Derek Jarman

By: Jacob Mikanowski
January 31, 2013


Now, people want to remember everything but the films. They remember the diarist, the raconteur, the scenester, the set-designer, the painter, the music video director, the queer activist, the AIDS sufferer, the enragé. Most of all they remember the gardener, at home in his fisherman’s cottage on the pebbly shores of Kent, coaxing plants up out of the shingle. And no wonder: it’s such an English monument, with chips down the seafront and John Donne inscribed on the timbered wall — all the tradition and gentleness and good manners which Orwell took to be the best thing about British civilization. But DEREK JARMAN’s (1942–94) movies are everything else — profane, sexy, formally daring, unapologetically erudite, graphically homosexual time-traveling spectacles of learned wit and unbounded eros. He was the first to realize that you could plug Scorpio Rising directly into Catullus. Sebastiane, his first full-length feature, was made on a Sardinian beach with a Super 8 camera and no budget; it tells the story of the Christian martyr-slash-pincushion with a mostly nude cast and a script written entirely in vulgar Latin! From there Jarman moved backwards and forwards in time like a shuttlecock, dropping in on the lives of Caravaggio, Wittgenstein, and Edward II. In those films timelines bleed into each other and explode like dynamite in a baby carriage. Jarman was like John Dee’s spirit guide Ariel, who zips Queen Elizabeth forward to the punk epoch in Jubilee, or Amyl Nitrate, the anti-historian, who thought that all history could be written on a Mandrax. He was part of the bad old postmodernism, the one that still had a radical heart.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: John Lydon, Carol Channing, Grant Morrison and Alan Lomax.

READ MORE about members of the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43).


Activism, HiLo Heroes, Movies