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Derek Jarman

Derek Jarman: A Biography

Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 624
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  • Book Info
    Derek Jarman
    Book Description:

    England’s most controversial filmmaker and director, Derek Jarman’s story stretches from his childhood in postwar Britain and art school days to the making of acclaimed films, including Sebastiane, Jubilee, Caravaggio, and Blue. A chronicle of sexual fear and repression, the devastation of disease, and inimitable courage and grace, this is an honest and brilliant tribute to Jarman’s uncompromising life and art.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-7678-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Prologue
    (pp. 1-6)

    The picture on the front page of theIndependentwas of an unequivocally bespectacled man photographed against a hazy bank of flowers in Monet’s garden at Giverny. Wearing a cap, scarf and rumpled tweed jacket, he had a book clasped tightly in his left hand, a walking stick in the other, and was confronting the camera with a steady gaze subtly suggestive of a smile.

    The caption read: ‘Gay champion dies on eve of new age.’ It might have added a number of other epithets: painter, designer, filmmaker, writer and gardener. The ‘new age’ (prematurely announced) was a reference to...

  4. 1 Family Mythology
    (pp. 7-14)

    InDancing Ledge,the first of his published journals, Derek Jarman titles his brief account of his family background ‘A Short Family Mythology’. The Viceroy’s Ball, Great-Aunt Doris and her rubber roses, grandmother Moselle – or Mimosa, as he called her – a daffodil bell hanging from a lychgate. The clips are short but telling, scenes snipped from an expert’s home movie; and there is an actual home movie, complete with inter-titles, to complement the journal: severely bonneted toddlers at play in the twenties, Moselle stepping eagerly from a biplane at Le Bourget, a family lunch.

    The family thus featured are the...

  5. 2 Beautiful Flowers and How to Grow Them
    (pp. 15-19)

    ‘Roses. There is a charm about a beautiful Rose garden which appeals irresistibly to every lover of flowers. It is not necessary to win a prize at a Rose show to enjoy Roses when they are used in free, informal, natural ways. There is a wide gulf between exhibiting and gardening.’ ¹ Published in 1926,Beautiful Flowers and How to Grow Themis a substantial work. A mere thirty-two colour plates illustrate 400 pages of dense text. Even so, the Jarmans deemed it an appropriate gift for their four-year-old son, to whom it was given on 25 April 1946, shortly...

  6. 3 Buried Feelings
    (pp. 20-25)

    By 1947, although the war had been over for two years, its effects were still being strongly and unpleasantly felt in England. Despite victory and the determination of the recently elected Labour government to start a new social chapter in the country’s history, the process of adapting to peace was slow and painful. It is a mere detail, but not long after the Jarmans returned from Italy, Lance was invited to lunch at Blenheim Palace. That evening, Betts and the children were agog to know what it had been like. What had he been given to eat? The answer was...

  7. 4 School House and Manor House
    (pp. 26-33)

    The fifties are frequently seen as an age of wide-eyed innocence. The Festival of Britain, a young Elizabeth, Supermac, net petticoats, Brylcreem, quiffs, salad days. They were also a time of great stress and unease – the end of empire, Cold War, Suez. One of the ways people coped was by pretending that nothing had changed. By turning their backs on the outside world. By clinging to old certainties. Nowhere was this more evident than in certain public schools.

    Hordle House, Jarman’s prep school, and Canford, his public school, were in the business – and it was a business – of providing the...

  8. 5 Pakistan
    (pp. 34-40)

    Although Jarman’s trips to Pakistan to visit his parents affected and marked him less intensely – certainly less obviously – than his earlier sojourn in Italy, it would be wrong to dismiss their effect entirely. Witnessing at first hand the sometimes surreal spectacle of a once splendid colonial power glorying in its past and traditions even as it stepped from the stage gave the young Jarman a training in, and a taste for, pinpointing the pomposities and ironies of sovereignty that would never desert him – even if, as many observers maintain, he was not always the most political of animals.

    On his...

  9. 6 A Subtle Terror Rules
    (pp. 41-54)

    The house assigned to Lance and Betts on their return to Northwood was still in the process of being built, which meant that for the first few months they had to lodge with Betts’ brother Teddy and his wife Pegs. If the wait in any way whetted their appetites for their new home, they were in for a disappointment. The house was as dreary and unprepossessing as all the patch’s other brick-built, two-storey residences, all standing to predictable architectural attention in row upon neat row, all filled with identical furniture: the single settee and two armchairs, the oak table, the...

