Modern Nature

Modern Nature

Derek Jarman
Copyright Date: 1991
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttttd3m
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Modern Nature
    Book Description:

    Film/Memoir “Epiphanies infuse Modern Nature, Derek Jarman’s diaries from 1989 to 1990, with their ebullient evocations of gardening. For Jarman, planting flowers at his wind- and sea-blasted cottage and then reciting their names (endlessly, passionately) becomes sex, becomes the fullness he’s on his way to leaving as he grows sicker from AIDS.” —Village Voice Literary Supplement “Modern Nature is very moving, with harrowing accounts of treatment mixed with lists of flowers planted in his garden and of films held together against lack of money and reports of friends dying.” —The New Republic “The pace of Jarman’s life as chronicled in Modern Nature is unpredictable. In more energetic moments, Jarman cruises the public parks, makes a film without a script (The Last of England, 1987), and attempts to get Matt Dillon’s heartbeat for a project. He plants saxifrage and sea kale. He starts taking AZT. When Jarman discovered he was seropositive, he set himself a goal: to disclose his status and survive Margaret Thatcher. These he has done with aplomb.” —Artforum “Jarman writes sensitive, observant prose.” —Publishers Weekly [Author photo: mkt/author photos/J/Jarman, Derek.tif] One of England’s foremost filmmakers, Derek Jarman (1942–1994) wrote and directed several feature films, including Sebastiane, Jubilee, Caravaggio, and Blue, as well as numerous short films and music videos. He was a stage designer, artist, writer, gardener, and an outspoken AIDS and queer rights activist in the United Kingdom and the United States. He wrote several books, among them At Your Own Risk and Chroma, forthcoming from the University of Minnesota Press. University of Minnesota Press_x000B_Printed in U.S.A._x000B_Cover design by Percolator Graphic Design_x000B_Cover image: Workbench (detail), Derek Jarman, copyright The Estate of Derek Jarman, photograph copyright K. Collins_x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-7059-8
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. 1989
    • JANUARY
      (pp. 3-6)

      Prospect Cottage, its timbers black with pitch, stands on the shingle at Dungeness. Built eighty years ago at the sea’s edge – one stormy night many years ago waves roared up to the front door threatening to swallow it ... Now the sea has retreated leaving bands of shingle. You can see these clearly from the air; they fan out from the lighthouse at the tip of the Ness like contours on a map.

      Prospect faces the rising sun across a road sparkling silver with sea mist. One small clump of dark green broom breaks through the flat ochre shingle. Beyond,...

    • FEBRUARY
      (pp. 7-25)

      Flowers spring up and entwine themselves like bindweed along the footpaths of my childhood. Most loved were the blue stars of wild forget-menots that shimmered in the dark Edwardian shrubberies of my grandmother’s garden. Pristine snowdrops spread out in the welcoming sun - a single crocus, purple among its golden companions. Wild columbine with its flowers shaped like vertebrae, and the ominous fritillaria that crouched snakelike in corners . . .

      These spring flowers are my first memory, startling discoveries; they shimmered briefly before dying, dividing the enchantment into days and months, like the gong that summoned us to lunch,...

    • MARCH
      (pp. 26-47)

      The roses, particularly the rugosas, which have broken bud, have been badly scorched by the continuous wind. An inventory of the garden shows me all else survives. The sea kale struggles on and the sea peas have germinated; so have a few self-sown nasturtiums and calendula. Parsley and poppies are thriving and the irises are a good nine inches high — quite startling in the shingle. The rabbits continually gnaw the fennel to the ground, but seem to leave everything else alone. The wallflowers, though, have been mauled by slugs.

      Took four lavender cuttings.

      Planted saxifrage.

      When I set up the...

    • APRIL
      (pp. 48-72)

      April was brought in by a cruel cold that turned into a bitter easterly during the night. This tempest battered Prospect fearfully. I sat in a sleepless daze all the hours of darkness, fearing for every creaking timber, expecting the shrieking power lines to part. Each gust more violent than the last tightened the stomach. At 5:30 a pale premonition of dawn silhouetted the black clouds rushing up out of a boiling sea.

      Throughout the night the fishermen worked to secure their boats by the spectral headlights of their cars, which now and then turned landwards to light up this...

    • MAY
      (pp. 73-86)

      A cuckoo echoes across the marshes. I took a long walk this evening and in the dying light discovered a patch of periwinkle deep in the wood. Lady’s smock was flowering by one of the old mine craters. I hadn’t noticed it before. The island of bracken is unfolding.

