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There have been precious few true innovators of Gay Cinema (if you can really call it that). Sure, great directors such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Pedro Almodovar were/are openly gay and can boast an impressive back catalogue of films, but few have tackled the portrayal and attitudes towards homosexuality with such an eagerness than Britain's own Derek Jarman. Derek is a loving recollection of Jarman's life and work, spoken by Jarman himself, intertwined with visuals and poetry by Jarman's muse, Tilda Swinton.
I have only seen one of his films - his most popular, 1986's excellent Caravaggio - which puts me in a slightly awkward position in reviewing this documentary, having relatively little experience of his art. But after viewing it, although it runs at a slight 75 minutes, I feel prepared to tackle his films with more insight into his thinking. He discusses his childhood growing up with a military father and a free- spirited mother in Middlesex, and then his artistic awakening at the Slade School of Art, where he fell in with many radical artists that help mould his own output. His first film, Sebastiane (1976) caused a massive stir in its open depiction of homosexual desire, featuring highly erotic, slow-motion of scenes of love-making (and an erection!).
Jarman would fall in love with the punk movement, and directed many 8mm shorts and low-budget, sometimes avant-garde features, as well as music videos for the likes of The Smiths and Pet Shop Boys. But it would be his activity in Gay Rights activism that many of his friends and colleagues appreciate and love him for, which is clear from the words of Swinton. She remembers him in melancholy voice-over tinged with sadness and longing, as Jarman died of AIDS-related illness in 1994. During his final years, he was losing his sight and health, which led to him making Blue (1993), a film consisting solely of blue imagery as Jarman narrates. Derek is an insightful and constantly informative documentary, which can be enjoyed by Jarman fans and newcomers alike, showing Jarman as an extremely likable yet truly under-appreciated film-maker.
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