|DEREK (director/writer: Isaac Julien; cinematographer: Nina Kellgren; editor: Adam Finch; music: Simon Fisher-Turner; cast: Tilda Swinton (Narrator), Derek Jarman; Runtime: 76; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Colin MacCabe/Eliza Mellor; Kino; 2008-UK)|
serves as a touristy tour into the gay and
avant-garde world of Brit cinema."
by Dennis Schwartz
filmmaker Isaac Julien ("Young Soul
Rebels"/"Looking for Langston") directs and writes a
lovely homage biopic to the late maverick
openly gay Brit filmmaker Derek Jarman, who died in
1994 from AIDS at the age of 52. The film is mainly
built around an extended interview with the accessible
and unpretentious Jarman, while the lyrical narration
is provided by the great Brit actress Tilda Swinton
(who was in Derek's artist community activist group
and starred in many of his films from 1986 on, and in
2002 wrote in The Guardian "A Letter to an Angel" that
expressed her affection for the artist who opened up
his heart for her). There's also personal archival
footage and film clips from the auteur's films (such
as Sebastiane, Edward II, The Tempest,
War Requiem, Jubilee and Caravaggio).
Since Jarman's roots are as an artist and set designer
(did the set for Ken Russell's The Devils), therefore
he explains his film visuals are in the context of an
artist rather than as a filmmaker.
unique biopic gives the resolute artist, who revealed
in 1986 to the public that he was HIV positive, a
chance to tell his story in his own words without
talking heads, and thankfully because he's so
articulate is up to the task.
speaks warmly of his homebody caring mom and not so
affectionately of his bullying patrician wartime
bomber pilot father. His parents were married in 1940.
While aged 10, in an exclusive boarding prep school,
the lad is caught innocently in bed with another lad
and humiliated with a school beating in public and
spent his childhood years persecuted by his
upper-class schoolmates. In the 1960s Derek finds his
rebel voice and after a trippy stay in the States
returns to London to have his first gay encounter in
1964 at age 22 and to hook up with a gay artist group
to live the life of an artist in a communal setting in
an abandoned corset factory. Derek freely talks about
gay sex being an important part of his films, and
claims his controversial films were only political
because they were made.
easy-going but incoherent pic brilliantly serves as a
touristy tour into the gay and avant-garde world of
Brit cinema, and should be valued as a record of
Jarman's unvarnished thoughts coming from his
own lips and a chance to see how he managed to live
the life of the artist without selling out to
commercialism. At one point when asked how he would
like to be remembered, he astonishingly replies that
he would like to disappear completely and take all his
work with him.
Jarman's fans undoubtedly will get more out of this
non-critical biography than others, as there are too
many holes in his story, both in his personal life and
work, to give us much more than a cursory look at what
he was all about. But because of his great intellect,
charm and frankness, Jarman comes across as the
appealing but defiant maker of daring idiosyncratic
pioneering queer films that have appealed largely to a
gay audience but should also appeal to the open-minded
viewer in search of 'raw and dusty' experimental
films. The pic ends with his heartfelt words of
wisdom, urging us "to have less dependence and more
love" in this world.
REVIEWED ON 1/23/2014 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