“DEREK JARMAN: LIFE AS ART”
Remembering Derek Jarman
Derek Jarman was one of the UK’s most talented, innovative and controversial independent filmmaker. He made several significant films such as Caravaggio and Wittgenstein. He was also a hugely talented painter, writer, and gardener, and following his HIV+ diagnosis became an ardent activist for gay rights. He only made the films he wanted to make, giving voice to his vision of the world as a gay man, a lover of high art and Super-8. We lost him in 1994. Derek Jarman: Life as Art explores the rich and colorful life and loves of Jarman. We see insightful interviews with some of his closest friends, family and colleagues including Tilda Swinton, Christopher Hobbs, James Mackay, Simon Fisher Turner, Nigel Terry, Tariq Ali, Peter Tatchell and Jill Balcon. By using beautiful slow-motion Super-8 shots of the contributors, we see the influence of Jarman’s stylistic look to the documentary. Clips and stills from his films and previously unseen footage of Jarman directing Wittgenstein allow us to feel the anarchy, color, imagery and poetry of the man and his work.
Here is what some critics have said about this film:
“…the first biopic of independent British filmmaker and writer, Derek Jarman … Originally trained in the arts and set design, Jarman experimented richly with the film medium, particularly super 8, and early on incorporated gay themes and homoeroticism into his films. Daring and controversial, Jarman’s work was well reviewed, and he was considered a genius by many.”
-EMRO (Educational Media Reviews Online)
”British filmmaker Derek Jarman could certainly be cited as one of the most exciting and controversial independent filmmakers of the past two decades. Derek Jarman: Life as Art does a wonderful job of introducing us to this complex, brilliant artist. Viewers will find included in this engaging documentary, clips from Jarman’s most familiar films as well as informative interviews with many of his creative accomplices. Certain to provoke dialogue given Jarman’s consistent challenges to cinematic conventions, his portrayals of queer life historically and cinematically and the overt politicization of his subject matter. Will be of interest to classes in Queer studies, Cinema Studies and Cultural Studies.”
-Cade Bursell, Filmmaker and Assistant Professor of Cinema, Southern Illinois University Carbondale
”In Derek Jarman: Life as Art, Tilda Swinton addresses Jarmanís move into Prospect Cottage in Dungeness, a move she understands as evoking what she calls his integrated schizophrenia – the ability to live in different ways. Swinton’s remarks are also an important description of Kimpton-Nyeís documentary, which never seeks to reduce Jarman’s life or art to a single, formative experience or way of living. In this sense, Derek Jarman: Life as Art is essential viewing for anyone interested in what a genuinely independent cinema looked like. Kimpton-Nye details not only the continual shifts in Jarman’s life, but also the shifts in his production, and the ways in which those shifts result from a continual sense of wonder and exploration that characterized Jarman as both an artist and a human being.
Without ever saying so, this film makes clear that Jarman belongs alongside of more canonized figures of a genuinely independent cinema, alongside of Orson Welles, John Cassavetes, Stan Brakhage and Andy Warhol, and in opposition to that which has been sold to us in megaplexes around the world as ìindie. Jarman’s lyrical, political cinema comes forward in Kimpton-Nye’s film as the product of an artist incapable of settling into a hardened world-view, and was thus impossible to market in the mainstream of independent cinema where platitudes reign and ideas are important only insofar as they can be made into t-shirts, or emblazoned on the sides of coffee cups.”
-Brian Price, Assistant Professor of Film Studies, Department of English, Oklahoma State University
”Derek Jarman: Life as Art serves as an important reminder of the ways in which Jarman’s films have always transcended any easy categorization. Regardless of whether he was reworking the classic Renaissance plays of Marlowe and Shakespeare into homoerotic visions of desire and fear, or conjuring England’s apocalypse through a punk miasma, Jarman was a fiercely independent and unique filmmaker. Derek Jarman: Life as Art uses interviews with Jarman’s closest collaborators to provide a compelling biography that situates his multifaceted works into a singular artistic vision, and is essential viewing for anyone interested in experimental cinema, gay and lesbian cinema, and British film history.”
-Chris Robé, Assistant Professor of Film and Multimedia Studies, Florida Atlantic University
”…this documentary gives hope to any aspiring filmmaker or artist. An uplifting celebration of Jarman’s life and work – even after Jarman’s body succumbed to HIV, Kimpton-Nye’s documentary illustrates how Jarman’s indomitable spirit seems to transcend death itself in his work. The complexity of Jarman’s life and his artistic practice makes his work relevant across a wide disciplinary spectrum, from Art History and Film, to Gay and Lesbian Studies. Kimpton-Nye’s documentary is a ‘must-have’ for any liberal arts institute; a great resource for educators.”
-Aaron Kerner, Assistant Professor of Cinema, San Francisco State University
”…an informative and moving account of the life and work of one of the giants of the queer avant-garde. The film brilliantly succeeds in walking a fine line between featuring a large amount of information on its subject and creating a feeling of intimacy. The numerous interviews with Jarman’s friends and colleagues that usefully punctuate the film’s concise biography resonate intellectually as well as emotionally. Their frank and nuanced tone is celebratory without being hagiographical. Its one-hour format makes the film an ideal supplement for any syllabus featuring Jarman, no matter whether taught in avant-garde film curricula, queer studies, art history, or British and Commonwealth culture courses.”
-Roy Grundmann, Associate Professor of Film Studies, Boston University, Author of Andy Warhol’s Blow Job; Contributing Editor, Cineaste magazine.
”Director Andy-Kimtpon-Nyeís biopic on Derek Jarman is a layered and thoughtful examination of the complexity of the artist’s life and work. As a writer, theater designer, gardener, painter, gay and AIDS rights activist, and what some call the most important British filmmaker of the latter part of the twentieth century, Jarman left us with a unique vision that was always innovative and controversial. That controversy, however, sometimes took away from the true artistry and originality of his work. This film pays homage to Jarman by gathering fellow collaborators such as actors Tilda Swinton, Karl Johnson, and Nigel Terry, producer James Mackay, composer Simon Fisher Turner, and writer/filmmaker, Tariq Ali, along with his biographer, Tony Peake, and Jarman’s own sister, Gaye Temple, to give us a behind-the-scenes look at the provocative way Jarman used his own life as the backdrop for nearly every project he undertook, whether he was making a film about the Renaissance painter Caravaggio, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, or his own loss of vision from AIDS-related illness in Blue. The film is respectful of his out gay life and politics and avoids the clichéd and reductive treatment he often received in the British media. Because his life and work touch on so many subjects, the film is an excellent resource not only for anyone studying or teaching Jarman, but it should be a part of any library collection that contains his films and scripts, memoirs, gardening books, and catalogues of his paintings.”
-Dr. Scott Rayter, Lecturer, Dept. of English / Sexual Diversity Studies, University of Toronto