Andy Kimpton-Nye: WHEN AND WHERE DID YOU FIRST MEET DEREK JARMAN?
Tilda Swinton: I met him in such an orthodox and dull way. He was casting his film Caravaggio in 1985 and I went along to meet him.But we had various friends in common who'd been saying for a while that we should meet each other. And I remember meeting him in Phoenix House and he had a camera like this (points to mini DV camera), smaller than this a super 8 camera I think or was it a video? Itmight have been a video camera and he sort of opened the door and he had a camera and....that's how it was.
WHAT WAS HIS WAY OF CASTING LIKE IN COMPARIOSN TO OTHER DIRECTORS?
It was a meeting and as I say he had a camera so it was always going to be about a combination of his meeting you and also the camera's meeting with you, but we just got talking and I'm sure that's what all his castings sessions were like with everybody.He just wanted to know if you were going to have anything to say to each other.
WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF DEREK?
He was just so familiar to me. It felt like it was as if we'd just picked up some conversation that we'd left off.We just started chatting and we just went on.
DID YOU KNOW MUCH ABOUT HIS WORK BEFORE YOU MET HIM?
I knew something of his work, I'd seen The Tempest and I think that's all I'd seen, oh no I'd seen Jubilee, yeah I'd seen Jubilee. It felt like a place I wanted to be, you know, he felt like he was somebody I really should be around and wanted to work with.
HOW DID DEREK WORK AS A DIRECTOR?
You know it's really difficult for me that question, because I don't really
know how he worked as a director. I don't really have a sense of him
working as a director, I'm not even sure I've ever really worked with a
director. I wouldn't know how to compare him to anybody else. He
worked with all of us, everybody he worked with, his camera crew, his design
crew and his you know his sound crew and his performers, in exactly the same
way as he worked with his financiers… his bank manager.He just, he
brought us all together in order to make something and then we all just figured
it out.So that I'm sure is going to be very annoying for people to hear
cos they're going to think that it might be possible to be more precise but I
don't really know how to be more precise.He was a painter and he knew
how to work in a solitary way… He was
first and foremost a painter. I've often thought and I think I even said this to him and he agreed that the reason he wanted to make films was for the company, that there was something in him that was so gregarious and so valued the chat and the conversation and the way of building things together, whether it's a party or whether it's a film or whether it's a happening of any kind. He loved being in a group just as he also loved being solitary and..... when he chose to make a film, he chose a group to drum something up with and it so happened that he made a group, certainly even before I met him, he had made relationships with those individuals that had become a kind of roving group and then Simon Fisher Turner and I and various other people joined in , Sandy Powell came in and out of this we went on in that group. But the group was what he was interested in and as such he was interested in what everyone could contribute. So it was just one big chat really.
WHAT WAS A DEREK JARMAN SET LIKE?
Well again I'm going to give you a really tricky answer which is… well first of all there were many different ways of making a Derek Jarman film.Firstly we made, certainly when I was working with him, we made 2 different kinds, there was Derek Jarman red label and Derek Jarman light, or whatever… However, depending on who you are you would decide that one was one and the other was the other.There was Derek Jarman working with 35 mm which means one thing… I mean if your 35 mm films cost a lot to make because of film stock and because of light and because of the fact that your crew has to be unionised and time is of the essence you have to be much more organised.You generally have to have a script, not always but generally you do, and you generally need money up front which means you need financiers and you need some kind of approval and you need a schedule and that's one way of working.To all intents and purposes that's a much more orthodox way of working and Derek could work that way and we did work that way.We made Caravaggio that way. He made the Tempest that way and he made The War Requiem that way, even though there wasn't actually a scriptfor that as such, and Edward II and Wittgenstein, etc
But then there were these other more experimental films like The Last of England, which was really the first, although he had already made Angelic Conversation by then, which were shot using super 8.And the freedom super 8 gave him and all of us was so phenomenal because it meant not only a sort of conceptual freedom, an artistic freedom but it also meant a practical freedom. For example, upfront, we didn't need to raise any money, we didn't need to ask anyone's permission to make the Last of England or The Garden. We just went out and shot because it cost nothing to shoot an endless home movie with a super 8 camera. And then at the end of a year of collating material just as anybody else collates home movie material, we would look at the material and we would say, oh there's that and there's that and there's that and it was like collating an anthology of poetry really. And then we'd say we could put that there and that there if we shot a scene that went like this… And then we had a little structured shoot for about four or five days as we did with The Last of England and again with The Garden, which became the sort of tent poles for the rest of the material.But those were two completely different ways of working.
WAS THERE ANY SCRIPT OR DOMINANT SINGLE IDEA UNDERPINNING THE LAST OF ENGLAND?
