Andy Kimpton-Nye: CAN YOU RECALL FOR ME WHEN OR WHERE YOU FIRST MET OR STARTED WORKING WITH DEREK JARMAN?
James Mackay: I first met him… I think it must have been at the Edinburgh film festival when he was screening the Tempest, I don't remember meeting him before that. I had a brief conversation with him I think shortly thereafter. I invited him to screen films at the London Filmmakers Co-op as a programmer, cinema programmer, and he arrived on the evening of the show with a holdall containing two super 8 projectors and a whole heap of films and he put on the show himself. He had a cassette recorder with lots of cassettes and these super 8 films and he showed them - must have been two and a half hours and he had a full house of people and it was quite incredible, really extraordinary work. It was 1979, he started making films on his own in 1970, so the first films that he made were from 1970, so he had a lot stuff and by the time he got to 1979 he had something like 50 films completed. And he showed a selection of things and he'd sort of change them according to the mood of the audience and he'd give a narration as he changed them - what had been made, what year it was, who was involved and with the films he'd play music which wasn't synchronised with the films, but because he edited - he had quite a strong sense of rhythm - he edited the films and the music that he chose fell in generally with the same rhythms and would sync with the film fantastically.
IT'S INTERESTING YOU MENTION THE EDITING BECAUSE I WAS UNDER THE IMPRESSION THAT DEREK WAS A BIT OF A TECHNOPHOBE THAT HE RELIED ON EXPERTS… BUT FOR THE EARLY STUFF, THE SUPER 8, HE WAS EDITING AND CUTTING THAT HIMSELF…?
He wasn't a technophobe, because he was a bit scared of new things only until it was demonstrated to him that they would work. He wasn't scared of technology, he was just scared that they wouldn't work, or they'd look bad. Once he knew it would work, he was fine. In fact I always thought of him as being quite radical amongst film makers in the ease in which certainly he moved to super 8 very early in terms of UK film-makers and he did things in the mid-70s, which were quite technically challenging, which he did at home, which are multiple layer super imposition etc. And then in the 80s when we went into video and mixed video and film… well that for most film-makers they would not find their way into that very easily, but Derek just took to it and decided. I just think it's a question of just being able to… he just wanted to make films and he'd seize on what tools were available and he used them to make the images that he wanted, so he was quite happy shooting something on 16mm or 35 or VHS, or whatever and I think if he was around now he would embrace certainly the handycam formats that are so popular.
SO THAT NIGHT AT THE LONDON FILMMAKERS CO-OP DID HE TALK ABOUT WHAT WAS THE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND THOSE EARLY SUPER 8s? WERE THEY IDEAS LED OR WERE THEY JUST SHOT BECAUSE HE WANTED TO EXPERIMENT WITH SUPER 8?
He didn't discuss them in that way, we didn't have a formal Q and A, but I think it's apparent and clear from watching these films that some of them are diaries. Some of them are, when you say ideas, scripted film, he’d have like a scenario, he might not have it written down as a script, but he'd have a scenario of what was going to happen and they would tell some kind of, if not story, some kind of pre-determined form. Some of them were portraits of people where he would maybe film someone over a period of time, like over maybe an event, so they're not really diary films more like a portraits of things and people. So they were like a variety, some films were grouped together, for instance there is a whole series of films which starts with a short film called ‘The Art of Mirrors’ and culminates in a long film called 'The Shadow of the Sun'. There are a whole lot of permutations of different images over a series of a dozen films.
WHY SUPER 8?
Oh ease of access and the fact that there was no need to rely on the availability of a crew. I think super 8 was the first real easy access film making tool that appeared on the scene. Standard 8 was quite interesting, but clumsy by comparison to super 8. Super 8 was designed to be used quickly and rapidly, you know rapid deployment of super 8. It was a very nicely designed neat sort of camera, very easy to use design, lots of good features, intervolometer for variable speed cinematography, good light reading properties and fairly sharp image. So, Derek who obviously had worked with Ken Russell on 'The Devils" and other films was very keen on film, it was obviously something that enthused him at the time, he wanted to get involved with and he had a go at making a 16 mm film which was about 10 minutes long film called 'The Caterpillar Film', which was shot and edited in a more conventional way. The content is not dissimilar to the early super 8 films, but I could see that when somebody presented him shortly after that with a super 8 camera, for Derek that was it. He could film what he wanted to, send it off to the lab, which was done by post and on the return of the film he could edit it at home, which he did.
