 8mm-based form he had previously worked in on Imagining October and The Angelic Conversation. Caravaggio was entered into the 36th Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the Silver Bear for an outstanding single achievement.
The first film to result from this new semi-narrative phase, The Last of England told the death of a country, ravaged by its own internal decay and the economic restructuring of Thatcher's government. "Wrenchingly beautiful…the film is one of the few commanding works of personal cinema in the late 80's – a call to open our eyes to a world violated by greed and repression, to see what irrevocable damage has been wrought on city, countryside and soul, how our skies, our bodies, have turned poisonous", wrote a Village Voice critic.
In 1989, Jarman's film War Requiem brought Laurence Olivier out of retirement for what would be Olivier's last screen performance. The film uses Benjamin Britten's eponymous anti-war requiem as its soundtrack and juxtaposes violent footage of war with the mass for the dead and the passionate humanist poetry of Wilfred Owen.
During the making of his film The Garden, Jarman became seriously ill. Although he recovered sufficiently to complete the work, he never attempted anything on a comparable scale afterwards, returning to a more pared-down form for his concluding narrative films, Edward II (perhaps his most politically outspoken work, informed by his queer activism) and the Brechtian Wittgenstein, a delicate tragicomedy based on the life of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Jarman made a side income by directing music videos for various artists including Marianne Faithfull, the Smiths and the Pet Shop Boys.
By the time of his 1993 film Blue, Jarman was losing his sight and dying of AIDS-related complications. Blue consists of a single shot of saturated blue colour filling the screen, as background to a soundtrack composed by Simon Fisher Turner, and featuring original music by Coil and other artists, in which Jarman describes his life and vision. When it was shown on British television, Channel 4 carried the image whilst the soundtrack was broadcast simultaneously on BBC Radio 3. Blue was unveiled at the 1993 Venice Biennale with Jarman in attendance and subsequently entered the collections of the Walker Art Institute; Centre Georges Pompidou; MoMA and Tate. His final testament as a film-maker was the film Glitterbug made for the Arena slot on BBC Two, and broadcast shortly after Jarman's death.
Jarman also directed the 1989 tour by the UK duo Pet Shop Boys. By pop concert standards this was a highly theatrical event with costume and specially shot films accompanying the individual songs. Jarman was the stage director of Sylvano Bussotti's opera L'Ispirazione, first staged in Florence in 1998.
Jarman is also remembered for his famous shingle cottage-garden, created in the latter years of his life, in the shadow of Dungeness nuclear power station. The cottage is built in vernacular style in timber, with tar-based weatherproofing, like others nearby. Raised wooden text on the side of the cottage is the first stanza and the last five lines of the last stanza of John Donne's poem, The Sun Rising. The cottage garden was made by arranging flotsam washed up nearby, interspersed with endemic salt-loving beach plants, both set against the bright shingle. The garden has been the subject of several books. At this time, Jarman also began painting again (see the book: Evil Queen: The Last Paintings, 1994).
Jarman was the author of several books including his autobiography Dancing Ledge (1984), which details his life until the age 40. He provides his own insight on the history of gay life in London (60's-80's), discusses his own acceptance of his homosexuality at age 16 and accounts of the financial and emotional hardships of a life devoted to filmmaking. A collection of poetry A Finger in the Fishes Mouth, two volumes of diaries Modern Nature and Smiling In Slow Motion and two treatises on his work in film and art The Last of England (also published as Kicking the Pricks) and Chroma. Other notable published works include film scripts (Up in the Air, Blue, War Requiem, Caravaggio, Queer Edward II and Wittgenstein: The Terry Eagleton Script/The Derek Jarman Film), a study of his garden at Dungeness Derek Jarman's Garden, and At Your Own Risk, a defiant celebration of gay sexuality.
After his death, the band Chumbawamba released "Song for Derek Jarman" in his honour. Andi Sexgang released the CD Last of England as a Jarman tribute. The ambient experimental album The Garden is Full of Metal, by Robin Rimbaud, included Jarman speech samples.
The Manic Street Preachers' bassist, Nicky Wire, also recorded a track titled "Derek Jarman's Garden" as a b-side to his single "Break My Heart Slowly" (2006). On his In The Mist album, released in 2011, ambient composer Harold Budd features a song called "The Art of Mirrors (after Derek Jarman)".
Coil, who in 1994 contributed a soundtrack for Jarman's The Angelic Conversation released the 7" single "Themes for Derek Jarman's Blue"  after his death. In 2004 Coil's Peter Christopherson performed his score for the Jarman short The Art of Mirrors as a tribute to Jarman live at L'étrange Festival in Paris. In 2015 record label Black Mass Rising released a recording of the performance..In 2018, composer Gregory Spears created a work for chorus and string quartet, titled "The Tower and the Garden," commissioned by conductors Donald Nally, Mark Shapiro, Robert Geary and Carmen-Helena Téllez, setting a poem by Keith Garebian from his collection "Blue: The Derek Jarman Poems"(2008).
Jarman's early Super-8 mm work has been included on some of the DVD releases of his films.
To those familiar with his other films, Jarman reinforces his atheism and contempt for traditional Christianity, thereby re-emphasizing the point he just made – that "paradise" is "terrestrial" and is the fruit of human love.
Aria is a 1987 British anthology film produced by Don Boyd that consists of ten short films by ten different directors, each showing the director's choice of visual accompaniment to one or more operatic arias. There is little or no dialogue from the actors, with most words coming from the libretto of the operas in Italian, French, or German.
The film was entered into the 1987 Cannes Film Festival.Blue (1993 film)
Blue is the twelfth and final feature film by director Derek Jarman, released four months before his death from AIDS-related complications. Such complications had already rendered him partially blind at the time of the film's release, only being able to see in shades of blue.
The film was his last testament as a film-maker, and consists of a single shot of saturated blue colour filling the screen, as background to a soundtrack where Jarman's and some of his long-time collaborators' narration describes his life and vision.Caravaggio (1986 film)
Caravaggio is a 1986 British drama film directed by Derek Jarman. The film is a fictionalised re-telling of the life of Baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. It is the film debut of Tilda Swinton and Sean Bean.Edward II (film)
Edward II is a 1991 British historical tragedy film directed by Derek Jarman and starring Steven Waddington, Tilda Swinton and Andrew Tiernan. It is based on the play of the same name by Christopher Marlowe. The plot revolves around Edward II of England's infatuation with Piers Gaveston, which proves to be the downfall of both of them, thanks to the machinations of Roger Mortimer.
The film is staged in a postmodern style, using a mixture of contemporary and medieval props, sets and clothing. (The date "1991" appears on a royal proclamation at one point.) The gay content of the play is also brought to the fore by Jarman, notably by adding a homosexual sex scene and by depicting Edward's army as gay rights protesters.Homophobia (song)
"Homophobia" is a song from Chumbawamba's album Anarchy, concerning the topic of modern homophobia. It remained a regular part of Chumbawamba's live set, usually in an a cappella version, from its initial release in 1994 up to the band's retirement in 2012. This arrangement was performed on their 1994 live album Showbusiness!. The version released as a single is very different from the album and live versions, having an upbeat synthesised backing, altered lyrics, and backing vocals by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
The B-side "Song for Derek Jarman" is a heavily reworked version of "Rage" from Anarchy. It quotes from Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gentle into that good night" and ends with a clip of Derek Jarman himself praising the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
The song reached number 76 on the UK Singles Chart.In the Shadow of the Sun
In the Shadow of the Sun is a 1981 fantasy film directed by Derek Jarman. It consists of a series of Super 8 films shot between 1972 and 1975 and edited together. Throbbing Gristle were asked to provide the soundtrack.In the Shadow of the Sun (album)
In the Shadow of the Sun is an improvised musical score by Throbbing Gristle for the 1981 Derek Jarman film of the same name.Jubilee (1978 film)
Jubilee is a 1978 cult film directed by Derek Jarman. It stars Jenny Runacre, Ian Charleson and a host of punk rockers, including Adam Ant and Toyah. The title refers to the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II in 1977.Sebastiane
Sebastiane is a 1976 Latin-language British historical thriller film directed by Derek Jarman and Paul Humfress and written by Jarman, Humfress and James Whaley. It portrays the events of the life of Saint Sebastian, including his iconic martyrdom by arrows. The film, which was aimed at a gay audience, was controversial for the homoeroticism portrayed between the soldiers and for being dialogued entirely in Latin.The Angelic Conversation (album)
The Angelic Conversation is a CD soundtrack released by Coil for the film The Angelic Conversation.
"Enochian Calling", "Angelic Stations" and a few other tracks use samples from Coil's debut EP, How to Destroy Angels. "Never" was previously released in a shorter form on Unnatural History and the mysterious compilation Less Than Angels.
This album was recorded by John Balance, Peter Christopherson, and Stephen Thrower. Judi Dench provides the vocals, which are recitations of Shakespeare's sonnets.
This album is the soundtrack to the Derek Jarman film bearing the same name.
This album is currently available for download in FLAC, AAC, and MP3 formats on the official Coil website, Thresholdhouse.com.The Angelic Conversation (film)
The Angelic Conversation is a 1985 arthouse drama film directed by Derek Jarman. Its tone is set by the juxtaposition of slow moving photographic images and Shakespeare's sonnets read by Judi Dench. The film consists primarily of homoerotic images and opaque landscapes through which two men take a journey into their own desires.
Jarman himself described the film as "a dream world, a world of magic and ritual, yet there are images there of the burning cars and radar systems, which remind you there is a price to be paid in order to gain this dream in the face of a world of violence."The soundtrack to the film was composed and performed by Coil, and it was released as an album of the same name. In 2008 Peter Christopherson of Coil (with David Tibet, Othon Mataragas and Ernesto Tomasini) performed a new live soundtrack to the movie during a special screening at the Turin Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.
The film's music track also includes Benjamin Britten's "Sea Interludes" from Peter Grimes, performed by The Chorus and Orchestra of The Royal Opera House Covent Garden, conducted by Colin Davis.The Garden (1990 film)
The Garden is a 1990 British arthouse film by director Derek Jarman produced by James Mackay for Basilisk Communications in association with Channel 4, British Screen and ZDF. It focuses on homosexuality and Christianity set against a backdrop of Jarman's bleak coastal home of Dungeness in Kent, and his garden and the nearby landscape surrounding a nuclear power station, a setting Jarman compares to the Garden of Eden or Garden of Gethsemenae. The film was entered into the 17th Moscow International Film Festival.The Last of England (film)
The Last of England is a 1987 British arthouse film directed by Derek Jarman and starring Tilda Swinton.
It is a poetic, rather than realistic, depiction of what Jarman felt was the loss of traditional English culture in the 1980s and his anger about Thatcher's England. (including the formation of Section 28 Local Government Act.) Declaring it a homophobic and repressive totalitarian state. In 1986, Jarman was also diagnosed with AIDS and had just finished his 'masterpiece', Caravaggio, so the film is a confluence of angry imagination.