What was so wonderful was that there wasn't.I think there was more of an idea with The Garden. As far as I can remember, there was more of an idea with the Garden because by then Derek really wanted to make a film around and about his garden and his experience of living in Dungeness and also being ill. And you can read the diaries and see how it went on. But The Last of England was really a phenomenal experience in terms of it just led us by the nose and I think every stage of its formation had a very new idea. As I say we didn't even know for certain what we were doing. To start off with we'd made an experiment with a short segment of a film called Aria, which was a serious of short films illustrating operatic arias. We knew having made this experiment of blowing super 8 up to 35 mm, that it was something worth doing and that it could be doneand that it might give us a certain freedom and so we just went with it and it unfolded.
And then of course the editing process was similarly fresh
and new. Again,completely unthought through.I think we decided as I
described earlier, we decided we wanted, when we were looking at the tent pole
scenes that we wanted… we decided that we wanted a scene of a Royal wedding and
Sandy Powell made this dress and made these two bridesmaid dresses in the
course of an afternoon I think and we went to this abandoned warehouse in Docklands
and we knew we were going to make some kind of Royal wedding.This is of
course before Simon Turner had put on that sound track which actually is about
Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson's wedding, but that was our reference.
And so there I was in a wedding dress and I remember at the end of the day we
had half an hour to go and I remember Derek just saying ok Tilda we're just
going to shoot you and I think there was… there was him and John Maybury and
maybe Cerith Wyn Evans as well and a number of other people with super 8
cameras and they just shot me and I don't know, I just started to spin.
And then there were a fantastic pair of shears which he'd found in some rummage
somewhere and he just handed them to me and there was only one thing to do with
a pair of shears and a wedding dress in my view.
I think there's something raw there and maybe it's to do with everybody, myself included, the fire included and of course all the people who are framing the image, thinking all the time because there is no plan they're realising. They're just thinking on their toes, trying to feel the spontaneityin every single moment. Nobody is quite clear what they're doing and I think for my money, that's a really exciting thing to watch - reality tv (she laughs).
UNLIKE MOST OF DEREK’S FILMS, CARAVAGGIO TOOK A LONG TIME TO FUND AND MAKE , DID IT AFFECT THE MOOD ON SET?
Well, I came on board right at the very end, but I was aware, as we all were,
that Derek had been working on it for years.I've worked on a few films now
that have been a film makers sort of lifelong task and there's always the same
feeling on set on those films which is sort of abandoned because the film maker
is so thrilled most importantly to be working with company at last because
those great lifelong tasks are usually so lonely for whatever, 5 years, or 11
years. I think it was 11 years with Caravaggio, that Derek was working on it.
It was at least a decade.And it's lonely that decade, so it's so
wonderful for a film-maker to actually have the group, being able to
offload certain responsibilities and everybody else investing energy, so
there 's a wonderful atmosphere. And I do remember that, it was my first film,
and it was my first experience of that ... coming together and I do remember
that very well and I
remember it was.... there were a lot of people working on that film for whom it was
their first film, our first film and that was such a wonderful atmosphere. Sandy Powell, I think it was her first film, it was Gabriel Beristain’s first film as DOP, it was Simon Turner's first film, Spencer Lee - all sorts of people, and yeah, it was quite a hit.
CARAVAGGIO ENDS UP BEING SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF THE CHILD MICHAELANGLEO, WITTGENSTEIN IS IN PART SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF THE CHILD LUDWIG, WHY DID HE SOMETIMES HAVE CHILDREN WITNESSING THE STORY?
Well you'd have to ask him, or you'd have to make up your own mind. but if you're asking me… I think it's not an unusual enquiry for an artist to try and recapture a child-like view and it's not an unusual view for an artist to have himself.Derek did have a very.... in his enthusiasm for adventure he was genuinely child-like and he never lost that.He was never disillusioned or very rarely dispirited and at a certain level really, at a certain level he cared very much about what other people thought - mainly because he liked to annoy people, but mainly I would say that he really did feel other people's opinions in a genuinely innocent way. So I don't know, maybe he felt that his blick as the Germans would say, his view was best expressed through the image of a child but I don't know.....
THIS VIEW, WAS IT EVER DISCUSSED IT WITH YOU?
No I think it was just an assumption. It was something one just got really used to and it made a lot of sense, so I never questioned it. It felt absolutely consequent that Derek should have a, that there should be a child's view,there's pretty much always a child's view there.
THERE ARE LOT OF ENCLOSED SPACES IN HIS FILMS CREATING A SENSE OF FEELING TRAPPED. I THINK OF THE TEMPEST, EDWARD II… WAS HE GIVING VOICE TO A SENSE OF FEELING TRAPPED?
