Twenty Years Ago Today: Death of Derek Jarman

Derek_Jarman_portraitTwenty years ago today, the film director Derek Jarman finally succumbed to AIDS. Like Randy Shilts, who passed on a couple of days before, Jarman was notable as an activist for gay causes and in AIDS awareness, though in his case the work was of a more artistic bent. His background was as a stage designer - he designed Ken Russell's The Devils (which we saw an introduction for yesterday) - but he'd been making experimental 8mm short films for years before that. When he made his first feature, it was distinctive but hardly a box office success - Sebastiane was about the martyrdom of St Sebastiane, a difficult enough subject, but the fact that the film was in Latin probably helped to keep its audience small. He struggled to get films made until he at last found funding from Channel 4 for Caravaggio, which was in English this time and garnered his biggest audience so far. Virtually all of his work was funded by TV companies from this point on, and all of it had the common theme of gay sexuality, pushing boundaries even as his own ability to make films contracted. He was diagnosed with HIV in 1986, and his films grew more and more stylised as his illness destroyed his eyesight. His final film, Blue, was only a blue screen with a soundtrack in which Jarman spoke of his life, his illness and his art.


Personally, I remember best his version of Edward II, in which the failed king was romanticised as a gay man persecuted by the forces of the establishment seeking to repress his love for Piers Gaveston. One of the climactic battles shows Edward's army of gay activists clashing with the riot police army of Mortimer. The real Edward II was slightly more complicated than that (and definitely not much good as a king or a general), but it's still an interesting interpretation.



Here's a piece on Jarman and Blue from 1993:


Meanwhile there still that new novel thing I'm writing, Twenty Years Ago Today. Sign up to the Newsletter to be notified when the book is published!