  10. 7 Every Man is a Special Kind of Artist
    (pp. 55-68)

    A spry figure with a distinctive goatee and a shock of unruly hair, Robin Noscoe had been in charge of art at Canford for some five years when Jarman arrived at the school. A silversmith, potter, furniture- maker, painter and keen student of architecture, Noscoe did not value one sphere of artistic activity over another, nor did he pretend that as the teacher he had all the answers. As humble as he was eclectic, he allowed his pupils to follow their own enthusiasms and carry him with them when appropriate. In his own words, he often found himself being ‘pushed...

  11. 8 Metroland Student
    (pp. 69-77)

    In one of the interviews that formed the basis for his first volume of autobiography, Jarman claimed not to remember much about King’s, saying only that it ‘seemed rather grey and colourless’. Yet his three years there were crucial to his development. Grey it may have been, but within the rabbit warren of rooms that led off its underground corridors, or above ground in its grand chapel and hall, firm foundations were laid for the future.

    Founded in 1829 to remedy the lack of theology on offer from a secular University of London, King’s was decidedly unbohemian in outlook. The...

  12. 9 If You’re Anxious for to Shine
    (pp. 78-87)

    At the close of the summer of 1962 and the start of his final year at King’s, Jarman moved with Michael Ginsborg and his schoolfriend Dugald Campbell, now studying architecture at the Regent Street Polytechnic, into a purpose-built block of flats in Coram Street, just north of Russell Square. Three months shy of his twenty-first birthday and ‘free of parental guidance for the first time’,¹ he was finally bidding adieu to ‘the never-ending boredom’² of Metroland and stepping properly on to the road to adulthood.

    Although the tensions at Merryfield remained well hidden from Jarman’s friends, Betts confided to her...

  13. 10 Meeting Mr Wright
    (pp. 88-98)

    At the end of the 1963 summer holidays, during which he kept himself in pocket money with a series of odd jobs,¹ Jarman returned to London to look for digs with Noël Hardy, another Drama Society friend from King’s. Their search led them to Kentish Town and a house at 2 Healey Street, immediately south of the shabby Victorian terraces of Prince of Wales Road. As an area, Kentish Town was both poverty-stricken and colourful. It boasted a myriad businesses, from piano-manufacturers to the Greek bakeries which served the local Cypriot community. Along Chalk Farm Road, one encountered ‘a string...

  14. 11 The Billboard Promised Land
    (pp. 99-107)

    In later years, Jarman would put a jaunty gloss on his recollections of his first transatlantic trip – a gloss perhaps not entirely in keeping with the underlying facts.

    Through Roger Jones he had been given the name of a New York priest who might offer him a place to stay. The instant they met, the priest ‘piled’ Jarman into a cab. ‘We’d hardly gone a block before his hand was on my crotch. I decided the best course was to pretend it wasn’t happening, and stared resolutely at the architecture whizzing by, hoping that the taxi driver wouldn’t notice. At...

  15. 12 Becoming Derek
    (pp. 108-118)

    In late 1964, Jarman reworked some of the scribbles in his notebook into: ‘Tentative ideas for a manifesto after 1⅓ year at an art school’. In part, this read:

    Theatre ballet and painting must be revived. This cannot be achieved separately. There must be intercommunication . . .

    There must be communal basis even if only from the artists themselves. Fragmentation and the perverted cult of personality at all cost is a force which has rendered the artist impotent . . .

    The painting school says you are not a painter. ‘I’m proud.’ . . . failures are to be...

  16. 13 Father Figures
    (pp. 119-125)

    Thanks in part to the Slade, where Jarman was meeting an everincreasing number of fellow artists, in part to his sexual openness, which had magicked an entirely new area of friendship into being, and in part to his discovery that the public and the personal sides of his life could be made to co-exist, festivities at Priory Road were becoming more frequent, more crowded, more colourful. As Jarman’s social life took shape – becoming, in its way, as vivid a work of art as his designs or canvases – a desire to record it led to the appointment of the first in...

  17. 14 Swinging Decayed
    (pp. 126-136)

    Across London from Sloane Square, in then unfashionable Islington (‘Drizzlington’, Jarman once termed it), stood 60 Liverpool Road, a decaying early Victorian house that dominated the corner with Bromfield Street, just north of Chapel Street Market.

    Newly acquired by Michael Harth, the house had been purchased on the understanding that it was to be modernised by the friends to whom he offered rooms. Brenda Lukey and Roger Ford were to move with Harth from Gloucester Crescent and take the middle floor. Harth himself would occupy the ground floor. Richard Rowson would share the basement with the clutter of Harth’s current...