You can see whatever you like, it's all up for grabs.Maybe so, if that's what you see. You can also say by the way that he did have in those films that you're talking about, which were generally the 35 mm films, generally films that had scripts, there was a sort of dramatic if not theatrical, maybe theatrical, but certainly a kind of dramaticcentre to a lot of those films, literally in the sense that he adapted The Tempest and he adapted Edward II and he ...there was something relatively theatrical about the whole Caravaggio world.There was the stage on which the models stood etc. I think that what you suggest might be claustrophobic, or what did you say trapped? I could also say it was theatrical or heightened drama, I don't know. Maybe….
I ASK ABOUT FEELING TRAPPED BECAUSE DEREK’S SISTER, GAYE, THOUGHT HIS IMAGINATION WAS TRYING TO FLY OVER THE BARBED WIRE FENCES HE EXPERIENCED AS A FORCES’ CHILD.
Let's say, maybe… Because one of the things that Derek and Gaye and I share is that we were all army children, or airforce children.I also grew up in army camps and that barbed wire you see makes a great, a greater impression on the people who weren't brought up enclosed by it, but for those of us who were it's just home. It's what we know, so I'm not necessarily about this... I'd forgotten about the barbed wire.
BUT HE DID HAVE THE MOST BRILLIANT IMAGINATION AS A FILM-MAKER AND I’M JUST TRYING TO WORK OUT WHAT HELPED SHAPE IT.
Well to stop being flippant for a moment. I understand your projection, but your point about entrapment, I could say that Derek, all artists in my view… Well, first very few artists come out of the families of artists. Then, most artists have to become exiles of some kind.Most artists, and I think that Derek, both because he was an artist and because he was gay, was you know leaving behind the world as he grew up and as he made his own life.He had a kind of double exile if you like, when he looked back at his home environment. I think he was very interested in how the individual survives any environment and the loneliness that any kind of enclosed environment can instil.Yeah, that was I suppose you could say a theme for him, it was a very natural theme.
One of his favourite films was, I've got a mental blank now, that Bresson film set in the prison... It's not pickpocket , he loved pickpocket, but no the love story in the prison...
Listen, army camps, boarding school, burgeoning
homosexuality you know all this fed into his imagination.
The only thing I'd suggest to you is that it's not a particularly rare theme for an artist.It's one of the artist's great themes, how the spirit, the lonely spirit relates to its environment and how it finds company....
IT APPEARS THAT DEREK WAS ALWAYS THE CENTRE OF ATTENTION WHEN THERE WAS A GROUP, AND HE LOVED TO TALK ABOUT EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING. WHY DID HE NEED TO HOLD COURT LIKE THIS?
Why did he need to...? He liked it, he liked it, he just loved a lot of
attention, you know, he was... As I've said before many times Derek needed no
muse but himself. He was his own best advertisement, he had an extraordinary
charisma. He was a drama queen and he was so delightful with it unlike
some. He was so infectiously delightful. I always think of that
Huckleberry Finn story when I think of Derek, you know that thing about
Huckleberry needing to get a fence painted and he just sits down and does one
post and makes it look like such good fun that everyone comes and joins in and
does it all in 5 minutes.That's Derek, that's how he got it done. He
just looked like he was having such a good time that it just caught on.
But not only that, when I say Derek made films for the company, and this is something that I think is really important to understand, it wasn't just for the
company of the other film makers, us he worked with, but also with his audience.I
think that's really important and I include the audience for this programme
and the audience for his work and his films and his writing and his painting and
everything he ever did.His connection with the audience was so inspired and
he worked out I think, whether consciously or unconsciously, at a certain point, coming out of the 70s I think, that his way to keep the party going was to make work for an audience.And anyone who ever sat in an audience with Derek, hearing him talk or introducing a film or even who saw him interviewed on television will testify to his real desire and ability to communicate with a group of people, so it's not just the film he gives us, it's... as I say, the chat afterwards, all of this he loved it.And I understand why, because incidentally, I love it in the same way, it's really the point of the work.You make the film in order to get the audience at the film festival.That's the way it's always occurred to me and that was a thing I saw in Derek also.You make the work in order to make the company rather than the other way round.And I
think that's a really important thing to understand about him, which doesn't devalue the work. The work is just as important of course, it's a different thing but the relationship with the audience was pretty much paramount and you can see that, I think, in terms of the way in which his life eventually just before he died, after he became ill, he became a political activist more than anything else.And he was too ill at that stage to make films, but he went on making work, his work being the communication with… now I'm not even going to call it an audience any more, just his communication with people.And as a gay artist and a gay activist, he was always so concerned about… he always used to talk about what it was like, or what it would be like, because it wasn't necessarily his experience, but he always used to think what it would be like to be 15 growing up on the Isle of Man knowing that you're gay and if you could just read somewhere, or if you could just see in a film programme that there might be a film… or if you could just see on the television an openly gay artist
talking, then you'd have company and then it would all work somehow and you'd
probably come to London and look up Derek Jarman. That's what I'm saying… that was really his work more than anything else I would say, but it's hard to kind of catch hold of for people who are assessing a painting here or a film there.But that's what his work was.