AND THE HOME MOVIES THAT CROPPED UP IN HIS LATER FILMS…?
Oh they're different. His parents' home-movies... His father and his grandfather were both film-makers, that was quite interesting and they did mean a lot to him. I think maybe, I never asked Derek, where he first got involved in film, but he appears in all his father's home movies, so this fascination with film must go back a long way. The idea that it's possible to make a film must have come from that.
HIS FATHER’S HOME-MOVIES, THEY'RE VERY COMFORTABLE IMAGES OF GARDENS, AND HAPPY FAMILIES, AREN’T THEY?
But happy families spread out around the world. It's kind of strange that there's a house and a garden and then in the next shot there's a different house and a different garden. They capture a childhood in the sense that it was very itinerant for his parents, moving from country to country, from place to place, so I guess there was some of that in there that he was interested in. He was interested in his father's involvement with the RAF and that whole wartime thing and Britain at war, that historical prospective of Britain.
I FIND IT HARD TO PUT THOSE COSY IMAGES NEXT TO THE MORE SHOCKING IMAGES IN DEREK'S FILMS…
I suppose they're kind of cosy. They're very conservative, very middle England. I mean that's why he used them in the film 'The Last of England', that's why those images crop up there, because 'The Last of England' which is really the seminal British film of 1980s, is a perfect antidote to 'Chariots of Fire'. It is about exploring that past, that stability of empire, that by that time had been reduced to tatters and the whole pretence around it, the whole Windsor spectacle. And so those films that were still in that pre-war post-war period are very… they saw themselves as invincible, they saw themselves as a very strong nation and by the 1980s when Derek was reflecting on Britain, on our history, he could use those to counter-point the images of a very dark future that he saw.
HOW EASY OR DIFFICULT WAS IT GETTING FUNDING FOR A DEREK JARMAN FILM?
It was a different time coming into film in the 70s, I graduated in late 70s and there were a lot of mechanisms for assisting and funding of films in the UK of all different kinds. There was the Arts Council, The British Film Institute, a bit later on British Screen and there were television companies a bit later on like Channel Four who came into the picture. But they were all mandated to support a broad range of films and they were all very generally, user friendly. We used to moan about those things, but there was never a problem really. You could speak to somebody and explain your project and they would say yes or no on a committee basis, or on an individual basis. But their brief was much broader than it is now and they could support projects in different ways. So somebody might go with a freeform project like a general conversation which started off like a series of days shootings, it didn't start off as a scripted film and they would say here's £10,000 come back when you've filmed some more. Peter Sainsbury was then at the BFI. So that people actually understood that there were different ways, different processes for making films.
SO WERE YOU AND DEREK CONSTANTLY SHOOTING STUFF ON SUPER 8 WITH A VIEW TO IT DEVELOPING INTO AN IDEA?
Kind of. What happened was, Derek had been shooting stuff since 1970 on a regular basis and made some feature films as well and some short films and I had come from Arts School through the London Film-makers Programme for Cinema at a point where... well, we both wanted to make films and Derek was looking to make another feature. When I met him he had a couple of feature scripts, he had 'Neutron' and 'Caravaggio' which had been storyboarded by Christopher Hobbs. So, it was all kind of neat and storyboarded and he was trying to get money for those. I guess most film- makers would have concentrated on those kind of projects, because they were big projects, prestigious, I guess. But Derek had been constantly making short films, even 'In the Shadow of the Sun' is not like a short film, it's nearly an hour long, so it's almost like a mini-feature, and so he was happy to, and wanted to, go on and make other work. As the years between The Tempest and Caravaggio got longer, I think Derek turned more to super 8 cameras as a primary source of film making and in 1982 or 3 I think 3 or 4, the ICA had decided to mount a mini retrospective of Derek's work and had allowed us to use the space during the day in order to re-film his super 8 short films onto video, so that they could be shown more easily, so we just basically projected the film on the wall and re-filmed it using video. It was the only affordable way we could do it. It was the 2nd or 3rd day of doing that, that we started to play around with projecting images onto different surfaces and different things and using mirrors and then from that it just expanded and became a work in progress and eventually became Angelic conversation with the support of the BFI and the ICA of course.
SO IT JUST GREW UP LIKE THAT?
