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DEREK JARMAN - GLITTERBOX
DEREK JARMAN - THE ANGELIC CONVERSATION - SHAKESPEARE - 1987
Young he was then and Shakespeare's Sonnets was an easy subject, even in their homosexual reading. Many sonnets are absolutely ambiguous as for the sexual orientation and it is easy to make them lean left or right.
The whole objective is to illustrate sonnets that are pure words and music. Two main characters are walking around or through, up and down, a desolate purely mineral landscape in which we only have rocks, fumes and various smokes coming out of caves. It is dirty, dusty, black and white and the two boys are dressed in some kind of formal pants and coats.
The film is the impossible story of the meeting of the two boys who desire a male contact and can't have it or have to cross all kinds of obstacles and hostility to little by little getting close to it. The first distant contact will be when they reach some ocean or sea and one is swimming. That swimming becomes extremely sensual and sexual because the second is observing and projecting himself into the water to have that liquid contact with the body he desires. In fact the director is playing with our own senses and he knows that we are voyeurs in our deepest dimension and to see someone swimming is more erotic than to see the same one naked because of the water into which the voyeur is projecting himself and hence achieving full, total intimate contact with the desired person.
Finally their desires erupt into a physical fight, naked torso against naked torso and it is this fight that turns into a love scene. They have finally found each other. They can hug each other, embrace each other, mutually caress their bodies, sleep and rest together, be two in one and one in two. Shakespeare is just punctuating the story with his sonnets.
But it is a film. So how does Derek Jarman produce the visualization of this "fight" for love in a hostile world and with a hostility that has been so deeply engraved in each man in this world that all other men are enemies that contact becomes impossible, unthinkable and yet if the film only shows that contact being built little by little, we could wonder if there is anything else in a love desire or a love need. The film does not show any other attraction but this sexual appeal.
It is true Derek Jarman shows it with great brilliance. The black and white film is perfect to show the somber world in which we are living, the somber thoughts and impulses we may be developing, and the somber reality of rejection or brutality. At times some very short color sequences are projected into our vision, essentially with flowers and they seem to represent the few moments when some satisfaction, some pleasure becomes possible. That will lead me to interpreting the use of color for the fire that assaults one or the other character from time to time as being the fire of desire, not something against which you have to fight but something that may bring you pleasure and satisfaction, and yet it burns because in this world that sort of pleasure is banned and hence it has to burn somewhere.
Actually the film has aged because the world has changed and this systematic hostility and impossibility is no longer true. It has in fact become very easy today to satisfy that desire of gay love, and that's just the point. The film does not show love but sex exclusively. Today when sex is no longer forbidden, censored, repressed, we can finally step over the hormonal dimension of human contact and develop the mental, spiritual and intellectual side of love, love seen as the contact and exchanges between two minds and not only two hormone-driven bodies. In fact physical desire becomes all the more intense when it is considered because it no longer is the only way to express one's love. Higher? Lower? It does not work like that. They are different and not at different planes. They do not have to be compared or connected.
Shakespeare says: "Sweet things turn sour," implying that beauty is always followed by death and the loss of that beauty, sour is everything that cannot last forever. But today we are not obliged to only consider the physical beauty of a person, a beauty that will pass away with age, but we can consider the everlasting or at least long-lasting mental beauty of a person and then love is eternal because it is no longer tied up to the sole body, the sole hormonal desire of our endocrine glands.
That makes the film very sad, sad that the world used to be like that . . . for us, though it still is like that in many countries in this world. We do not need to fight any more to put our hands on the arms or shoulders of our men brothers.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
DEREK KARMAN - CARAVAGGIO - 1986
This film deals with a painter of great fame from the end of the Renaissance. It is the story of a man of course but also of his assistant. He literally bought a mute boy out of his misery when he was a small child and took him to his studio to work for him, to grind his colors and prepare his paints. He will of course use the child as a model for some exuberant bacchic scenes overloaded with fruits of all sorts. The mute boy becomes the friend of the painter and little by little this friendship must have become love, real love, the mental and sentimental passion.
On the other hand the artist is attracted by male bodies mostly but in the strength they demonstrate when they are fighting. So he is looking for violence, muscular tension, aggressiveness in males, one body against another, and some compositions of several men demonstrating their power in some scenes implying violence and cruelty. This search for violent brutality excludes love. It is pure desire and one of these men will have a tragic ending because he understood this desire required him to love the artist back and thus to do what he thought the artist wanted him to do. His mistake, especially since it was killing a pregnant woman.