WAS HE MORE OF AN ARTIST THAN A FILM MAKER THEN?
He was an artist, there's no doubt, yeah. he was a film maker, a film maker... being a film maker was a kind of tributary. He was a painter as well, he was a writer as well, he was a performer, he really was. He was an artist though, and he made his life, all of his life… you know that house he made in Dungeness, I remember when we found that cottage, we went down, his father had died and left him some money and he and I went down to shoot in a bluebell wood… there's a scene in the garden which we shot that day. And he said let's keep going, I knew there was a bluebell wood where I used to go to school in Kent and he said do you know anywhere where there's a bluebell wood and I said I remember one... And we went down and of course it was a building site.And then we went on a little further down into Kent and we found a bluebell wood and we shot, and then he said let's keep going, let's go on down to Dungeness.I want to go down, and he had a friend who had a house down there and he had a mind to find a cottage there.And then we found this cottage, Prospect cottage, and it had a for sale sign and we went and knocked on the door and this really nice lady let us in and it was very organised and orderly and pink and he decided there and then to have it and made it into a tardis, a kind of uber tardis really, and the garden of course. If that's not a piece of work, I don't know what is.
HOW IMPORTANT WAS PROSPECT COTTAGE TO DEREK IN HIS LIFE WHEN HE FOUND IT? IT CAME AT A TIME WHEN HIS FATHER HAD JUST DIED, DEREK WAS DIAGNOSED HIV+ AND THERE WAS A BROADER AIDS PANIC GOING ON IN THE COUNTRY….
Absolutely, I think that's more than fair to say, I think that's true.In
fact, I'd go further and say that when Derek discovered he was ill, at that
time when so many of his friends were already very ill or had died and there
really was a plague feeling.There were all sort of very frightening laws
being either passed, or talked about and there was a very strange air of
persecution around. When he found out he was ill, I'd go so far as to say,
devastating on one level thoughit was, I think as an artist, he was
elated.I challenge anybody, well he's not here... but I think he's
nodding.I remember this feeling of, well also it was, it was a fantastic
task, this illness, it was like a task and this death was a real piece of
work.And he took it on and he made it into something, just created a
thing out of it.I remember it was hilarious very often, I think we got
about 4 films made off the back of being Derek's last film.You know it
was like... talk about spin.
He was certainly motivated by it.It brought him in very close company with his best subject, which was a kind of mortal, mortal subject.How to be, and how to be around was always his subject, and then how to be a part of it and then how to leave.So it just brought him in contact with that subject, and then it also brought him in contact with a whole environment of other people.And it inspired him as a political animal as well.But Dungeness was very important to him.I mean I think it's possible that even if he ... I mean it's ridiculous to speak in hypothetical terms, but if he hadn't been ill, I think he still would have got Prospect cottage and it still would have meant an enormous amount to him.What it provided him with was, what I refer to in my own life as a kind of integrated schizophrenia, you know the ability to live in many different ways, principally in two different ways.Because he didn't only live in Prospect cottage, he also lived at Phoenix House in London and he kept this going, this double existence, as I described earlier, you know his double existence as a painter and as a film maker and as a solitary being and as a social being. That balance brought him such peace and Prospect cottage was a place of real reflection and calm for him. Even though we all used to bowl down there and used to make a ‘hoolley’ occasionally, but generally speaking when he was there, he was either by himself or he was with one other, sometimes two or three of us andwe were all being quiet.And he was gardening and he was writing and he was going down to the shore and picking up flotsam and jetsam and he was going to buy plants and learning how to cook strange things and just you know being... yeah, being.
But it was also to do with being private and being… I don't mean in terms of any kind of fame, although latterly, of course, that became important too, because he did become more known and his pull to frankly be in service… now maybe this is a thing that service children have, you know the desire to serve his community, it was really strong in him and that was why he was a political artist and political activist.It was very difficult for him eventually when he was ill and he was, his strength was erratic, let's say.It was very important to prise him away from that occasionally, or for him to prise himself away and to go and be still and not to have to stand up in front of people or speak to a journalist or whatever, much as he loved to do that. There's a point when you run out of steam.
HE SEEMED LIKE A VERY ADULT CHILD, ‘AHEAD OF HIS YEARS’ - WHEN I THINK OF HIM READING HORTICULTURAL BOOKS AT THE AGE OF 5 OR 6 AND GAYE SAID HE USED TO BUILD SANDCASTLES THAT WERE ARCHITECTURAL WORKS OF ART. HOW MUCH DID HE TELL YOU OF HIS CHILDHOOD?
