DVD Review: Derek

29 Mar

My only encounter with the work of the late painter, author, gay militant, AIDS activist and, above all, filmmaker Derek Jarman took place in 1993 with the premiere of his twelfth and final film, Blue, in the UK.

In an unprecedented event, Channel 4 and BBC Radio 3 collaborated on a simultaneous broadcast of the film so that viewers could enjoy it in stereo, and I recall watching it on my portable telly, at least until I (probably) lost patience with the static blue screen – it was 16 years ago and my memory doesn’t quite recall my thoughts at the time.

2008’s Derek is a tribute to Derek Jarman from artist filmmaker Isaac Julien which utilises footage from a 1991 Jarman interview and intersperses it with behind-the-scenes clips from the sets of his films.

The film also includes a cinematic love letter from Jarman’s muse, Tilda Swinton, who featured in many of his films and who clearly still feels a huge loss from the death of “Del”.

Julien creates a fascinating look at both Jarman and the society in which he grew up in, the artist’s own words forming a strong basis for the story of his life. The amount of footage that exists from Jarman’s life is astonishing, many of his personal Super-8 films making their way into the final cut.

The main interview, which features Jarman talking candidly about his life, looks as if it was shot yesterday. Subsequent clips of Jarman deteriorating as AIDS takes hold, leading to his death in 1994, are profoundly sad, their power compounded by the heartfelt words of Swinton who points out the huge gap in the British media that now exists.

Derek works as both an introduction to Jarman’s work and a tribute to the man, and, after watching and listening to the subject pontificate on his life and his art, it’s hard not to agree with Swinton’s view that we’ve lost someone very unique who offered so much to our culture for too short a period of time.

DVD Special features

While the main feature itself will be the reason for most people buying it, those wavering and wondering if they can catch it on TV sometime will surely give in when they see the frankly amazing special features that have been gathered together for Disc 2.

The extended Jarman interview could almost justify its own release, but this is just one part of a collection that includes interviews, short films, a paintings gallery and a packed booklet – a veritable feast of Jarman-related content that has clearly taken many, many hours of time to put together.

  • Filmed introduction by Producer Colin MacCabe (2008, 5 mins)
  • The Extended Derek Jarman interview (1991, 69 mins)
  • New filmed interview with Isaac Julien (2008, 20 mins)
  • Three Super-8mm short films by Derek Jarman: Pirate Tape (W.S. Burroughs Film) (1982,16 mins); TG: Psychic Rally in Heaven (1981, 8 mins); Sloane Square: A Room of One’s Own (1974-6, 9 mins)
  • The Attendant (Isaac Julien, 1993, 8 mins)
  • The Clearing (Alexis Bistikas, 1994, 7 mins)
  • Ostia (Julian Cole, 1987, 26 mins): short film about Pasolini starring Jarman, with optional director’s commentary
  • Derek Jarman paintings gallery
  • Illustrated booklet with essays by Isaac Julien and B. Ruby Rich; Ossian Ward on Jarman’s paintings; film notes and biographies

DVD Specifications

  • Release date: 30 March 2009
  • RRP: £19.99 / cat. no. BFIVD797 / cert 18
  • UK / 2008 / colour / 76 mins + 170 mins extra material / original aspect ratio 1.78:1 (16×9)
  • Optional subtitles for the hearing-impaired

One Response to “DVD Review: Derek”

  1. Ronan Macewan 29 April, 2009 at 1:11 pm #

    Sounds great. I am wondering how much of Julien’s artistic aesthetic comes through in this piece? Does he take a backseat to the presentation of archival footage and Swintons piece, or is it full of his artistic flourishes?
    Anyway, thanks for the write up.

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