It grew up like that, but I think all Derek's film grew up like that and I think a lot of film-makers films grew up like that, I think... Very few film-makers start with an idea of an absolute script and go out and film it. I think that's a much more bureaucratic approach to filmmaking, much more suitable to the studio system where you develop your product as a script and you give it to another group of people who then go out and realise it, it's more like making commercials that way. Film-making is much more organic, people develop and change things even as they are filming - Derek certainly did and that is how Angelic Conversation grew. The film grew on one hand and the sound track grew on the other. There was a relationship first of all with Throbbin Gristle and then with the different splinter parts of Throbbin Gristle and there was also talk… I think Peter Greenaway had been commissioned by Channel 4 at that time, very early on at the beginning of Channel 4, to do a series based on Dante's Inferno, the divine comedy and Derek was outraged of course that he hadn't been asked to do anything and put forward a proposal to make a series of films based on Shakespeare's sonnets. So these two things were kind of hanging around in the air and then of course the obvious thing was that these two things totally fitted together. In fact the sonnets fitted perfectly onto Angelic Conversation, but they came after the film was edited. It was quite interesting.
WHAT WAS HE LIKE TO PRODUCE? WAS HE AN EASY DIRECTOR TO PRODUCE?
Oh yes, very easy in the sense that he was well versed in the film-making process, he always… the first question Derek always asked after we discussed all this, what we were going to do, the first thing he'd ask is how much can I spend on this, how many actors, or extras can I have on this. He'd ask very simple questions and then he'd work his plan out for that day, that weekend or even in that case for the whole film based on what was possible. He never presented you with something that was completely impossible like some people do. It was very easy to work with and exciting, because he would evolve ideas, they wouldn't be static, he wouldn't come and say this is what we are going to film and then if anybody thought differently or disagreed, would refuse to budge, which happens a lot. If other people joined the production, there would be input for them as well all the way through to the actors.
VERY COLLABORATIVE, THEN?
Oh very collaborative, yes. He would always be in charge, but he would allow people to bring up ideas and things and sometimes you would actually go and film a whole sequence with someone that they had suggested and sometimes it was used in the final film and sometimes it wasn't.
YOU SAID HE WAS ALWAYS IN CHARGE, HOW DID HE MAINTAIN THAT POSITION?
Charisma, he was very charismatic. I mean he was very friendly and fun to be with, so people enjoyed working with him and listened to what he had to say. Nobody went and moaned about him.
HE ALWAYS CAME ACROSS AS A SOCIABLE, HAPPY, EASY TO GET ON WITH MAN - MADE FRIENDS VERY EASILY. WAS THERE A FLIP SIDE TO HIM, DID HE LOSE HIS RAG, OR GET MAD AT, OR HATE ANYONE?
I think he… No, I don't think he really hated anybody. I think he would be very annoyed, obviously he worked very hard, he wasn't like somebody who did 2 hours work a day and then partied. Derek would get up very early in the morning and go to bed very late at night and he would work very hard. I mean I remember he used to say James you don't work hard enough and I thought if I keep up with you, I'll never be alive. He would write and work on scripts and write his other stuff, he would work on planning and editing his films, he would maintain correspondence with many people, he always replied to letters received. He would paint, so there was quite a lot to do, so he had a lot of energy.
WHAT WERE HIS MAJOR QUALITIES AS A FILM MAKER?
His major qualities as a film-maker… he had the most highly developed visual imagination I'd ever come across. He could hold a series of images in his head and play around with them and convey those to people he was working with and recreate those images precisely, that's why his images are so strong. His memory for images was fantastic as well. I mean even in his last few months when we were reviewing a lot of the super 8 diary footage, whilst making Glitterbug, he would know what was going to happen in the next sequence of films he might not have seen for like 12 or 14 years, he'd be able to tell you what was going to happen, he'd say now we're going to come to this bit, this happens, this might be interesting to use and all of that. But so precise, it wasn't just like the odd thing on so and so, but frame by frame - frame accurate he was. I think great film-makers are highly visual people, because the problem is if you've got someone highly literary making a film they are kind of dull visually, kind of clunky. Of course the opposite could happen, they could be clunky in a scripty way, but that's less likely.
DID HE HAVE FAVOURITE FILM-MAKERS?
Jean Cocteau, he really liked the Orpheus trilogy in particular ‘Testament of Orphee’. He certainly like Pasolini a lot. He liked lots of films and lots of film-makers. I can't.... but certainly a lot of them were in the past, not a lot of them were his contemporaries. I mean he liked films of his contemporaries, but he didn't go out and see a lot of films, he wasn't somebody who was an avid film viewer, but he did have favourite films and those films were things like ‘Testament of Orpee’ and ‘The Gospel According to Matthew’ and various others. They feature in his films as well, there are references to those films you can see if you are familiar with the films that he liked you can see the references and the quotes.
