Derek Jarman

Michael Derek Elworthy Jarman[1] (31 January 1942 – 19 February 1994) was an English film director, stage designer, diarist, artist, gardener, and author.

Derek Jarman
Jarman during the 1991 Venice Film Festival
Michael Derek Elworthy Jarman[1]

(1942-01-31)31 January 1942[2]
Died19 February 1994(1994-02-19) (aged 52)
St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, England
Resting placeSt Clement Churchyard, Old Romney, Kent
ResidenceDungeness, Kent
EducationCanford School, Dorset
Alma materKing's College London, Slade School of Fine Art (UCL)
OccupationFilm director, gay rights activist, gardener, set designer
Years active1970–1994
Notable work
Sebastiane (1976), Jubilee (1977), Caravaggio (1986), The Last of England (1988), Edward II (1991), Wittgenstein (1993), Blue (1993)
StyleNew Queer Cinema[3]
Partner(s)Philip Macdonald( 1980-88. Keith Collins (1987–94)[4]


Jarman was born at the Royal Victoria Nursing Home in Northwood, Middlesex, England.[1] the son of Elizabeth Evelyn (née Puttock)[5] and Lancelot Elworthy Jarman.[6][7] His father was a Royal Air Force officer, born in New Zealand. He boarded at Canford School in Dorset, and from 1960 studied at King's College London. This was followed by four years at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London (UCL), starting in 1963. He had a studio at Butler's Wharf, London, in the 1970s. Jarman was outspoken about homosexuality, his public fight for gay rights, and his personal struggle with AIDS.

On 22 December 1986, Jarman was diagnosed as HIV positive and discussed his condition in public. His illness prompted him to move to Prospect Cottage, Dungeness in Kent, near the nuclear power station. In 1994, he died of an AIDS-related illness in London,[8] aged 52. He was an atheist.[9] He is buried in the graveyard at St Clement's Church, Old Romney, Kent.

A blue plaque commemorating Jarman was unveiled at Butler's Wharf in London on 19 February 2019, the 25th anniversary of Jarman's death.[10]


Jarman's first films were experimental Super 8mm shorts, a form he never entirely abandoned, and later developed further in his films Imagining October (1984), The Angelic Conversation (1985), The Last of England (1987) and The Garden (1990) as a parallel to his narrative work. The Garden was entered into the 17th Moscow International Film Festival.[11] The Angelic Conversation featured Toby Mott and other members of the Grey Organisation, a radical artist collective.[12]

Jarman first became known as a stage designer. His break in the film industry came as production designer for Ken Russell's The Devils (1971). He made his mainstream narrative filmmaking debut with Sebastiane (1976), about the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. This was one of the first British films to feature positive images of gay sexuality; its dialogue was entirely in Latin.

He followed this with Jubilee (shot 1977, released 1978), in which Queen Elizabeth I of England is seen to be transported forward in time to a desolate and brutal wasteland ruled by her twentieth-century namesake. Jubilee has been described as "Britain's only decent punk film",[13] and featured punk groups and figures such as Wayne County of Wayne County & the Electric Chairs, Jordan, Toyah Willcox, and Adam and the Ants.

This was followed in 1979 by an adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest.

During the 1980s, Jarman was a leading campaigner against Clause 28, which sought to ban the "promotion" of homosexuality in schools. He also worked to raise awareness of AIDS. His artistic practice in the early 1980s reflected these commitments, especially in The Angelic Conversation (1985), a film in which the imagery is accompanied by Judi Dench's voice reciting Shakespeare's sonnets.

Jarman spent seven years making experimental Super 8mm films and attempting to raise money for Caravaggio (he later claimed to have rewritten the script seventeen times during this period). Released in 1986, Caravaggio attracted a comparatively wide audience; it is still, barring the cult hit Jubilee, probably Jarman's most widely known work. This is partly due to the involvement, for the first time with a Jarman film, of the British television company Channel 4 in funding and distribution. Funded by the British Film Institute and produced by film theorist Colin MacCabe, Caravaggio became Jarman's most famous film to date, and marked the beginning of a new phase in Jarman's filmmaking career: from now on all his films would be partly funded by television companies, often receiving their most prominent exhibition in TV screenings. Caravaggio also saw Jarman work with actress Tilda Swinton for the first time. Overt depictions of homosexual love, narrative ambiguity, and the live representations of Caravaggio's most famous paintings are all prominent features in the film.

The conclusion of Caravaggio also marked the beginning of a temporary abandonment of traditional narrative in Jarman's films. Frustrated by the formality of 35mm film production, and by the dependence on institutions and the resultant prolonged inactivity associated with it (which had already cost him seven years with Caravaggio, as well as derailing several long-term projects), Jarman returned to and expanded the super 8mm-based form he had previously worked in on Imagining October and The Angelic Conversation. Caravaggio was entered into the 36th Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the Silver Bear for an outstanding single achievement.[14]

The first film to result from this new semi-narrative phase, The Last of England told the death of a country, ravaged by its own internal decay and the economic restructuring of Thatcher's government. "Wrenchingly beautiful … the film is one of the few commanding works of personal cinema in the late 80's – a call to open our eyes to a world violated by greed and repression, to see what irrevocable damage has been wrought on city, countryside and soul, how our skies, our bodies, have turned poisonous", wrote a Village Voice critic.

In 1989, Jarman's film War Requiem brought Laurence Olivier out of retirement for what would be Olivier's last screen performance. The film uses Benjamin Britten's eponymous anti-war requiem as its soundtrack and juxtaposes violent footage of war with the mass for the dead and the passionate humanist poetry of Wilfred Owen.

During the making of his film The Garden, Jarman became seriously ill. Although he recovered sufficiently to complete the work, he never attempted anything on a comparable scale afterwards, returning to a more pared-down form for his concluding narrative films, Edward II (perhaps his most politically outspoken work, informed by his queer activism) and the Brechtian Wittgenstein, a delicate tragicomedy based on the life of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Jarman made a side income by directing music videos for various artists including Marianne Faithfull,[15] the Smiths and the Pet Shop Boys.[16]

By the time of his 1993 film Blue, Jarman was losing his sight and dying of AIDS-related complications. Blue consists of a single shot of saturated blue colour filling the screen, as background to a soundtrack composed by Simon Fisher Turner, and featuring original music by Coil and other artists, in which Jarman describes his life and vision. When it was shown on British television, Channel 4 carried the image whilst the soundtrack was broadcast simultaneously on BBC Radio 3. Blue was unveiled at the 1993 Venice Biennale with Jarman in attendance and subsequently entered the collections of the Walker Art Institute; Centre Georges Pompidou; MoMA and Tate. His final testament as a film-maker was the film Glitterbug made for the Arena slot on BBC Two, and broadcast shortly after Jarman's death.

Other works

Jarman's work broke new ground in creating and expanding the fledgling form of 'the pop video' in England, and in gay rights activism. Several volumes of his diaries have been published.[17]

Jarman also directed the 1989 tour by the UK duo Pet Shop Boys. By pop concert standards this was a highly theatrical event with costume and specially shot films accompanying the individual songs. Jarman was the stage director of Sylvano Bussotti's opera L'Ispirazione, first staged in Florence in 1988.

Jarman is also remembered for his famous shingle cottage-garden, created in the latter years of his life, in the shadow of Dungeness nuclear power station. The cottage is built in vernacular style in timber, with tar-based weatherproofing, like others nearby. Raised wooden text on the side of the cottage is the first stanza and the last five lines of the last stanza of John Donne's poem, The Sun Rising. The cottage garden was made by arranging flotsam washed up nearby, interspersed with endemic salt-loving beach plants, both set against the bright shingle. The garden has been the subject of several books. At this time, Jarman also began painting again (see the book: Evil Queen: The Last Paintings, 1994).

Jarman was the author of several books including his autobiography Dancing Ledge (1984), which details his life until the age 40. He provides his own insight on the history of gay life in London (60's-80's), discusses his own acceptance of his homosexuality at age 16 and accounts of the financial and emotional hardships of a life devoted to filmmaking.[18] A collection of poetry A Finger in the Fishes Mouth, two volumes of diaries Modern Nature and Smiling In Slow Motion and two treatises on his work in film and art The Last of England (also published as Kicking the Pricks) and Chroma. Other notable published works include film scripts (Up in the Air, Blue, War Requiem, Caravaggio, Queer Edward II and Wittgenstein: The Terry Eagleton Script/The Derek Jarman Film), a study of his garden at Dungeness Derek Jarman's Garden, and At Your Own Risk, a defiant celebration of gay sexuality.

Musical tributes

After his death, the band Chumbawamba released "Song for Derek Jarman" in his honour. Andi Sexgang released the CD Last of England as a Jarman tribute. The ambient experimental album The Garden is Full of Metal, by Robin Rimbaud, included Jarman speech samples.[19]

The Manic Street Preachers' bassist, Nicky Wire, also recorded a track titled "Derek Jarman's Garden" as a b-side to his single "Break My Heart Slowly" (2006). On his In The Mist album, released in 2011, ambient composer Harold Budd features a song called "The Art of Mirrors (after Derek Jarman)".[20]

Coil, who in 1994 contributed a soundtrack for Jarman's The Angelic Conversation[21] released the 7" single "Themes for Derek Jarman's Blue"[22] after his death. In 2004 Coil's Peter Christopherson performed his score for the Jarman short The Art of Mirrors as a tribute to Jarman live at L'étrange Festival in Paris. In 2015 record label Black Mass Rising released a recording of the performance.[23] In 2018, composer Gregory Spears created a work for chorus and string quartet, titled "The Tower and the Garden," commissioned by conductors Donald Nally, Mark Shapiro, Robert Geary and Carmen-Helena Téllez, setting a poem by Keith Garebian from his collection "Blue: The Derek Jarman Poems" (2008).


Feature films

Short films

  • Electric Fairy (1971)
  • Studio Bankside (1971)
  • Garden of Luxor (1972)
  • Burning the Pyramids (1972)
  • Miss Gaby (1972)
  • A Journey to Avebury (1971)
  • Andrew Logan Kisses the Glitterati (1972)
  • Tarot (aka the Magician, 1972)
  • The Art of Mirrors (1973)
  • Sulphur (1973)
  • Stolen Apples for Karen Blixen (1973)
  • Miss World (1973)
  • The Devils at the Elgin (aka Reworking the Devils, 1974)
  • Fire Island (1974)
  • Duggie Fields (1974)
  • Ula's Fete (aka Ula's Chandelier, 1975)
  • Picnic at Ray's (1975)
  • Sebastian Wrap (1975)
  • Sloane Square: A Room of One's Own (1976)
  • Gerald's Film (1976)
  • Art and the Pose (1976)
  • Houston Texas (1976)
  • Jordan's Dance (1977)
  • Every Woman for Herself and All for Art (1977)
  • The Pantheon (1978)
  • In the Shadow of the Sun (1974) (in 1980 Throbbing Gristle was commissioned to provide a new soundtrack for this 54-minute film)
  • T.G.: Psychic Rally in Heaven (1981)
  • Jordan's Wedding (1981)
  • Pirate Tape (William S. Burroughs Film) (1982)
  • Waiting for Waiting for Godot (1982)
  • Pontormo and Punks at Santa Croce (1982)
  • B2 Tape/Film (1983)
  • Catalan (1984)
  • Imagining October (1984)
  • Aria (1987)
    • segment: Depuis le Jour
  • L'Ispirazione (1988)
  • Glitterbug (1994) (one-hour compilation film of various Super-8 shorts with music by Brian Eno)

Jarman's early Super-8 mm work has been included on some of the DVD releases of his films.

Music videos

Scenic design

Film and television works prompted by Jarman's life and work

  • The Last Paintings of Derek Jarman (Mark Jordan, Granada TV 1995). Broadcast by Granada TV and shown at the San Francisco Frameline Film Festival. Includes footage of Jarman producing his final works. Guests included Margi Clarke, Toyah Wilcox, Brett Anderson, and Jon Savage. To coincide with the broadcast the exhibition Evil Queen was premiered at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester. (Contact BFI for footage).
  • Derek Jarman: Life As Art (2004): a film exploring Derek Jarman's life and films by 400Blows Productions/Andy Kimpton-Nye, featuring Tilda Swinton, Simon Fisher Turner, Chris Hobbs and narrated by John Quentin. Broadcast on Sky Arts and screened at film festivals around the world, including Buenos Aires, Cork, London, Leeds, Philadelphia and Turin.
  • Derek (2008): a biography of Jarman's life and work, directed by Isaac Julien and written and narrated by Tilda Swinton.
  • Red Duckies (2006): Short film directed by Luke Seomore and Joseph Bull, featuring a voice-over from Simon Fisher Turner commissioned by Dazed & Confused for World Aids Day 2006.[37]
  • Delphinium: A Childhood Portrait of Derek Jarman (2009): a "stylized and lyrical coming-of-age" short film combining narrative and documentary elements directed by Matthew Mishory depicting Jarman's "artistic, sexual, and political awakening in postwar England".[38] Jarman's surviving muse Keith Collins and Siouxsie and the Banshees founder Steven Severin both participated in the making of the film, which had its world premiere at the 2009 Reykjavik International Film Festival in Iceland, its UK premiere at the Raindance Film Festival in London, and its California premiere at the 2010 Frameline International Film Festival in San Francisco. In 2011 the film was permanently installed in the British Film Institute's National Film Archive in London.

See also


  1. Tony Peake, Derek Jarman: A Biography (Woodstock: Overlook Press, 1999), p. 13.
  2. Tony Peake, Derek Jarman: A Biography (Woodstock: Overlook Press, 1999), pp. 12–13.
  3. Jim Ellis, Derek Jarman's Angelic Conversations (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), pp. 200–1.
  4. Tony Peake, Derek Jarman: A Biography (Woodstock: Overlook Press, 1999), pp. 389–94, 532–33.
  5. Elizabeth Puttock's mother, Moselle, a daughter of Isaac Frederic Reuben, had Jewish ancestry. Tony Peake, Derek Jarman: A Biography (Woodstock: Overlook Press, 1999), p. 10
  6. Tony Peake, Derek Jarman: A Biography (Woodstock: Overlook Press, 1999), pp. 8–9.
  7. "Jarman, (Michael) Derek Elworthy (1942–1994), film-maker, painter, and campaigner for homosexual rights | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/55051. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  8. Deaths England and Wales 1984–2006
  9. William Pencak (2002). "13. Blue: "Our Time Is the Passing of a Shadow"". The films of Derek Jarman. McFarland. p. 159. ISBN 9780786414307. To those familiar with his other films, Jarman reinforces his atheism and contempt for traditional Christianity, thereby re-emphasizing the point he just made – that "paradise" is "terrestrial" and is the fruit of human love.
  10. "Derek Jarman Blue Plaque unveiled in London today". Peter Tatchell Foundation. 19 February 2019. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  11. "17th Moscow International Film Festival (1991)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 3 April 2014. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  12. "Toby Mott". Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  13. Anarchy in the UK: Derek Jarman’s Jubilee (1978) Revisited, Julian Upton, Bright Lights Film Journal, Portland, OR, 1 October 2000.Retrieved: 1 January 2015.
  14. "Berlinale: 1986 Prize Winners". Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  15. "Watch Derek Jarman's Daring 12-Minute Promo Film for Marianne Faithfull's 1979 Comeback Album Broken English (NSFW)". 6 April 2017. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  16. Schneider, Martin. "DEREK JARMAN'S VIDEOS FOR THE SMITHS AND PET SHOP BOYS". 12 March 2013. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  17. No bums or willies please, Derek, Tariq Ali, The Observer, London, 18 June 2000.Retrieved: 1 January 2015.
  18. Jarman, Derek, and Shaun Allen. Dancing Ledge. Minneapolis: Minn., 2010. Print.
  19. "Robin Rimbaud – The Garden Is Full Of Metal – Homage To Derek Jarman". Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  20. "Harold Budd – The Art of Mirrors (after Derek Jarman)". 26 October 2013. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  24. "the making of: Derek Jarman's Music Videos". 4 March 2008. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  25. "Throbbing Gristle – "T.G. psychic rally in Heaven"". Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  26. "Derek Jarman's music videos". 4 February 2012. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  27. "Wang Chung – "Dance hall days [version 1: home movie footage]"". 12 November 1983. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  28. Peake, Tony. 1999. Derek Jarman: A Biography. New York: The Overlook Press/Little, Brown. pg. 312: listed as "Steve Hale's 'Touch the Radio, Dance!'"
  29. "Marc Almond – "Tenderness is a weakness"". Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  30. "Bryan Ferry – "Windswept"". Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  31. "the Smiths – "The Queen is dead [version 2: film]"". Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  32. "the Smiths – "Ask [version 1]"". Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  33. "Pet Shop Boys – "Violence"". Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  34. "Suede – "The next life"". 29 March 1993. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  35. "Patti Smith – "Memorial tribute"". Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  36. From the programme to the production of Waiting for Godot.
  37. Archived 27 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  38. "Delphinium: A Childhood Portrait of Derek Jarman | Raindance Film Festival 2009". 11 October 2009. Retrieved 15 July 2012.

Further reading

  • Robert Mills, Derek Jarman's Medieval Modern (D.S. Brewer, 2018), ISBN 9781843844938
  • Niall Richardson, 'The Queer Cinema of Derek Jarman: Critical and Cultural Readings' (I.B. Tauris, 2009)
  • Michael Charlesworth, Derek Jarman (Reaktion, 2011)
  • Martin Frey. Derek Jarman – Bewegte Bilder eines Malers. (BoD, 2008), ISBN 978-3-8370-1217-0
  • Steven Dillon. Derek Jarman and Lyric Film: The Mirror and the Sea. (2004).
  • Tony Peake. Derek Jarman (Little, Brown & Co, 2000). 600-page biography.
  • Michael O'Pray. Derek Jarman: Dreams of England. (British Film Institute, 1996).
  • Howard Sooley. Derek Jarman's Garden. (Thames & Hudson, 1995).
  • Derek Jarman. 'Modern Nature' (Diaries 1989–1990)
  • Derek Jarman. 'Smiling in Slow Motion' (Diaries 1991–1994)
  • Derek Jarman. 'Dancing Ledge' (Memoir. ISBN 0-8166744-9-3)
  • 'Evil Queen' exhibition catalogue. Foreword by Mark Jordan ISBN 0-9524356-0-8
  • Derek Jarman. 'At Your Own Risk' (Memoir, Thames & Hudson, 1991) ISBN 0099222914
  • Judith Noble. "The Wedding of Light and Matter: Alchemy and Magic in the Films of Derek Jarman." In Visions of Enchantment: Occultism, Magic, and Visual Culture, eds. Daniel Zamani, Judith Noble, and Merlin Cox (London: Fulgur Press, 2019), pp. 168–181
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