  18. 15 This Month in Vogue
    (pp. 137-152)

    As defined by Patrick Procktor, and with a fine disregard for the issue of student or political unrest, ‘1968 was the year when everybody wanted pink suede shoes, high heels, and to have what was This Month in Vogue.’¹ If anyone was in vogue, it was Derek Jarman. In the fortnight separating Robert Medley’s party forJazz Calendarand the party Anthony Harwood threw for Jarman’s twenty-sixth birthday, the birthday boy was sufficiently in demand to receive a second design commission. Earlier that month, whileJazz Calendarwas still in rehearsal, Dame Marie Rambert had been glimpsed by Jarman sitting...

  19. 16 The Devils
    (pp. 153-163)

    In helping to introduce Jarman to the writings of Carl Jung, Anthony Harwood had doubtless noticed the extent to which his protégé could seem to live in psychic rather than physical time; how, on occasion, Jarman’s life could embody the more mystical precepts of the Swiss psychoanalyst. There can be few more striking examples of synchronicity – in this case combined with serendipity – than Jarman’s return trip from Paris in January 1970. It was an example, too, of the way work would frequently come looking for Jarman rather than the other way around. To borrow his own account:

    On the train...

  20. 17 Oasis at Bankside
    (pp. 164-176)

    Summing up 1970 from the vantage point of 1983, Jarman wrote: ‘By the time I emerged from Pinewood in December, the easy life of the sixties – designing and painting – had gone for ever. It was now impossible to pick up all the threads.’¹ AlthoughThe Devilshad paid well and had been stimulating to work on, and although the controversy aroused on its release in July 1971 was music to Jarman’s ears, the film had demanded a year of his life without giving him much to show for it. His towering sets attracted a fraction of the comment accorded the...

  21. 18 Movietown
    (pp. 177-187)

    As a token of his friendship with Jarman, Michael Pinney of Bettiscombe Press had used a photograph of a gathering at Bankside on the front cover ofNota Bene, his most recent collection of poetry. On the back, in Jarman’s own handwriting, was Jarman’s phrase ‘Thru the Billboard promised land’. Pinney now offered to publish a matching volume of the somewhat portentous poems Jarman had written in his early twenties. LikeNota Bene, A Finger in the Fishes Mouthwould have a silver cover and feature Jarman’s handwritten phrase on the back. On the front would be a Wilhelm von...

  22. 19 Butler’s Wharf and Beyond
    (pp. 188-213)

    It was not onlyGargantuaJarman had in his sights when he travelled to Rome in March 1973. Because of their work together on St Sebastian, he paid for Patrik Steede to accompany him so that the latter could progress his script. While Steede researched – or, as Jarman suspected, concentrated on having fun – his paymaster set out every morning from their centrally located hotel to make the ‘horrible daily journey through the snarling Roman traffic’ to ‘Grimaldi’s steel and ferroconcrete palazzo at the edge of EUR’,¹ the Roman film studios, where he was thrilled to discover that the production office...

  23. 20 Features
    (pp. 214-232)

    Ironically, given Jarman’s antipathy to such gatherings, it was an encounter at a lunch party that breathed life into St Sebastian. James Whaley – young, handsome, charming, wealthy, a sometime student of the London Film School and keen to make his mark as a producer – asked Jarman if he had ever thought of making a feature. Jarman talked aboutThe Tempestand his ideas for something on the heretical pharaoh Akhenaten. He also mentioned St Sebastian. Shortly afterwards, completely to Jarman’s surprise, the young man with whom he thought he had been simply passing the time of day produced a synopsis...

  24. 21 Jubilee
    (pp. 233-251)

    In the course of makingSebastiane, Jarman had his palm read by Umberto Tirelli, the Italian costumier. Tirelli unsettled his subject by pronouncing sombrely: ‘You are an alien, Derek . . . You will die violently.’ ¹ Jarman took this prediction very much to heart. Some years later, returning from a party in Bath, he was on the motorway with a group of friends when their car broke down. So terrified was Jarman that someone would drive into them from the rear, thus fulfilling Tirelli’s prophecy, that he hysterically forced everyone to vacate the car until help arrived.

    Death was...

  25. 22 Stormy Weather
    (pp. 252-274)

    Jubilee helped delineate the shape – that of being primarily a filmmaker – into which Jarman’s life was beginning to form. Whereas before 1977 his activities had revolved around any number of arenas, now they tended to be tied to the film of the moment. The net effect was that while Jarman’s daily existence became steadily busier and more demanding, it also became simpler and more focused.

    Apart from some teaching, some unrealised, unfinished film projects and the return to Butler’s Wharf, 1977 had belonged entirely toJubilee.Almost the only trip Jarman took that year was in late October, when he...