MAYBE THIS DOCUMENTARY SHOULD BE CALLED ‘THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAINT DEREK?’
Well, he was certainly in terms of… he was very supportive. I mean there wasn't just the question of the films he made himself, but he was very supportive of other film- makers as contemporaries, vociferously supportive. Very few film-makers are nowadays, very few are even willing to stand up and speak when needed. It's sad that film-makers have got so little to say. He was very supportive of student film-makers, he often was visited by people who would just knock on his door and he was always very encouraging and he would always give a couple of reels of super 8, or something to help them through. And a lot of interesting film-makers of the 80s came through because Derek encouraged them. Some would have given up otherwise, so that was a great thing. He was very encouraging to lots of people and he did speak up for his contemporaries.
HOW MUCH DID THE PROCESS OF CARAVAGGIO TAKE IT OUT OF HIM, BECAUSE AS YOU MENTION IT WAS A LONG TIME IN GESTATION...?
I don't think it took it out of him, it took a while to make. I never quite understood why it took so long to make.
WAS IT A VERY UNHAPPY OR DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE TO WHAT DEREK WOULD NORMALLY WANT, OR EXPECT OUT OF FILM MAKING?
No, I think he had a fun time making the film. The script went through an awful lot of re-writes and writes and things, but Derek seemed to tolerate that ok. I mean he would read the whole script to me on almost a daily basis at times and other people so if you met up with him at the wrong time, you'd get the whole script. But it was all right, it was quite interesting. No, I think for him it was a very happy experience, but for me as a film it doesn't have maybe the fluidity of for instance Sebastian, or some of the other films. But it's a good film and the interesting thing about Derek is that all his films are good, some are better than others, but all his films are good. He never made one sort of average film, they're all better than average, or better than good, which I think is rare.
‘86 SAW THE END OF CARAVAGGIO, HIS FATHER DIED AND HE CONTRACTED THE HIV VIRUS - DID HIS FILM MAKING CHANGE, DID THAT AFFECT HIS FILM MAKING FROM THERE ON?
Yes, it would have to wouldn't it? I think things changed in… I would have thought 1984. I think the information about what became known as the Aids virus, no not the Aids virus, but what became known as Aids, started to filter through from the States. That started in 1984 and by the end of 1984 the beginning of 1985 Derek was fairly convinced that if there was something like that going, then he would have it. He was something of a hypochondriac actually, so it wasn't like something that hit him suddenly. He kind of had the idea that if things were going the way they were there's a chance that he had contracted it. So he knew something about that and I do think that changes things as ... it changes the ending of Angelic conversation, it's kind of interesting, that ending, it's a kind of down ending isn't it? I mean that last sonnet it's not a sweet ending and putting Caravaggio aside.....
BUT IT’S NOT AS DARK AS THE LAST OF ENGLAND.....
No, or Imagine October which is a key film at that time. But he tested positive after the shooting of The Last of England and before the editing. I suppose there's a lot of anger in the film. It wasn't just about HIV/Aids. There was anger about the political situation in the UK. There were a lot of things to be angry about, it was anger about the way the British film culture was being, what 's the word… subsumed into this kind of world of advertising and the whole thing became you know dragged into being on the back of Chariots of Fire: ‘this whole kind of gung-ho British cinema is coming, we are here now thing.’ And Derek was very much excluded from that as were a lot of film-makers, because they weren't deemed to fit the profile of British cinema that was trying to be achieved by these people. They referred to it as a profile and of course Derek stuck out like a wiggly eyebrow. So I think a lot of things were happening, I don't think it suddenly changed for Derek, I think there was some kind of change that started in 1984 and then went through the rest of his life.
WAS HE A POLITICAL FILM MAKER?
Oh yes, I think he was the most political film-maker we've had.
WHAT WERE HIS POLITICS?
They were a kind of… I would say Derek was, well, he wasn't a socialist and he wasn't a conservative, but he certainly wasn't a liberal. He was some kind of, I think you have to go back farther into history, English history to find… he was probably a leveller or something like that, I don't know. I don't know the political terms. He had a kind of idea of fairness, of fair play, fairness and decency that’s kind of missing in politics generally now.