      May Day warm and overcast. Neither an indoor nor an outdoor day — strangely lethargic. My purple iris finally opened.

      Before turning in, I watered the garden, as I’m away for ten days and the forecast is for warm weather.

      Walking across the excavations in the precinct of Salisbury cathedral, I noticed...

    • JUNE
      (pp. 87-105)

      Neil Bartlett called with plans for an installation next October at the Third Eye in Glasgow. He’s translatingBereniceand writing a novel about a happy gay couple. We talked about theMirrorand similar coverage he’d received in theIndependent.They incorrectly reported he had AIDS, which caused his mum great grief; these things always hurt other people. I described to him the garden at Dungeness, my wooden table with its driftwood book - the table of the last supper, in front of the nuclear power station; and how last week someone had constructed an ‘inkwell’ out of wood and...

    • JULY
      (pp. 106-119)

      Try not to guess what lies in the future, but as fortune deals days enter them into your life’s book as windfalls.

      The rain has brought the garden to life; each morning the poppies bloom and scatter before midday. I pick the dried flower heads of the foxgloves and sprinkle the seed.

      It seems strange that many of the flowers on the Ness grow in a small patch, sometimes singly. Maybe they were brought here in the earth and rubble used to build tracks out to the boats. There is one ivy-leaved toadflax, a square yard of scabious at the...

    • AUGUST
      (pp. 120-139)

      Woke before dawn to find Venus framed in my window, diamond bright, and a blood-red sun rising on a grey sea. A cool fresh breeze had blown away yesterday’s clouds leaving a blue sky. As the sun gathered intensity the sea turned silver. By 7:30 the dazzling light burnt my face.

      Idiotic phone call from some colour supplement, with a long list of questions: Where or what would you like to be?

      Then blessed silence again - only the crackle of the broom’s black seed pods bursting in the sun. I picked a handful and scattered them round the telegraph...

    • SEPTEMBER
      (pp. 140-159)

      Up at seven, waiting for the dread invasion. It came in a medley of bright old cars until, by ten, the whole crew of 21 were here and Prospect Cottage was piled high with mirrors, make-up and costumes.

      Christopher arrived early in his taxi and we walked round the garden waiting for the others. The lighting van was next, and then a donkey.

      Among the last to arrive were Johnny and Yolanda with baby Oscar. By this time Tilda was crimping her hair with John Egan. This took nearly two hours, while clouds scudded past and grew larger and blotted...

    • OCTOBER
      (pp. 160-173)

      HB in the bathroom dousing himself with cologne as if he were tossing a salad. Morning newspapers. Cats and kittens pouncing everywhere. At twelve we left for Kimmerhame to deliver the trees.

      As we approached Berwick the sun came out, lighting up Holy Island. The further North you drive the more beautiful the country: the broad rolling hills and woodlands of Northumberland, unspoiled by developments, show how violently the South has been ravaged. Poor ruined Kent with its ugly commuter towns, there every field and hedgerow is under siege.

      At midday we arrived at Tilda’s parents’ castle, placed the horsechestnuts,...

    • NOVEMBER
      (pp. 174-197)

      Planted wallflowers, snowdrops and crocus early in the morning; then weeded the front bed. By lunch the rain had cleared.

      A luminous grey sky, and a sea white as milk with a rim of indigo blue.

      Simon Turner arrived and we sat down with the tapes and worked out a credible beginning toThe Garden.

      A brief squall and then a starry sky. Turned in early.

      Up with the dawn. A strong wind blowing, bright sunlight.

      The tide was out and I brought back several large wooden planks, probably part of an old sea defence; also a dozen flints for...

    • DECEMBER
      (pp. 198-214)

      Dreamt last night I held a bowl of the rarest jade, the colour of honey with a sage green iridescence. The bowl of precious stones was threatened by a thief. I preserved it through terrible trials, assailed by the demon thug intent on stealing it. He curled round me ceaselessly, like a crab, with switchblade claws; then suddenly it was over. He deflated like a balloon, disappeared like a little Michelin man with a gasp of rushing air.

      Spent the evening with Johnny Mills and HB doing a little audition on video. It all went well and the film is...

  4. 1990
    • JANUARY
      (pp. 217-230)

      Derek Ball arrived for breakfast with his friends Tod and Tim before I was awake. He said the flower remedy was working. Pink pansies are good for you.

      Read from thePenguin Book Of Homosexual Verseover the Earl Grey.

      Breakfast was interrupted by the kestrel pursuing sparrows around my bird table, which has become a sacrificial altar.