One thing I remember is how much he used to love travelling in Italy, I remember going to Italy with him several times.And whenever we were there he would talk about having been there as a child and it was very sort of embedded in him.
I don't know, you know he was always talking about his childhood.It's very difficult to be asked about a friendship because it's not like you're recording things in order to regurgitate them 10 yrs later or whatever. To be honest so I just... He valued his childhood very highly, I know that.He did refer back to it and I think like most people maybe there's a time when you want to go back and reclaim and re-explore and really realise the things you started as a child, so maybe that thing that Gaye told you about him making a fantastic sandcastle… and then he goes and designs Ken Russell's The Devils you know…
HOW IMPORTANT WAS KEN RUSSELL TO DEREK AS A FILM-MAKER?
Very important, I think. I think he was.I can't tell you about
their first meetings because I wasn't around, but by the time I knew Derek he
was always talking about Ken with real reverence and affection of course.
But I think the thing that Ken inspired in himwas this… just persistence
and irreverent decision to just do it and just make your universe what it
had to be as a film-maker and at the time in the 80s. Ken Russell was
incredibly prolific, he was making a film pretty much every year, it felt,
maybe that's not true but it felt like it. I mean he was very much making
things constantly and I think Derek was very inspired by that and of course his
love of music.
And he's such fun, Ken Russell. He's such fun and I know that Derek was very fond of him and Shirley and their children.I think, to a certain extent, he thought of them as a model family, they were making work and having a life at the same time.
DID HE EVER MENTION ANY OTHER FILM MAKERS WHO INFLUENCED HIM?
Oh so many, so many.Obviously Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and Pasolini.I would say preminently Michael Powell and Pasolini....and you know he was very honest and open about his reverence for those film makers.He would quote them endlessly.I mean in his films he would quote them, he would talk about them but he would also go right into a kind of crib.
IN WITTGENSTEIN I HEARD TELL THAT HE USED AN UMBRELLA THAT WAS A PROP HE GOT FROM A FELLINI FILM. DID YOU KNOW ABOUT THAT?
I didn't know that... I wouldn't put it past him... Which film would it be? I guess it could be any.I didn't know that though. It would have been just like him. He loved Fellini as well. He did love Fellini.
WHY WAS SUPER 8 SO IMPORTANT TO DEREK?
I think because as a painter, it did two things. It gave him the ability to work alone and just the freedom to make the work. And secondly, as importantly, the effect of blowing up super 8 to 35mm, as anybody who has seen it will know, is a very painterly one. It is somehow about colour and to a certain extent it feels like it's about pigment too. It has a kind of thumbprint on it and I think also the way in which you can work with time, slow it down and he liked the stillness of it as well. He liked the fact that he could then make silent films. We always used to joke that film had gone downhill since people started talking in it. I think to a certain extent we rather believed it. I think I might still believe it. Well when you look at those silent films that he made, or you look at sections of The Last of England or .... You know he had a way of just filming a fire… You know that amazing scene when Jordan is dancing around a fire… I don't know you can play join the dots with all these themes, but there is something about the way in which he films a fire. One of my favourite shots, or moments in any Derek Jarman film is a moment just before the whole wedding sequence at the end of The Last of England when there is a shot of a puddle and the rain just beginning to drip into it... It's just beyond poetry… And then of course you have Simon's soundtrack with this storm coming... I don't know, it feels beyond any words really.
WHAT WAS THE IMPORTANCE OF HIS FAMILY HOME MOVIES TO HIM?
Because he was an artist…What I mean by that is he needed to make, his
needed to come out of his own DNA and your own home movies are to a certain
extent, especially if you're working in film, you know, certainly one way of trying to tap that.The images of himself, the images of his childhood, the images of the garden of childhood were very often the substance of those home movies that his father shot:roses, his mother, and roses and him.The other thing, it's hard for audiences now to remember, or to know even if they weren't there then,when Derek started to make those films using his home movie footage, you know in the 80s, well people
weren't…you know everybody didn't have a digital camera and
shoot every single frame of their babies eating with spoons or whatever.
It wasn't a thing that people necessarily did.But there was super 8
footage from a previous generation, so it had this kind of lost Elysium feel to
it, all of that footage.I think it does for all of us.I know that
I... my parents had footage that feels the same and I think that anybody
who hears me saying this, whose parents have stuff of their childhood, will feel the same. Unless you're the Friedmans in Capturing the Friedmans,you don't generally have being beaten up filmed, you have beautiful picnics on the beach.