The only one who has the right (the artists granted him that right), the duty (the artists expected him to do what's concerned here), the obligation even to love him back, is the young assistant because that assistant was bought and is the artist's possession, the only person the artist has the duty and the obligation to take care of as if he were his own child. And in this case it is real love from the artist to the assistant and from the assistant to the artist, to and fro and back all the time. This assistant will bring the artist to his own death on his own death bed and he will be the only one able to bring him to death in peace, to grant him death in a way, though it will be for the assistant a tragedy, a drama with a phenomenal solitude afterwards, though this is not explored in the film.
All other men the artists selects on their own strength are supposed to accept his love but definitely not love him back. They do not have that right because the artist only satisfies his own desire but never ever anything that has any real sentimental or mental dimension. He uses these men as satisfying actors in his sexual desire just the same way as he uses them as props in his studio to compose a scene that he can then paint on the canvass.
Living and working close to the Pope, Caravaggio is classified a sodomite but tolerated because of his art, because of the marvelous paintings he can produce. But in this extremely sectarian and fundamentalistic society he is living in he is obliged to mind every step of his and pay for his privilege a very high artistic price. The result is that he is locked up in his sodomite closet and he has no way to get out of it. So his love is nothing but a perversion and he cannot expect from anyone to love him since it would be a perversion too. Then his love is reduced to a gross physical and violent impulse and he takes what he needs to satisfy this impulse, he pays for it since it is nothing but a forbidden fruit that has a very high price, and it is finished. Full stop. Period.
And that is the moment when you start wondering about his assistant. Man cannot live without any love. If any love between two men is impossible as a permanent and stable relation, you have to disguise this relation in a way or another. The mute assistant is perfect since Caravaggio got him when he was six or seven and he has a very clear function and position to satisfy. The relation is seen by most people more like the relation between a father and a son and the possible sexual dimension of it might very well never have been consumed. Art least this part was not important. What was important was the tears shed by the assistant when his master died, when he brought him to death.
I would easily say that any man longs for such a relation that is not and cannot be carnal. Men finds that in younger people who are their sons or close male relatives, at times younger men who need some mentor or leader or advisor. It is love but draped in some age or cultural dependency that makes it acceptable. Such a relation will never be sexual because it would be antagonistic with what the passion it contains means.
And that distance in time between Caravaggio and us is clearly identified in the film with all kinds of anachronistic sounds or objects: electricity at the end of the 15th century, motorbikes, cars, trains, helicopters, cigarettes, etc. Has the world improved or is it still the same? I would say that in 1886 it probably looked pretty the same as around 1600. But it may also mean that luckily progress will bring some new way of looking at life and love.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
DEREK JARMAN - WITTGENSTEIN - 1993
This film is the most surprising film you can expect from a deeply impressionistic film maker. Philosophy is by definition not impressionistic since it has to be logical and perfectly well organized in a rational way. Yet Derek Jarman dares to make a film on a philosopher, and actually more on philosophy because the man himself seems to be in a way made secondary.
Wittgenstein was obsessed with language, but not as a tool to express some thoughts or concepts that was able to build itself and its own architecture along with the mind and the mind's architecture that carried language, both through the very use of language and the mind themselves. Language is not seen as self-made and self-making expressive tool used by discourse to enable human thought to emerge, to build itself by expressing itself in communication.
Language for him is a limitation.
He considers logic is the acme of human intelligence, not language and language does not contain the whole logic of the human mind, even if it can express it. In fact he is a visual mind and he tries to express with words a logic he can represent in his mind's eye visually. He does not see that without language logic would never have been constituted. He ignores the fact that time, space and logic are human inventions for the cosmic duration, distance and orientation, and dependent origination (as the Buddhist would say for the last dimension) and are nothing but models of what the human brain and mind can observe in the outside world.
Wittgenstein was a friend of Bertrand Russell but apparently he did not integrate Russell's lectures on logic delivered in the USA in the 1920s. Russell spent a tremendous amount of energy to demonstrate that what we get from the outside world is nothing but sensations and that these sensations are nothing if they are not interpreted in a way or another by the brain-mind into perceptions. Russell could not know how the brain and mind did it but he knew that these perceptions in their turn should not be considered as the outside world. They were only humanly interpreted representations of the outside world and all our mental work is using these representations and not the real world.
This means that these representations are models and models are nothing but metaphors: they are or are behaving like the outside world, more or less, never entirely. And this is only possible because we have words, and syntax and sentences and discourse to express these models that could not have been built or abstracted from the magma of our sensations without words, sentences, syntax and discourse.
