Then Derek bought Penny a drink
Just over ten years ago, at 11 o'clock on February 19, 1994,
Derek Jarman died from a long battle with AIDS. I heard the news
on the radio late that evening as we were in the final stages of
layout of (my first edition as editor), MM -
Magazine. Heading for a printer's deadline I sat down and wrote a
short tribute piece which included this...
Jarman's experimental film work has been
confronting and stimulating as the best art should be. Each year
the local film festivals have shown the latest Jarman movie and
have either driven the audience from the theatre with grainy,
blown-up Super 8 features with
sound tracks, or entranced them with features such as last year's
His homosexuality was not just worn on his
sleeve but shoved in your face, especially in his journals. They
also revealed as much about the process of alternative film-making
as any I've read. His books are expanded diaries, Dancing Ledge
and Modern Nature have as much loveless homosexual casual
sex in the moonlight on Hampstead Heath as I care to read about,
but they are also powerful documents about current film culture.
Modern Nature is loaded with the knowledge that he was
diagnosed with AIDS and is going to die, which makes all its
descriptions of his illnesses heavy reading. But the behind the
scenes film stories, of trying to get deals, production woes and
terrific catty stories about working with people like Ken Russell
on The Devils and doing pop videos for The Pet Shop Boys,
make them recommended reading for anyone interested in film.
His features grew more assured from
Sebastiane (1976) through the punk Jubilee, The
Tempest, the sumptuous Caravaggio, to Edward II
and Wittgenstein. His experimental and shorter films are
also worth seeking out and include The Angelic Conversation,
The Last of England, (the beautiful and fun) The Garden,
and War Requiem. His fading sight, then blindness is
the ultimate horror for any artist as strongly visual as Jarman,
and resulted in his last film yet to be screened here. Called
Blue it apparently consists of an unchanging blue screen with
Jarman's commentaries on AIDS and blindness, and his favourite
Mercifully his battle is over with the
English tabloid press who portrayed him as a dangerous and
subversive queer. Losing an artist like Derek Jarman is just
another cruel twist of the AIDS knife.
Australian MultiMedia Magazine. No.1, Vol 2. March 1994
I found his last journal Smiling in slow
motion in a remaindered bin a year or so ago. It stayed in the
bedside reading pile and took me a whole year
to finish it. I assume that was because I knew how it ended and didn't want to get there,
but it was also heavy going as Jarman pulled no pain in the descriptions of
the advance of debilitating illness.
With my move to Bungendore when the magazine closed in 1997, I've
felt a lot of sympathy with Jarman "re-inventing himself as a gardener"
as one reviewer wrote. I was pleased when an English friend who
has just moved from Brighton to Kent, sent me an email with these
photographs last week. Norman said ...
"Thought you might be interested in the attached pix. Penny and I
went to Dungeness recently and found Derek Jarman's seaside
cottage, where he spent most of his last years making an
extraordinary garden. I expect you know all about it, but it was
really nice to find it much as he left it. I suppose some of his
mates are tending it now, but it was just closed up as though he'd
gone off to London for the day.
Penny says that she not only worked on The Tempest, but
Derek bought her a drink in Heaven afterwards (Heaven being a
filthy gay nightclub down the side of Charing Cross station -
filthy in the garbage-strewn sense). Gosh!"
Prospect Cottage (as I now know) is still the home of Keith
Collins who must understand the fans on
pilgrimage, or delightedly discovering the place by
chance as my friends did. There are lots of websites with
photographs of the cottage and most say 'please respect the
owners privacy' as they continue to take their own photographs. It
must be the same for anyone who owns the home of a famous person,
even if it is as here, on a bleak seaside plain with no fences, in one of
the most remote parts of Kent and opposite a nuclear power station.
When I first wrote this Diary entry I couldn't find my copy of Modern Nature
to get the exact wording of a note in the introduction that
explains why it's titled that. So I quoted from memory. I was
delighted when Keith Collins sent me an email with the correct
...Maggie Hambling, who good-naturedly
complained I had not said hello. I had, though maybe not
immediately. Maggie is a tonic at any of these receptions. 'What
are you up to?' I described the garden and Dungeness. 'Oh,' said
Maggie 'you've discovered nature Derek.' 'Well it's not quite
that, Maggie, it's not Samuel Palmer's Kent.' 'Oh I see,' she said
'you've discovered modern nature.'
Here's to the memory of Derek Jarman and to more 'modern' nature.
And thanks to Norman and Penny and Keith Collins.
Derek Jarman on the web.
The best overview I could find on the web was on the Literary
The Literary Encyclopedia also has an essay on Jarman's 'Modern
Nature' (Published in 1991)
Interview by Jeremy Isaacs that appeared on BBC's Face to Face
and was included on The Garden DVD release where Jarman
said that he wished he could just pull in his webs and disappear
when he died.
Gerald Houghton's short obituary and his
review of Derek Jarman's Garden on The Edge. There
quotes from it there.
It wouldn't be the web if there wasn't a
'Shrine' to Derek complete with black background and multicoloured
text. Sister Morticia has a page on his films and his books. And
there's even a Derek Jarman site ring which doesn't seem to go anywhere.
Magazine's Nick Clapson reviews Jarman's work, a good critical
And if you liked Jarman's films, you'll enjoy the Scottish actress
(who appeared in many of Jarman's films)
keynote speech at the Edinburgh International Film Festival,
Saturday 17th August 2002
Spirit of Derek Jarman from Vertigo magazine.
Derek Jarman's books.
Dancing Ledge (1984), The Last of England (1987) (republished as
Kicking the Pricks (1996), Modern Nature (1991), At Your Own Risk
(1992), Smiling in Slow Motion (2000), Blue (1993), and
Chroma his book about colour through history and art that
he writes a lot about in Smiling in slow motion, working in
Prospect Cottage and his hospital bed -"today I finally finished
Yellow...". Chroma was published a few
weeks before his death