AS FOR GAY POLITICS, IT HAS BEEN SAID THAT 'THE REPRESENTATION OF HOMOSEXUALITY IN DEREK'S FILMS IS A ROMANTIC ONE', WOULD YOU THINK THAT 'S FAIR TO SAY?
A romantic one? Well, yes ok, in some of the films I think it's a romantic and some of the films it's not, but overall I don't think you could simply say it's romantic image. I think the other thing that 's important is that Derek's not necessarily portraying homosexuality in his films. Derek's films are essentially about Derek, which is something he told me very late on, very close to his death. He said that with Blue, I've finally done what I've always had to do surreptitiously, that is make a film about myself. And he says that in the other films I had to disguise myself as Caravaggio, I had to disguise myself as Sebastian. So they're all films where Derek is essentially the central player. So they're films about him rather than views on homosexuality. I think that he was much more interesting and complex a person than just merely somebody who is labelled for his sexuality. In fact when he started making films, I mean there was no huge.... I mean if you go back into the British Film Institute archives and look at their work in the early 80s, not just with Derek, but with film makers like Ron Peck, other people you'll see that there are film makers who.... that maybe their homosexuality features as part of their work, but the work isn't labelled as such. That happened later in the 80s by about ’85, and then there grew very quickly especially in the UK like a whole gay film culture or more correctly a gay television culture and sometimes, because people when they look back they assume Derek was part of that, or we were a group a part of that, but we weren't. We were very much excluded from that whole sort of Channel 4 gay thing. Derek never… there was quite an interesting anecdote, I don't know if I should say this... but I was having a meeting with Derek and Alan (commissioner at C4) and Alan asked Derek… he said I'm going to commission this series of programmes, magazine programmes I think we called them in those days by gay people and would you like to do one. And Derek said yes, but I'd like to bring in some other film-makers, he named Ron Peck, other people you know, and he said we'd love to do it. I assumed, I'd already started to become used to these TV meetings, and I assumed that the whole thing would evaporate within 24 hours which it did. Three months later Derek said to me, James what happened to that programme Alan said we could make and I said oh, he hasn't mentioned it since, I don't think.... and he said no, no, go and ask him, go and ask him and interestingly the series had been commissioned and Derek hadn't been asked to participate. Most of the people involved weren't film-makers, but I had to ring up, no I didn't ring up, they rang me, I think Alan must have rung them and they rang me and they said well you know everything's been commissioned, all the content's been commissioned, but we'd really like Derek to be involved, do you think you'd like to do the title sequence. And I just said to the very famous woman on the other end of the phone, I'm not even going to ask him. It's kind of interesting that, yes. So, that whole thing happened and I suppose that we were all such outsiders, John Maybury, Cerith Wyn Evans, Michael Costa and everybody else that they didn't really… we didn't fit in with them.
YOU SAID IT WAS MORE COMPLEX THAN SAYING IT'S ABOUT DEREK'S SEXUALITY IN THESE FILMS, BUT IN ‘SMILING IN SLOW MOTION’ HE SAYS AT ONE POINT “IF I HADN'T HAD TO STRUGGLE FOR MY SEXUALITY AND RESPECT THEN I WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN HALF THE FILM MAKER THAT I AM”…
Yes, that's true, of course, yes. I think that the whole challenge, the testing of the person as you're working in an inhospitable place, an inhospitable world, you work harder, I think, but he says it fine and I agree.
HE SEEMED TO REVEL IN THE CHALLENGE OF HAVING LOW BUDGETS, BECAUSE FOR HIM IT WAS A CINEMA OF ‘LESS IS MORE’, DO YOU THINK THAT'S FAIR, DO YOU THINK LOW BUDGETS SHAPED HIS AESTHETIC?
