Thursday 21 May 2020

Derek Jarman: Words, Music, Pictures and a Garden

The first Derek Jarman film that I saw was Sebastiane (1979) which, at the time, seem unutterably daring with its combination of homo-eroticism, lyrical male nudity and dialogue in dog Latin (the script was written in English then translated by an academic), and reportedly it was the first film passed by the British Board of Film Censors that depicted an erection. Jarman's film making has provided some of my most memorable film images, with two musical ones standing out; the divine Elisabeth Welch singing in The Tempest (and she was in her mid-70s when the film was made), and Annie Lennox singing in Edward II.

Now there is a chance to celebrate Jarman in a different way, as following the Art Fund's successful campaign of Jarman's Prospect Cottage there is a forthcoming exhibition on his art and his garden at the Garden Museum, and BBC Radio 3 celebrates his garden in Words & Music.

Of course, seeing Sebastiane wasn't the first time that I saw Jarman's work, but I found out afterwards that he was production designer on Ken Russell's film The Devils (1971) and Savage Messiah (1972). But Jarman's feature films from this period, Sebastiane, Jubilee (1978), The Tempest (1979), The Angelic Conversation (1985), Caravaggio (1986), right through to Edward II (1991) were some of the few occasions when I saw films in the main-stream cinema which seemed to speak to me as a young gay man.

Jarman purchased Prospect Cottage on the shingle shore at Dungeness in 1986 following his diagnosis as being HIV positive and it formed the backdrop for his 1990 film The Garden. With the death of Jarman's partner, the fate of the cottage, its garden and contents were in doubt and the Art Fund successfully led a campaign to secure Prospect Cottage for the nation.

The cottage is tiny, and unlikely ever to be open to the public in the usual way, but there is a chance to explore it via the Garden Museum's next exhibition, Derek Jarman: my garden's boundaries are the horizon. This will be the first exhibition to focus on Jarman’s love of gardening, and the role of the garden in his life and work, with works of art and film alongside personal artefacts borrowed from inside the cottage, giving a rare opportunity to experience this precious work of art, garden, and life. The exhibition will display paintings and sculptures from throughout Jarman’s career. The museum is currently closed, but check the museum website for details,  and if you want a preview the exhibition catalogue is available to buy.

And on Sunday (24 May 2020), BBC Radio 3's Words & Music programme is on the subject of Derek Jarman's garden, with from Stravinsky's the Rite of Spring to pop songs by the Pet Shop Boys and Annie Lennox which Jarman directed the videos for. Tilda Swinton reads words from Jarman's books Modern Nature, Chroma, and At Your Own Risk, a moving history of homosexuality in the UK, and Samuel Barnett reads poetry including John Donne's The Sun Rising which is inscribed on the wall of Prospect Cottage.

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