DID HE HAVE MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT THIS FOOTAGE, AS THEY’RE QUITE CONSERVATIVE IMAGES, COSY MIDDLE-CLASS FAMILY IMAGES OF CHILDHOOD, AND THINGS THAT DEREK KICKED AGAINST OR CHALLENGED?
I don't think he ever kicked against as you say, his childhood. I think that he was genuinely fond of the memories of his childhood.Having said that of course, in terms of the making of the work, he did put bombers over the soundtrack of himself kind of toddling up and smiling into the camera, aged a year or whatever.He wasn't beyond that kind of cheek, but I don't think, really personally, he was at odds with his own childhood.He was at odds definitely with the assumptions of the establishment, which said that this was the only way ever to live, that there was a... that the only way for human beings to grow up and exist was to procreate and live two by two. And that, of course, was something that irritated him and the whole concept of normality, which was really sold, particularly in the 80s, very hard, you know. And the idea of perversion and clause 28 and all of that, was very much... it riled us all, but I don't think he ever had any argument with his own childhood. I think his memories of his own childhood were really quite blissful.I remember going to Italy with him, I went many times to Italy with him and he would always end up having some revelry about having been there as a child and the smell of mimosa which was this divine memory and his idea of himself having been a Mediterranean child was very dear to him.I think he had this sense because he'd spent time there, it was a strand of his identity, that he had the sun in him.
IT JUST STRUCK ME THAT THOSE HOME MOVIE IMAGES ARE QUITE CONSERVATISM WITH A SMALL C AND SOMETHING DEREK CLASHED WITH LATER IN HIS LIFE…
One of the reasons why I do believe that he is an artist is because he was interested in, and apprised of, the complex view. He wasn't dogmatic, he was interested in difficulty and the complexity. You know, you don't need to throw the baby out with the bath water just because you're not heterosexual and you're not going to have a girl and a boy and live in a suburban house doesn't mean you don't love the memories of your childhood brought up in that kind of environment.You don't have to hate something in order to love something else.And that's also the core of his nature, he was a very generous and a very loving person.At the same time, he could get on a very high horse and try it on, but deep down... He used to try on the posture of a fight very often, but to be honest with you, I don'treally believe that he was interested in fighting.He was very peaceable, Derek, a mischief maker, but really when push came to shove, he'd much rather have a cup of tea and be friends, really. He used to love stirring it up. I remember once there was some very public debate that he had in the paper, somebody had done or said something that had annoyed him and he started to write letters to the newspapers about it, and the person was apparently very upset, and I remember him saying, whether he said it directly to the person or whether he said it to me, I remember him saying, he shouldn't get upset, this isn't personal, this is a debate.
WAS IT ALEXANDER WALKER?
It wasn't Alexander Walker, it was someone else. And I realised then he actually liked the guy, he would like to meet him, he just wanted to have a debate.
RON PECK SAID TO ME, DEREK’S NOT A POLITICAL FILM MAKER, IS THAT FAIR?
I agree with Ron, I don't think he was a political film-maker, I think eventually he became a political activist, but that was a separate thing. In fact, if anything, I think that the politics in his films is one of the least well expressed kind of areas of the work, and very often feels at odds with the poetry, which always to me feels more fluid and more natural to him as an artist.
IN WITTGENSTEIN IT STRIKES ME THAT APART FROM LUDWIG AND THE BOY LUDWIG, EVERY OTHER CHARACTER IS CARTOON-LIKE. IS THAT WHAT DEREK INTENDED?
Yeah, I would imagine so.I have to tell you that I haven't seen Wittgenstein for so long, you can't ask me very many questions about it, cos I really can't remember much about it.But yeah, the colour palate will help you in that view and that was very deliberate, very prescribed.You know the whole schema, so yeah it was kind of technicolour, technicolour Tom and Jerry version!! There's very little shadow anywhere else other than in Wittgenstein himself, he's where the shadow lies.
JAMES MACKAY SAID DEREK TOLD HIM THAT ALL DEREK'S FILMS WERE ABOUT DEREK. WOULD YOU AGREE WITH THAT?
I absolutely agree with that and that's what I meant to say earlier when we were talking about the inclusion of his childhood footage. That's his own DNA.He's telling his own story over and over again, maybe another aspect of it, but Caravaggio and Edward II and the Soldier and War Requiem and Wittgenstein and Christ....you know, yeah. Top marks for modesty!! Well, I mean it's his projection also, his projection onto himself that he was the material of his own work and I would suggest that that's true of any artist. That's the deal. That's the curious bit. I think that's true of any artist, yeah, that's the deal.I think what's tricky is that there aren't many artists working as film-makers. And the thing about Derek that's really interesting is that he managed to come from a constituency of film-making which is a fine art constituency, generally speaking underground and certainly experimental, and he managed to crossover… I would suggest by two means, first of all by themeans of working with 35 mm - and early on - and secondly by the force of his own personality and his sense of himself as a performer actually, he crossed over as they say into somewhere else.And there will be people who have seen the 35 mm films who have absolutely no concept of his other life as an experimental pioneer with super 8.And of course there are all sorts of people in that constituency who wouldn't recognise the 35 mm films as interesting whatever. I think that's a unique factor of Derek's trajectory that he managed to, to use a disgusting word that I don't like to use, he managed to straddle, he managed to straddle the two worlds even to the end. You know he went back and made Blue and was always documenting and making work in a new way.