I think he shaped the aesthetic, but I can't imagine how he could spend more money, I really can't see it. Whenever we were short of money for what we wanted to do, everyone seemed to be happy with their work, he didn't want car chases or... we had special effects, but they were the kind of special effects that weren't that difficult, they were more to do with creativity than cost. I was thinking about things you know ...Derek's films, there are astounding images and astounding sequences, for instance I think there are several sequences in Edward II which really have got nothing to do with the narrative whatever that might be in that film because I never quite figured it out, but it's a great film because there are great images and great image sequences in it and that's where his power was. He could put ideas into pictures and you'd think what are those people doing in that rugby scrum in that film, but it's a great image and it says something and it says something on a different level, it says it in a different way than words would. What are those cardinals pushing that gold rock in the garden, what are they doing? And it says something very strongly. It's kind of… that's how he worked. How could you spend more money realising those images? He obviously had what he needed. Sometimes he didn't have as much time as he wanted. That was a constraint maybe that could have been.... and he could have been given more money to make more films I think. I certainly think he could have made more films, I think he was prodigious in his capacity to work and I think he could probably have given us two or three other features and maybe even four or five in the last 10 years of his life, without breaking into a sweat. I don't think they were particularly cheaper, I mean, I think a lot of the time he's working with.... I think even in the more expensive narrative features i.e. with synchronised voice, because he is filming from one angle from a front prospective all the time, he's not cross cutting so they take a lot less to set up, but I think the way he filmed cost less that's all. I don't think it was a question of… I think his method of filming didn't really cost a lot. But he was happy enough.
WHAT WAS IT ABOUT HIS METHOD OF FILMING THAT MADE IT MORE ECONOMICAL?
Because he thought in terms of image sequences. He certainly referred to his films as image sequences. So he would say that he thought… this is from memory, he 'd say something like you need, he told me, 32 sequences to make a film. So, even in a completely non-narrative film like Last of England, he'd work out he had to be shooting 32 sequences, because from that somewhere in his experience he knew that was enough to make a film of feature film length. So he had all of these rules that he'd worked out for himself, which were completely, not at odds, but nothing to do with the normal rules of film making, the normal rules of you know contemporary film-making. So he had his own system and that worked for him and that system didn't work so well, didn't work so well if you imposed the normal conventional rules of 70s and 80s film making on it. It stopped working, because it didn't cope with tea breaks and things like that, didn't cope with boom operators, didn't cope with that.
WHAT WAS DEREK JARMAN'S SET LIKE, WAS HE A TASKMASTER?
No, it was great fun, people wanted to be there, it was great fun. I remember when we were shooting bits of Angelic Conversation in the ICA, we'd meet at his flat in Charing Cross Road, all the people who had got to be in it, the crew was myself and Derek and maybe one other person, I'd do the lighting, he'd do the camera. We'd carry the props like a procession down Charing Cross Road and up the Mall, it was a great thing if I think about it, it was good. So he'd have all the props laid out, we'd have bought all the stuff the day before and Christopher Hobbs would have made things, so they'd all be taken down, the actors would help carry them, it was great fun. They enjoyed being there, they would all go out and have a pizza.
BLUE IS AN AMAZING FILM, HOW DID THAT IDEA COME ABOUT?
He'd had the idea… he was very much taken with Yves Kline's concept of the void and he was .... and I think also I think somewhere Derek identified with Kline cos Kline was the painter who had made a film and been ridiculed for it. Kline didn't make a film, but he featured in a film which was shown at Cannes and Kline you know lived in Nice, painted in Nice and he went to the festival to see his film about him and his work and in fact it was the film-makers had ridiculed him and he took it very badly and he died shortly afterwards. But there was something in that tragedy that Derek identified with and from… let's see, he first mentioned the Blue project to me in about 1987, I can't remember it before that but certainly from ‘87 he talked about it and over the years he tried various things, various ideas. So at one point it was a biography of Yves Kline, then it was a blue film with sequences of gold images throughout, but it wasn't until quite late on when he started to lose his sight that he actually found the nail to hang the project on. I remember at the time, it kind of actually gelled before that it was very much more abstract and at that point it stopped being abstract and became concrete. You know with projects it all fits into place and it fitted into place and from that point on it was a straight line. It's a hard one, you have to think, it's a bit like September 11th you have to think… pre-Blue right and if you go back to when he was planning it, it's a hard one to get your head round because even if you'd thought about it for a few years, I had, for it definitely to be, I remember the day we had the discussion and we said right is it going to be solid blue, or are there going to be images? And Derek made that decision. So he said no it's going to be solid blue and he didn't change his mind, promised he wouldn't change his mind again.
AT THAT POINT DID YOU HAVE ANY FUNDING?
