The incredibile influence of Derek Jarman’s cinema is considered as an unavoidable background for every research on the new visual languages from the end of the ’70s. His ability to survive and fall always on his feet in a vogue of indipendent cinematographers, outside the main channels of cinematographic production made him a kind of living god (Holy Derek). He is a survivor in a generation which spent all its energies and attention in the visual research and representation methods.
His films are the example of a perseverance which ended only with the artist’s premature death, at the begninning of the ‘90s. The first films came relatively late in his artistic production, which was moving towards painting also with a quite good success (remember the Lisson gallery). When he was 28, after an experience as scenographer for the visionary director Ken Russel, Jarman produced his first film (Studio BankSide, 1975 ), a kind of documentary-witness on what happened to his house-studio on the river Thames in London – a district made of old factories and warehouses which in those years was becoming a Green Village of the English East: the Bank Side.
The introduction of super8 between the end of the ‘60s and the beginning of the ‘70s signed a great change in the research of moving images. The influence of this support should have its own historigraphy: a diffusion going incessantly through four decades of the last century. It was the initiation for most of the film makers of the new generation and the best expression for those artists who found in plasticità an almost painting-like support or the way to continue a series of visual researches on the greediness of time.
Derek Jarman represents maybe the top of a generation of artists who pushed to the limits the painting features of this support, beyond the painting and cinema border, in a hybrid highly evocative ground which seems more poetry than portrayal. In The art of mirror, one of Jarman’s first films, some mysterious characters make a kind of ritual reflecting the light through a little mirror towards the public. Each individual represents a character of a theatral pièce between tragedy and alchemic initiation ritual where the light seems to be the symbol par excellence.
Here are presented those elements which constitute the symbols of all Jarman’s poetics, both in the experimental films and in the most institutional ones: the mask, the ritual as expression of a collective communication through symbols and the omosexual “queer” culture of travestiment. Jounrey to Avenbury, Ashden’s Walk on Sun, belong to the category of spacial-environmental films, where the human presence is substituted by the landscape and the abstraction coming from the departure from reality. appartengono. The subjects of these works are the English landscape, the moon rocks in Jounrey to Avenbury, the star globes in Ashden’s Walk on sun. These are all images of a past civilization – the Egyptian one. They investigate on the genesis of a myth in a pre-human, almost divine civilization. The strong rielaboration of images is due to a complex and difficult post-production work, even if it would be more correct to speak about “re-production”, where the original images are overlapped by other fading-out images, coming from coloured filters, which create a stratified, complex and indefinable body. Every frame is the result of a series of overlappings aiming at the fading out of the original image and the distruction of the appearance surface produced by the cinematographic medium. Jarman goes beyond the already strong pictorial identity of the 8mm support. He eliminates every references, he redesigns it and stratify it with colours like a painting (images over images). He creates a pictorial-cinematographic model on which he can base all his production. In these environmental films, as in the other mythological-visionary films, the visual process remains the same and works as leive-motive in the production of his films.
Beyond these two types, there is another one aiming at closing the circle of a representation mythology: the bibliographic films. Because of their name, they are often assimilated to the cinematographic bibliographism, similar to documentation and agiography. They are instead moving portraits of characters loved by Jarman, and whose image is given by the author in a really personal way. They are revealing movements living above the image of the portrayed subjects. A constellation of myhts and figures belonging to a universe other than the author’s one, but who are assimilated to his expressive universe as models to follow and identify himself with.
There is a will which encloses this periodo f Jarman’s production activity. It is a central work including in a same structure all these films: The Shadow of the Sun. It is the sum of a whole production period, visual and experimental, realized with this support. It is a real film, both from the point of view of the duration (all Jarman’s super8 films were more or less medium-lenght films) and in for its parts. For the first time sound becomes as fundamental as images and not an absent support as in most of his films (here the cooperation with the experimental group “Trobbling Glister”, for which Jarman realized a kind of proto-video clip titled, Tg Psychic Rally in Heaven). In The shadow of the sun, Jarman collects the main works carried out until that moment and creates with them a huge visual collage, a pathway including the visual universe of mythological-visionary films, the dreamlike landscape of the environmental films and the intime and emotional style of the portrait films.
For all those people who would like to know this great author a little bit more, and for all those people who already love and apreciate him, we underline a full-length film/documentary directed by Isaac Julien and produced on Jarman’s music and featuring Tilda Swinton. This film collects a lot of archive material and unpublished interviews: Don’t lose it!.