I'm struck by the coincidence that Zeitgeist's remarkable retrospective of some of Jarman's greatest works -- was released in the same week that Disney opened "Wall.E," which also raises the question about accepting outsiders.
Of course, it's a slam dunk that people want to hug the lovable little robot. Jarman's challenge is far higher octane. He was -- until his untimely death from AIDS in the 1990s -- a real-life, sometimes-fire-breathing, British artist and activist.
Solid evidence of Jarman's stature of an artist is the Who's Who of famous British actors and actresses who worked in his avante garde productions, including Judith Dench, Tilda Swinton and even Laurence Olivier, who made his final film, "War Requiem," with Jarman. (However, "War Requiem" isn't in this particular set.)
But, Jarman wasn't interested in celebrity. Rather, he was deadly serious about probing the outer boundaries. He had no interest in producing Hollywood hits. Quite the contrary. In fact, the "extras" in this new DVD set include an interview with Jarman in which he makes precisely that point.
In one interview, he says that his whole body of work was intended as a critique of American cinema. It wasn't a question of artistic options. He had lots of lucrative work from which to choose. In his prime, for instance, Jarman was a sought-after director of music videos. When his late-in-life production, "Blue," was released -- a joint broadcast was arranged involving both British television and radio networks to broadcast the image and the audio in optimal quality throughout the UK. (And, "Blue" is in this new set.)
No, Jarman followed the road less traveled because the question he wanted to ask over and over again is: How do true outsiders form community?
In this new DVD set, you'll get a real glimpse of his range as an artist, designer and director. For example, there is painstaking work behind the shadowy opening scenes of his "Caravaggio." It's a feature-length film about the artist who took Rome by storm around 1600 with huge, dramatic canvases that reinterpreted traditional spiritual themes. These opening scenes are as gorgeous as the artist's paintings themselves. But we soon realize that Jarman is, above all, an artistic provocateur -- when we suddenly hear the distant sound of a freight train! In 1600? And, then, we discover a malicious nobleman tapping on a hand-held calculator -- and suddenly characters show up in tuxedos!
What Jarman really is doing here is extending the questions raised by "Caravaggio" into our present age. By the middle of the film, we already can see how an outsider artist can summon incredible spiritual gifts. Caravaggio's paintings helped people to see biblical stories in entirely new ways. But his status as a highly controversial and emotionally troubled rebel almost defied any community to embrace him.
Jarmans' films are challenging, intellectual, not for young viewers -- and even an aquired taste for adult viewers -- but I am amazed, on the week of the "Wall.E" release to have an opportunity, as well, to reflect on the brilliant insights of a true outsider, as well.