No, we never had funding when we decided what films to make. Funding… how do you explain that to people – a blue project? But you knew roughly who's likely to maybe put money up, or listen to you. Then there are the long shots, so you get rid of the long shots first and you basically go up to people at various institutions, organisations and say we're going to make this film, it's going to be blue from start to finish, but you wouldn't be interested in that, no so you can tick them off the list, get it over and done with, there's no point in even having the discussion. And then the people that are potentially interested, then you have to start trying to convince them and there are lots of strategies for doing that, some of which are quite devious. You get to the point where, it's a very small budget, we're looking at I think less than £90,000, and you're looking at maybe six sources of funding, so you're looking at the same kind of contractual work that goes into average British £3m feature. So it's a kind of weird situation, but you get a small amount of money from various people and it's always the first person who puts money first, the first organisation who puts money on the table is the key one. In the case of Blue, it was the Arts Council, the Film and Video Dept, I think under David Curtis at that time came forward and offered £10,000 to the project and that made everybody else take it seriously. Until that point they were just thinking they're joking, they're never going to do this. From then on you've got some money on the table and then you can go and say we've got this money, we need this. A lot of people I thought would give us the money turned us down, I mean ZDF turned us down. I thought they wouldn’t... because they'd put money into Last of England and in fact it was their first money that started Last of England off and The Garden. And other things happened in different ways. But, yes… So, bit by bit over a three month four month period the £90,000 was assembled. And we were very fortunate, the last part of the money came from, money came in kind from Brian Eno, he gave us his recording studio and that finished the budget off.
YOU SAID IT WAS THE ONE FILM THAT DEREK FINALLY GOT THE CHANCE TO PUT HIMSELF IN OPENLY…
Honestly without having to create or disguise an alter ego, yes that's what he told me after we made the film.
THROUGHOUT ALL HIS LIFE'S WORK A LOT OF DEREK'S PRIVATE LIFE WAS MADE PUBLIC. WHY DO YOU THINK HE HAD THAT NEED TO TURN HIS PRIVATE LIFE INTO PUBLIC WORKS OF ART?
Ah, I've never asked myself that question before. Let's see.....
MORE THAN ANY OTHER FILM MAKER........
I suppose when I met Derek, he was quite a public person, he didn't have deep secrets, Derek, I mean if he was thinking something, or had something that was playing on his mind, we would discuss it openly and intelligently, so he was never a private withdrawn individual. So I assume that is how his films are as well, fairly open books, fairly open to... they're not cryptic. But I haven't really thought, it never occurred to me to actually delve in there.
WHAT WAS HIS FAVOURITE FILM, OUT OF ALL HIS FILMS?
Of his own… Angelic Conversation, definitely. It's kind of interesting, I can see why though, I can see why because it was very gentle and fairly direct as a film and it was a beautiful summer, he had a great time, I mean in the sense making a film over the period.... he liked shooting film. Derek, a lot of film-makers I've worked with, a lot of film-makers, some film-makers prefer the post production part of film-making, because then the nerves are over, and they are more in control, which is quite understandable, but Derek actually liked filming. That's why I think he liked super 8, cos also he was the cameraman and I know in some of his feature films, often early on when he made sort of 35 mm films, he would often stand in front of the camera by mistake, because that's where he saw the film from. So he liked the process of filming himself, he enjoyed it and with Angelic Conversation it took a couple of months, two and a half months of the summer and he had a good time. It was a very small... you know, five people involved mainly, myself, we had an assistant and two actors. That's it really and we had a few days when we had a few more people and we travelled around the South of England to places that... again Derek was a great lover of the English countryside and he knew a lot about it and he liked to read and study the history of the countryside and we went to places he'd been in his childhood like Dancing Ledge, we went to Dorset and we filmed and we went down to the sea to the cliffs and I said to him, so Derek this is Dancing Ledge and he said oh no, no this is Windspit and I said where is Dancing Ledge then? And he pointed to the end of the bay about a mile and a half away as it stuck out in the sea to the left and said there, over there, that's Windspit. And I said well when are we going there and he says we're not , I've never been there and I said well why did you call your book Dancing Ledge? And he said well I couldn't very well call it Windspit, could I?
WHAT WAS MORE IMPORTANT TO HIM, LIFE OR CELLULOID?
I think life… but I think there's life in his celluloid. It's not something that is predetermined and pasted down and remodelled. His films contain life. You know his feature films, they contain life that is happening, they contain real people I think.
WHAT MOTIVATED DEREK?
I don't know. A great love of life and a sense of fairness, you know that's what I think.
AND AS A FILM-MAKER?