It is named after a painting by the artist Ford Madox Brown. The painting and the film, share themes of escape and the changing of place.He uses a shaky hand-held camera to cause anxiety and paranoia, and the ever-present melancholy is expressed in the extracts from poems, including T.S. Eliot's The Hollow Men and Allen Ginsberg's Howl, which are monotonously read by narrator Nigel Terry.In one of the film's most famous scenes, is of Tilda Swinton, dressed not unlike the woman from Brown's painting, as a bride mourning her executed husband, screaming and letting out a primal cry whilst rubbish burns around her and it was shot near the director's home on the beach of Dungeness, Kent.Other images in the film, are counterpointed by Bach violin sonatas and 1980s disco. Skulls, fire and ashes embody death and destruction, while scenes of sex on a Union Jack flag and 'Spring' masturbating show a disregard for social conventions and suggest a country in a state of chaos and sordid decadence.The Tempest (1979 film)
The Tempest is a 1979 film adaptation of William Shakespeare's play of the same name. Directed by Derek Jarman, with Heathcote Williams as Prospero, it also stars Toyah Willcox, Jack Birkett and Helen Wellington-Lloyd from Jarman's previous feature, Jubilee (1977), as well as his long-time cohort Karl Johnson.Themes 2
Themes 2, also referred to as Themes, Vol. 2, is a studio album by a multimedia collective Psychic TV, released by Temple Records in 1985. It is the second album in the Themes series, predeced by Themes – initially an accompanying release to Force the Hand of Chance – and followed up by Themes 3, and was recorded as a soundtrack for videos by a British filmmaker Derek Jarman.Tilda Swinton
Katherine Matilda Swinton (born 5 November 1960) is a British actress. She is known for her roles in both independent arthouse films and blockbusters. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the 2007 film Michael Clayton. She also won the BAFTA Scotland Award for Best Actress for the 2003 film Young Adam, and has received three Golden Globe Award nominations.Swinton began her career in experimental films, directed by Derek Jarman, starting with Caravaggio (1986), followed by The Last of England (1988), War Requiem (1989), and The Garden (1990). Swinton won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for her portrayal of Isabella of France in Edward II (1991). She next starred in Sally Potter's Orlando (1992), and was nominated for the European Film Award for Best Actress.
Swinton was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her performance in The Deep End (2001). She followed this with appearances in Vanilla Sky (2001), Adaptation (2002), Constantine (2005), Julia (2008), and I Am Love (2009). She won the European Film Award for Best Actress and received a nomination for the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for the psychological thriller We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011). She is also known for her performance as the White Witch in the Chronicles of Narnia series (2005–10). Her other film appearances include Female Perversions (1996), The War Zone (1998), The Beach (2000), Thumbsucker (2005), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), Burn After Reading (2008), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), Snowpiercer (2013), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Trainwreck (2015), A Bigger Splash (2015), Doctor Strange (2016), Okja (2017), and Suspiria (2018).
Swinton was given the Richard Harris Award by the British Independent Film Awards in recognition of her contributions to the British film industry. In 2013, she was given a special tribute by the Museum of Modern Art.War Requiem (film)
War Requiem is a 1989 film adaptation of Benjamin Britten's musical piece of the same name.
It was shot in 1988 by the British film director Derek Jarman with the 1963 recording as the soundtrack, produced by Don Boyd and financed by the BBC. Decca Records required that the 1963 recording be heard on its own, with no overlaid soundtrack or other sound effects. The film featured Nathaniel Parker as Wilfred Owen, and Laurence Olivier in his last acting appearance in any medium before his death in July 1989. The film is structured as the reminiscences of Olivier's character, the Old Soldier in a wheelchair, and Olivier recites "Strange Meeting" in the film's prologue.Wittgenstein (film)
Wittgenstein is a 1993 film by the English director Derek Jarman. It is loosely based on the life story as well as the philosophical thinking of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. The adult Wittgenstein is played by Karl Johnson.
The original screenplay was by the literary critic Terry Eagleton. Jarman heavily rewrote the script during pre-production and shooting, radically altering the style and structure, although retaining much of Eagleton's dialogue. The story is not played out in a traditional setting, but rather against a black backdrop within which the actors and key props are placed, as if in a theatre setting.
The film was originally part of a series of 12 films on the life and ideas of the philosopher, produced by Tariq Ali on behalf of Channel Four. Only four scripts got commissioned, Socrates by Howard Brenton, Spinoza by Tariq Ali, Locke by David Edgar and Wittgenstein by Terry Eagleton. Spinoza was filmed and directed by Chris Spencer as Spinoza : The Apostle of Reason. Also Citizen Locke was filmed and directed by Agnieszka Piotrowska. They were transmitted in 1994 as 52 min long television films.