  26. 23 Montage Years
    (pp. 275-313)

    Although Jarman maintained that what had always interested him aboutThe Tempestwas that ‘no one can pinpoint the meaning’,¹ his own reading of the play was fairly unequivocal and deeply pessimistic. Jarman’s Prospero is, in the words of Michael O’Pray, ‘sinister, intense, secretive and cruel’. Such reparation as Jarman’s arrangements of the action allows is arrived at only through magic and in a ‘fantasy world’, not through any ‘real political or personal understanding’.² The film deals despairingly with the chilly horror of imprisonment and enslavement, of being subservient to the whim of another; the unbearable sadness of banishment and...

  27. 24 Angelic and Other Conversations
    (pp. 314-360)

    Of the many strands forming the montage years, four stand out: painting, writing, a new direction in home-movie making and a new disease, first classified in 1981.

    The painterly aspects of Jarman’s work onThe Rake’s ProgressandMouth of the Nightreflect his return to the easel in the early eighties. With no film in production, painting provided the perfect way of filling time and soothing frustration while maintaining contact with an artistic self. Since he no longer possessed a studio – apart, that is, from the room at Hanway Works – the paintings were unusually small; unusual, too, in their...

  28. 25 The Last of England
    (pp. 361-382)

    Although he knew much of 1986 would be devoted to the launching ofCaravaggio, Jarman’s diary note to himself on 1 January was about the need to get other projects ‘underway’. ‘Get about a little more’ was another instruction; be less of a ‘prisoner at Phoenix’.

    The projects he had in mind included the resuscitation of certain existing plans – the Pasolini outline, for instance,Lossiemouth, Neutron– as well as the idea of payingJubileethe same compliment asCaravaggioand preserving its script in a book. Sadly, none of these possibilities would be realised, unless one counts that fact that...

  29. 26 A Fifth Continent
    (pp. 383-415)

    For someone as sensitive to signs as Jarman, 1987 did not start promisingly. On 6 January, he and Tilda Swinton had their photographs taken by Angus McBean, one of whose photographic portraits had long been the only piece by any artist other than himself to hang on the walls of Jarman’s flat. When the session ended, McBean announced: ‘You are going to be my last sitter.’ As he ‘pressed the button for the last time “Stormy Weather” was playing on the stereo’.²

    There could have been few clearer ways of signalling the end of an era, unless it was another...

  30. 27 Sod ’Em
    (pp. 416-433)

    Having attended one of its first London performances as a student, and having editedThe Last of Englandto its strains, Jarman had ‘often thought of the possibility of visualizing Britten’sWar Requiemwithout fixing it like a butterfly on a setting board and thereby diminishing it’.¹ Thanks to Don Boyd, whoseAriahad given the producer access to the powers that be at Decca, this now looked a real possibility – as long as they used the Decca recording of the original performance without tampering in any way with the music, and as long as Jarman’s script met with the...

  31. 28 I Walk in This Garden
    (pp. 434-451)

    On the second anniversary of his diagnosis, Jarman told an interviewer: ‘December 22 . . . becomes a kind of key day in my life now, and I think: “Ah, that’s another year over.” On that day and over Christmas I think, what shall I do next year? I’ve concentrated so hard on Requiem it’s kept all that at bay in a way . . . I’m going to make a film about gardens next. I wantoutfrom hard-hitting . . . Why should I be on the frontline all the time?’¹ Although he did strive for peace where...

  32. 29 Blue Prints
    (pp. 452-485)

    AlthoughModern Naturecontains references to how unwell Jarman was starting to feel in the final months of 1989, it never conveys the full extent of his developing illness, or the despair it engendered. To appreciate how critical the situation was becoming, one has to read between the lines. ThatThe Gardenwas troubling him as much as it was speaks volumes; usually he sailed through his films with consummate ease. Then there were ill omens like the snake, or lonely visits to the heath; the painful matter-of-factness with which he recorded the death, almost always AIDS-related, of friend after...

  33. 30 Do Not Go Gentle
    (pp. 486-534)

    Tired of being ‘spread all over the breakfast table like toast and marmalade each morning’,¹ Jarman asked his agent to stop all interviews. Only ‘seventy per cent healthy’, he was suffering the effects of a post-canonisation ‘autumn depression’.² Of course, the interviews did not stop, quite the contrary, and it is questionable whether he would have welcomed it if they had; but with his health deteriorating, his energies did of necessity turn inward.

    In mid-October he travelled to Leeds and Newcastle for previews ofEdward II.These were followed by a charity première in London.⁴ At the same time, the...

  34. Notes
    (pp. 535-568)
  35. Performed, Produced, Exhibited and Published Works of Derek Jarman
    (pp. 568-573)
  36. Filmography
    (pp. 573-587)
  37. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 587-593)
  38. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 593-596)
  39. Index
    (pp. 597-614)
  40. Back Matter
    (pp. 615-615)