      I told Tim, who loves gossip, of my first meeting with Robert Mapplethorpe. I was set up with him one summer’s afternoon on the King’s Road by my friend Ulla. He took me back to a studio where he was staying and...

    • FEBRUARY
      (pp. 231-248)

      The phone rings. I’m told old friends have been spreading rumours that I’m very ill. I celebrate by having a tooth pulled. I wonder how this is affecting me, do you think it makes it any easier to get a film financed, when people you know quite well talk like this?

      There is a natural impulse to wish those who reproach our good health with illness quite dead: a great building burnt to ashes, a painting slashed, a tree fallen, the past cleared away for the future. Little deaths. All of us feel satisfaction in a dark corner.

      My friend...

    • MARCH
      (pp. 249-268)

      Peter and HB are nearly at the end of a rough cut. Two more days.

      Much of it is wonderful, but what a relief when it is over. We have to refilm two sequences that went down in the dreadful rushes; this has brought up all the arguments about what some felt was the incompetence of the team who worked on the film. Behind the smiles everyone is shouting at each other.

      Ploughed through a mountain of mail and was asleep by nine.

      On the train to Ashford. The wind is from the east - a cold sunny day. Sad...

    • APRIL
      (pp. 269-283)

      I was woken by the newspaper man. HB never materialised — I thought he was definitely coming this morning. Mind in delirium.

      I asked Geraldine if she would phone to see if he had been pulled over last night. The police would give no information. Now worried I lay in the bed and talked to him very quietly for five minutes. Where are you? I love you dearly, and suddenly the phone rang, he had heard.

      At 3:30 Lynn Hanke, my sweet American friend, who was showing her five and six year old children the bright lights of Leicester Square, became...

    • MAY
      (pp. 284-291)

      HB popped out of Jon’s car like a Jack-in-the-box and, green eyes sparkling, threw stones at everything in sight. Then he slapped bergamot oil all over himself and lay in the sun to tan, and every creeping, crawling, and flying insect made a beeline for him.

      A week has passed without a cloud in the sky. At dawn the sea kale, a froth of white flowers, is covered with small copper butterflies drunk on nectar. They freeze as my shadow falls across them. More flowers have bloomed; though the broom was cut back in the violent January gales, so the...

    • JUNE
      (pp. 292-300)

      A great big HB sits at the end of my bed, tickling my feet, eating nuts and fruits. A huge vase of pink peonies delicately scents the room.

      Mike O’Pray has received a commission from Colin McCabe at the BFI to write a book on my films.

      At the junction of Green Lane and Rickmansworth Road ‘aunts’ Phil and Vi lived in the house in which they were born, ruled beyond the grave by a tyrannical mother. The childhood rumour had her rejoicing at the news that her daughters' suitors had sunk without trace in theTitanic.

      Phil’s hair turned...

    • JULY
      (pp. 301-308)

      Bronchoscopy at St. Mary’s. The doctor seemed satisfied I was on the mend. Sailed through the rest of the day very tired and drugged.

      The Gardenfilm was shown at Andy’s preview cinema. I think people liked it.

      Later we caught the train to Ashford and a taxi to Dungeness.

      Took a taxi into New Romney and bought a week’s food. My walk to the Long Pits brought no new flowers, but these were all still in bloom: sorrel, woodsage, hawkweed, poppy, yellow horned poppy, valerian – this is fading fast, sea campion, ragwort – covered with orange and black cinnabar caterpillars,...

    • AUGUST
      (pp. 309-313)

      Day after day I lie here trapped by the sulphadiazine drip. Outside the sun blazes through the ozone haze. At six it has circled the building and falls through my window. I read the paper, cross-eyed, page by page, scratching my rash. The kid who has lost his mind wanders through the ward, and comes to stare at me, motionless in the doorway. I pull down the blind to hide the sun.

      Richard came. We had a long discussion about AZT and DDL. The general opinion is that AZT at a low dosage might stabilise me. I wish I had...

    • SEPTEMBER
      (pp. 314-314)

      This illness snatched me into its demon Disney World, where chairs and tables dance and fight and the room swirls about. Excruciating pain. Surely someone else is ill in bed with catheters and drips.

      I returned to London from Edinburgh frozen with pain on the express, with people fighting over mislabelled seats and children screaming their way south.

      My appendix was chopped out on Saturday, when they were sure it could not be cured or calmed by antibiotics. I struggled out of the twilight with a metal zip from top to bottom of my stomach. My traumatised guts, spilled out...