I’m punctual to a fault but only have a loose relationship with another aspect of time–I rarely can pinpoint the year something happened. Aware of my shortcoming, I was still shocked (and really sad) to read in Zeitgeist Films‘ most recent newsletter that today marks the 20th anniversary of the death Derek Jarman (1942-1994), the groundbreaking filmmaker, artist, writer and queer activist, from complications of AIDS.
From Zeitgeist: “Jarman was one of Britain’s most visionary film artists. Often in collaboration with Tilda Swinton–whose debut film was his “Caravaggio” (1986)– Jarman’s lush, experimental reflections on art, politics, sexuality and identity transcend and subvert both the genres in which he worked–the period costume drama, the biopic–as well as the boundaries of so-called gay filmmaking.”
I didn’t have an assignment when I called Jarman at home in London to ask if he’d let me photograph him. Maybe it was my obvious great enthusiasm for his work that won me an invitation to his apartment. He was gracious, fascinating, friendly and readily agreed to sit on top of the big wooden box, flanked by the vase of peonies and the colander full of red currants (which were there before I arrived–Jarman, who was also a set designer, lived with beauty.) On the wall behind him were paintings he had made for “Caravaggio.”
Jarman’s last film, “Blue,” (1993) made as he was losing his sight (and his battle with the illness), reveals his physical and spiritual struggle “through a rich soundscape of voices and music.” The screen displays ostensibly what is simply a glowing blue ground but as the film progresses it shifts, moves, drawing the viewer into its profound endless depth.
I have often thought of how our culture was brutally diminished by the devastation of AIDS–the missing artists, films, paintings, books, music, friends, family, partners. Jarman2014 is a glorious feast of his work–screenings, exhibitions, readings, and other events (including summertime trips to his Prospect Cottage and the sculpture garden he built on the shore)–at a variety of London’s most significant cultural institutions. But as extensive as the wonderful program is, I’m angry–there are 20 years of work (and counting) that went unmade.
Closer to home, Jarman’s work is available from Fandor and Zeitgeist’s beautifully designed “Glitterbox” (four-disc box set includes “Caravaggio,” “Wittgenstein,” “The Angelic Conversation” and “Blue”) is specially priced for 2014.