He sees that a dog is what a certain culture calls a dog, more or less I will add. But he misses the other side of the word dog. It is a concept that is produced by man's power to conceptualize that is developing with age and training and that is deposited in our mind, itself developing from brain work as some kind of virtual abstract complex totally human conceptualizing machine.
But in Wittgenstein's vision language becomes a cage, a prison in a way and our mind is like a parrot in a cage itself inside the cage in which we are imprisoned. Derek Jarman is quite right when he reduces Wittgenstein's thought to this image, metaphor, set of metaphors. And it is cruelly but realistically reducing Wittgenstein's thought to nothing but a set of words repeated without them being understood by the repeater. That is very sad.
Hence Wittgenstein reduced intelligence to logic and then life to direct experience of the dirt, dust and mud of the path. There is no way to articulate the real world onto the conceptualizing power of the brain-mind. Then logic is not in anyway helping us to understand man's intelligence or man's consciousness. Logic becomes an escape from real dirty and muddy life and a straight jacket, an escape into the straightjacket of what is socially acceptable and nothing else with a very limited lee way for those who are philosophers supposedly over and higher than normal simple ordinary people.
He missed Russell's basic principle that life is life (the evidence of the pudding is in me being able to eat it) and logic is a conceptualized abstraction of a model from what we capture of the world through our senses for that to be interpreted and architecturally modelized by the brain-mind.
Descartes was seeing our existence in the fact that we were able to think. Wittgenstein went further in a way in identifying language but he did not see that we are not our language. Our language is produced by us in a social context and it may appear as a limitation (grammar is fascist as is well known since 1968) though it is a tremendous power, the power of abstraction and conceptualization that makes man the only being on earth able to create models of the outside reality that give him some power over this reality. The mind is not the parrot in a cage, itself in a cage in which man is imprisoned and reduced to repeating words he has learned by heart. There is no parrot. There is no first cage. There is no second cage. There is self-creating mind in each man whose experience determines what his mind is going to be or rather to become forever because its becoming will never stop, just like the linguistic tool it uses.
A beautiful attempt at making a film on such a subject, but it remains dry and rather cold. Even the personal life of the philosopher is reduced to very little.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
DEREK JARMAN - BLUE - 1993
The film is not a film. It is a radio show. Derek Jarman is dying of AIDS and he tells us how he sees his disease and his coming death. For him the color is blue, because blue is the sky, it is absolute limitless space and it is the perfect color for going to the other side of the gate or door or portal you have to cross on your last breath. After that point you do not need to breathe any more.
The story, if it is a story, is poignant but told on a rather desultory tone and with as much poetry as possible. He explains what this disease means for him and probably for many others in his case. He repeats the names of the men he has loved and who may have infected him or who he may have infected. Sad and tragic that love led to death. I say love and I follow Derek Jarman on that term, but in fact it was not love. It was sexual intercourse and most of the time nothing much more in those post 68 years when everything was possible and everyone was doing it. Well everyone, not, really, but many considered promiscuity as a norm and bisexuality as a must.
As Derek Jarman says he has to resign himself to the disease and the coming death. The drugs used in those years were very experimental, had tremendous side effects and were nothing but tinkering about with what doctors had under their hands and fingers and research went very slowly, when it was funded, which was not the case everywhere in the world.
And then Derek Jarman has to come to terms with his life, what he had done, what he would have done, what he did not do, and he has to build a balance sheet of his work: has he achieved enough for his films to survive his own death? Probably, though some of these films are aging rather fast. And then he has to push suicide aside and he has to cope with the pain and try to find some peace of mind to move on and pass to the other side in serendipity. And his telling his last moments of consciousness on this planet must have helped him to find some catharsis with death.
Apart from that the radio show that is behind this constant blue screen is a testimony of a social and human situation and it is nothing else. The testimony is done with great talent but it is being carried away by the wind of time. The situation does not have any duration in itself. It is already in the past for the countries where safe sex is a real objective and the present treatment is available. It will not cure you but it will give you a more or less normal life for quite a good number of years.
But it remains necessary to revisit what it was in the past not to slacken our efforts to find a real cure.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
DEREK JARMAN - GLITTERBUG - 1994
"Glitterbug" is only a montage and collage of tit bits from Derek Jarman's personal super eight and video documents he left behind after his death. This film is a testimony about him and his work and life in order to pay our respects to the departed filmmaker.
Apart from that dimension the film does not really bring anything new about the man or his films. And since it was not professional camera work, it is not even comparable to his work. So this documentary gives us an intimate vision of the man and the people around him and this is a good thing to give some human depth to a man who went away too fast.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU