Derek Jarman Rides the Rain Taxi
The latest print issue of Rain Taxi includes an essay I wrote, "Derek Jarman and The Memory Palace Of Life", about Derek Jarman's books, particularly the ones re-released by the University of Minnesota Press. I incorporated a few sentences from the piece in my video essay on Jarman and Caravaggio a few months back, but to read the whole thing you'll need to pick up a copy of Rain Taxi. Here, to tempt you (or dissuade you), are the first two paragraphs:
Derek Jarman died in 1994, leaving behind him one of the most important bodies of work of any artist or filmmaker of his generation, an oeuvre that challenged orthodoxies of sexuality, politics, and aesthetics. Though best remembered for such films as Jubilee, Caravaggio, The Last of England, Edward II, and Blue, Jarman was also a prolific writer, particularly as a diarist, and The University of Minnesota Press has now brought all of these books back into print in uniform paperback editions. Additionally, they have reprinted Tony Peake’s 1999 biography of Jarman.
Though very much an artist of his time, Jarman’s work has sustained its power and relevance long beyond its creator’s death. Having found meaning and pleasure within the bohemian, anti-establishment world of the late-'60s British avant-garde art scene, Jarman never hesitated in presenting an identity for himself that was defiantly queer. At first, this was not a political identity. In his 1992 memoir/journal/manifesto At Your Own Risk, Jarman wrote that “I danced the sixties away but I didn’t see that as hedonism; it was a REVOLUTIONARY GESTURE — you should have seen the way the other students reacted to two men kissing in public. I believed we could bring change with individual actions, it wasn’t linked to any conventional political blueprint. One person in one room quite cut off could change the world.” During the early 1970s, Jarman attended many of the meetings of the Gay Liberation Front, but though he enjoyed the more pranksterish elements of their activism, Peake quotes him as saying he “disliked these well-meaning rather lonely people laying down the law … there was an element of joylessness about it.” His early films were proudly queer (a label he came to prefer to “gay”), but their queerness was in service to their countercultural core. Jubilee (1978), his second feature-length film, was an anarchic vision of an apocalyptic England (or an apocalyptic vision of an anarchic England) full of punk rockers. With the arrival of AIDS and Thatcherism in the 1980s, though, Jarman would become radicalized, his bohemian individualism and sense of humor evolving into furious, confrontational queer communalism.