Michael Derek Elworthy Jarman (31 January 1942 – 19 February 1994) was an English film director, stage designer, diarist, artist, gardener and author
Jarman's first films were experimental super 8 mm 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 Angelic Conversation featured Toby Mott and other members of the Radical artist collective The Grey Organisation.
Jarman first became known as a stage designer, getting his break in the film industry as production designer for Ken Russell's The Devils (1970). He later made his debut in "overground" narrative filmmaking with the groundbreaking Sebastiane (1976), arguably the first British film to feature positive images of gay sexuality, and the first film entirely in correct Latin. Sebastiane is a story about the martyrdom of St. Sebastian, which created a stir on the art cinema market because of its overt depiction of homosexual desire. Its stylistic tendency to camp was enhanced by its dialogue being in Latin.
He followed this with the film many regard as his first masterpiece, Jubilee (shot 1977, released 1978), in which Queen Elizabeth I of England is transported forward in time to a desolate and brutal wasteland ruled by her twentieth century namesake. Jubilee was arguably the first UK punk movie, and among its cast 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 by Jarman's unconventional adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest in 1979. Praised by several Shakespeare scholars, but dismissed by some traditionalist critics, the film contains a considerable amount of nudity (mostly male, but also some female, including a scene in which Caliban's mother Sycorax breast-feeds her son), some unconventional casting (Toyah Willcox's Miranda hardly suggests innocent purity) and an unusual setting (a crumbling mansion as opposed to an island). Throughout the film, Jarman is liberal with Shakespeare's text, using it as a springboard for his own interpretation.
During the 1980s Jarman was still one of the few openly gay public figures in Britain and was a leading campaigner against Clause 28. He also worked to raise awareness of AIDS. His artistic practice in the early 1980s reflected these commitments, perhaps most famously in The Angelic Conversation (1985), a film in which the imagery is accompanied by a voice reciting Shakespeare's sonnets, obviously chosen for their openness to a homoerotic re-reading.
Jarman spent seven years making experimental super 8 mm 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 (and 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, of the British television company Channel 4 in funding and distribution. Funded by the BFI and produced by film theorist Colin MacCabe, Caravaggio became Jarman's most famous film, 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. Here, his trademark aesthetics flourished: overt depictions of homosexual love, narrative ambiguity, and superb visuals, particularly the live representations of Caravaggio's most famous paintings, are all prominent features of the work.
The conclusion of Caravaggio also marked the beginning of a temporary abandonment of traditional narrative in Jarman's films. Frustrated by the formality of 35 mm film production, and the institutional dependence and 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 8 mm-based form he had previously worked in on Imagining October and The Angelic Conversation. The film was entered into the 36th Berlin International Film Festival where it won the Silver Bear for an outstanding single achievement.
Sebastiane is a controversial 1976 film written and directed by Derek Jarman and Paul Humfress. It portrays the events of the life of Saint Sebastian, including his iconic martyrdom by arrows. Most of the controversy surrounding the film derives from the homoeroticism portrayed between the soldiers. It is significant for being the first film to be entirely recorded accurately in Latin, which went as far as the translation of some dialogue into colloquial Latin.