IF HE WERE STILL WITH US, WHAT SORT OF FORMAT WOULD HE BE WORKING ON NOW, DIGITAL?
It's a banal and hypothetical question, what would he be doing now, would he be working with digital or what. I don't know, but he was always interested in looking, trying to work with it, with the material, with the technology and trying to make something new out of it, like some new box of paints or new substance.
WAS HE DESTINED TO MAKE BLUE, NOT JUST BECAUSE OF HIS DESPERATELY POOR HEALTH, BUT BECAUSE IT’S THE PERFECT FILM TO END WITH - AS A CHALLENGE TO THE PANDEMONIUM OF THE IMAGE SOMETHING HE MENTIONS IN THE FILM?
I don't like to think of it as a perfect end, because I don't like to
think of there being an end to his work… but maybe. I mean it's possible
that he would have made it if he hadn't been ill. I think it's possible
that his great respect for Yves Kline might have made him make Blue anyway and
it just wouldn't have been about blindness. It just would have been about
something else, so yeah, I think it's perfectly possible that Blue would have
existed if Derek had not lost his sight. It wasn't primarily to do with
that I don't think. Yes and it is certainly...you know you can see the way in
which the Last of England, which I have to confess, is still my favourite Derek
Jarman film. Objectively it'smy favourite film, because of what it
does to one. How it… churns
one's own projections.It begins that whole process in such an extraordinary way, and such a provocative way I think.So yeah you end up with a plain blue screen, but you start off with all those images in The Last of England, that sort of started very early on in his work, started off earlier of course, with Angelic conversation and Imagining October.
Those images of Moscow, you know... He was interested in his audience's thoughts.I always remember being at the New York Film Festival with The Last of England and a young man coming up to me afterwards and telling me how fantastic the story was and then regaled me and someone I was with this long story about how, I can't even remember it now, it was very convoluted about how I was the last woman in England and Spencer Lee was looking for me everywhere. I can't remember exactly, but anyway… and then at the end he said to me, that's right isn't it?And I gave what I considered was the only possible answer, which was yeah and off he went and the person I was with said, how could you say that, it's not true… and it seemed to me that it was just as true as anything else. That was the wonderful thing, that is the wonderful thing about those films, you make it up yourself, you project what you want to and that's what art is, it's like a mirror, it doesn't happen until you stand in front of it. Auto cinema!!
IN HIS DIARIES HE SAID, IF I HADN'T STRUGGLED FOR MY SEXUALITY AND RESPECT, I'D HAVE BEEN AN AVERAGE FILM MAKER. DO YOU THINK THAT’S TRUE?
I don't know, that's very interesting, maybe.If he says it then it must be true. I mean that's also what I suggest when I say that his illness and his… the question of his mortality, on top of the question of his sexuality, was his material and yeah the material for most of his working life was the question of his sexuality and then eventually the question of his existential position.
IS HIS REPRESENTATION OF HOMOSEXUALITY A ROMANTIC ONE?
Derek was definitely given to a romantic... he was a romantic, as well as many
other things.He was interested in romantic poetry and he was a romantic. He
had a romantic nature and yeah I think that's a very important part of his essence that he was romantic.He was romantic about everything including love, he was interested in love, really interested in love, interested in other things too, like sex, but he was also interested in love. Again, you know he was interested in perception. It's like we were saying about the vision of a two year old child toddling towards the camera in a garden, then you put bombers over it, it's all about perception.Bombers being over it doesn't make the roses any less red, it's all still there, as I say complexity.
HE TERMED HIS CINEMA THE CINEMA OF ‘LESS IS MORE’ WHICH WAS A CHALLENGE TO THE BUREAUCARCY OF THE FILM WORLD BUT ALSO HIS AESTHETIC SEEMS TO COME OUT OF IT. DO YOU THINK THAT’S TRUE?
Well I think a number of things. I think that's fighting talk and I think fighting talk is great because you know what, what's the alternative, you either do, or you don't do, and he had... There was very little money for him to make films and he... Necessity is the mother of invention, he did it. I think in my experience there is never enough money to make a film and there's always going to be too little.What people who make films for many, many millions of pounds don't realise is that they could probably do as well or better with less, but what people with very, very little money, who moan about it, don't realise is that they might have many millions to make their film with and they would still have too little to do what they want. I mean it's just... money is time apart from anything else.