A great love of life and a sense of fairness, that's what 's in his films, that's what seems to drive him. And he liked the big image, he liked... he was a painter and I think as an artist, forget the painter, artist, I mean film-maker, film is an art medium, it's not just a commercial medium, I mean it is also like an art form. If you're living in the 20th century, born in the time of film and you're an artist, cinema is part of art and because he was exposed to it ... he liked it anyway as a child, etc. because he was exposed to it early on and then he had the opportunity to work on films with people like Russell and he took that as a way forward. He then went on to develop his own personal, his own personal, what's the word, his own personal perspective, no, no, his own personal style no, his own personal.... vocabulary of film and he was a film- maker in the sense that even when he made super 8 films, in a small room transferred them to 35 mm, he never thought they were small. Derek said to me, James you've always got to think, this is from the first film, he said you're not making like a small image, it's got to fill that big screen, that big cinema screen and all his films were designed for big screen and so you go to the smallest super 8 films and in his mind he always saw it on a big screen, so it's pure cinema.
WHY ARE THERE NO DEREK JARMAN'S AROUND MAKING FILMS TODAY?
Well, I think something changed in the, I think something changed in the late 70s, early 80s that the ... maybe even slightly later than that maybe 82, the second term of the Thatcher government , when was that.....just after the Falklands. That government, there was a change in the nature of art schools, specifically in England, we're talking about England here, that they moved from being the existing model, which had served as a launching ground for everyone. So, the idea of art schools as being the place that people like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, not so much the Rolling Stones, the art schools as being the place where people like the Beatles or fashion designers, or all the kind of cultural, the modern cultural, things that Britain was famous for - a large part of that came out of the art schools. And in the second term of the Tory government under Thatcher, the art schools were made to be vocational, so they changed from being kind of three year four years of free form education into vocational training to be designers, or whatever, whatever, whatever and that's what killed British cinema, because if you look at all the… like Ken Russell and Derek, they're all, the majority of the creative ones are art school graduates.
YOU’VE STILL GOT JOHN MAYBURY…
.......We'll come to that in a minute, that's slightly different. What I'm saying is there's not very much of a young generation who have a more free form thinking. The younger generation of film-makers is now much more cowed to producing the kind of Wardour Sttreet product that the Film Council would like to see. And it's a terrible thing. The editor of probably our most distinguished film magazine said to me about a year ago, a year and a half ago, he said, James if Derek were around now, he wouldn't be making films for the cinema, that wouldn't be possible , he wouldn't get money for that, he'd be making films for galleries and I thought wow! That's really interesting. Derek would make films for galleries, yes, sure in a million years. I think the thing is it's not a... I think the reason that film-makers of that generation aren't making films is because they fail to group together to support themselves as film-makers and they've... because the idea... the main Thatcherist policy was divide and rule. They've remained divided and singularly they have no voice, they have very little voice, nobody really cares about one individual film-maker. In the late 70s the united voices of many of our film-makers created the Channel 4 subvention and created the 10% output of programme work which enabled film-makers like Derek to work in the 80s. Nowadays film-makers are scared. As one leading film-maker when asked to speak about the Film Council said why should I bite the hand that feeds. As one of our leading film-makers said I'm not going to… I’m not about to bite the hand that feeds. And I think that 's a feeling… either the people who are on the receiving end of government support are so excruciatingly grateful that they never say anything and the ones that are not being funded are so isolated that they have no voice, that's the tragedy of British cinema.
WILL THIS CONTINUE? OR WILL NEW ROLE MODELS COME ALONG?
Yes that 's right, I think there are models, hopefully there are models abroad, I mean there are models in Europe. There are really interesting film-makers in other parts of the world. I mean Iranian cinema is a revelation, I mean Abbas Kiarostami is one of the great masters of cinema. You've got the Dardenne brothers in Belgium. You've got Pedro Almodovar. I mean you've got really good film-makers internationally. Over the last 15 yrs you've had a really interesting independent film culture in the US, which was of course influenced by Britain, that 's how they created their independent film council, young film makers like Gus Van Sant who was influenced by people like Derek. And we haven't got that, we just don't have that here, but I think that film- makers at some point will be so… you know the energy will have to be released and surely those creative people exist. It's just at the moment they're being stifled by the British highly bureaucratic, incredibly bureaucratic funding system… I mean there’s 200 people work at the Film council: 100 consultants, 100 full time people, some of whom earn over £200,000 a year. Show me a film-maker who earns over £200,000 a year apart from Alan Parker. I mean it's just not realistic, not a realistic way to promote creativity, and ideas. And we've lost out to all the other nations, well not lost out, because they make great films and that's a fantastic thing, but we're not at the moment really doing an awful lot of good in England.
400Blows Productions, July 2003.