Again that was one of the liberating things about working with super 8, cos time was not an issue. Less is more. I don't know, I mean the thing that I think about that is that is also an historical statement. It's tricky to say that now, although you know, we're in a very strange period now with funding for films certainly in this country. I never really believed that I'd be nostalgic for the 80s, but I have to say that there have been moments recently when I have been, because the thing about making films in the 80s was that there was a way of making films… Derek Jarman, Sally Potter, Peter Greenaway, Terence Davies, Ron Peck were able to make films in a particular way in this country with very little money, with very little scrutiny, with the freedom to go on and make a second, a third, or a fourth film in a way in which film makers don't necessarily feel able to now because they have to make a profit immediately.So to say less is more now means something different. To say less is more then meant something particular and it meant freedom and it meant, also, that the benign patronage of the British Film Institute under Peter Sainsbury, who believed in being able to see an artist through 3 or 4 films, so a film maker would only ever get £200,000 to make a film.That's what it means, it means making a purse out of a sow's ear.
DID THIS SHAPE HIS AESTHETIC DO YOU THINK?
That's always the case with every film maker, a low budget is almost always a
release, it's a headache, but it's a release eventually because it means that everybody has to get together and work out a practical solution and has to be ten times more inventive than they would otherwise have had to be. And then of course, you can easily justify what you did afterwards. It's a game and it's smoke and mirrors and you can operate within it. If you have the option of having a perfect real hair wig then you don't go for something it, you just make a different choice. Otherwise then you start dealing with realism, which is always a little dull.
WHAT WOULD DEREK HAVE DONE WITH A MASSIVE BUDGET?
He would have used it up and… made it interesting… and yeah, I think he probably would have got used to it. But the problem with a big budget is the more money you have, the more memos you have, the more people you have breathing down your neck and that would not have suited him, there's no doubt about that.That wouldn't have suited him at all, so possibly on that level it wouldn't have worked at all. But if it had just been free, gratis, a lump of money at the bottom of the garden, he would have made it work, he just would have used it up.
WHY DOES IT APPEAR TO BE THAT THERE ARE NO NEW, YOUNG DEREK JARMAN'S IN OUR CINEMAS TODAY?
How long have we got!!! It's beyond funding, it's a cultural question, it's
about… and eventually I think it's a political question, because it's about the
political will in the
funding structures to enable a sensibility to exist and to be effective and to be not particularly profit making and to be a community and there is not only, I would suggest, no political will at the moment, or at least it has to shout a little louder if it wants to be heard. There are efforts being made now to actually beard people about this and to try and ... raise up, or instil political will for exactly this - you know the capacity of the cultural film to exist in this country now.
It's tricky, it does feel like a lot longer ago than it should when he was in the cinema, it feels like that time… there was a kind of trap door that just went sshhtttkkkk and everybody just vanished and I think that's too neat… it's been done too neatly for me not to be suspicious.I mean it just feels a little strange.Honestly I believe that for that kind of film culture to exist… you can't really have a film industry.A film industry, or a film culture, in this country can only exist as an off shoot of a successful, and profit making, and vibrant television industry, because that is what's always existed in this country - was a really viable and internationally profit making television industry. And the television industry in this country has been systematically dismantled. And as a result there is the desire to have a British film industry making the kinds of films that actually are probably, in my view, better placed on television, and sold through television, and still needing to make a profit. And you can't ask a British film industry in this country to make a profit because the audience is just too small. Is that the kind of answer you wanted?
There are film-makersin every cafe and behind every checkout in this country as there are in every country and in every university and in every bank there are film makers and artists. And the question is where is the culture to allow them work and to support them to do the work they need to do.And there was that place during the 80s and again we used to complain about it… it didn't feel very wide, but it did exist in a way that it simply doesn't now... There are people making cinema which is not the cinema that the market necessarily recognises as cinema, but there are film makers making films in this country in a constituency which is extraordinarily vibrant, but it's not recognised by the market, it's not recognised by.... You know another way of answering your question, where are the Derek Jarmans, where are the films now, is where are literally the Derek Jarman films in our cinemas? There is a whole generation of people watching this programme who will never have heard of Derek Jarman and just the kind of people who would love his films.And where are they. They have only recently started to be talked about being released on DVD… very, very rare on video and very seldom in cinemas and that's a question for distribution networks. You know, where are independent distributors? How is it going to be possible for independent distributors to feel powerful enough to distribute this kind of work in the future and to educate the film audience?
400Blows Productions, September 2003.