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Thread: Kino Lorber DVD release: THE GARDEN (Derek Jarman 1990) 8/27/19

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    Kino Lorber DVD release: THE GARDEN (Derek Jarman 1990) 8/27/19


    Tilda Swinton in The Garden

    Derek Jarman dreaming at home

    Tragically downed in his prime by AIDS in 1994, at a time when a diagnosis was still a death sentence, Derek Jarman was a renaissance man who remained inspired and energized as an artist till the end. He even made a last film, Blue, after he had gone blind. Mostly known for avant-garde films such as Caravaggio, he also wrote, painted and designed theatre sets and costumes. (After doing humanities at King's College London to please his father, he studied film at the Slade School and, at 28, <a href="">designed</a> the sets for Ken Russell's The Devils.) His open gayness in his films, writings, and life as well as his campaigning for AIDS awareness, not to mention his courage and spirit when stricken with the disease, have made him a lasting queer icon.

    Another, very English, thing - and Jarman was very English - is that he was a passionate gardener. Maybe his 1990 film The Garden shows, as Janet Maslin wrote in her contemporary New York Timesreview or it, that his "visual sense easily eclipses his conceptual talents," but this film nonetheless resonates deeply with the personal meaning of place. Its background is Prospect Cottage, Jarman's Dungeness, Kent residence bought on impulse for £750 and moved to a year or two after he was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986. His last book, an influential one, was the 1995 Derek Jarman's Garden. It can be argued (as Philip Hoare did in a 20th memorial piece in The Independent) that Jarman's life itself was more influential than his films. But The Garden is especially rooted in that life, even if we can't read it like a book.

    Prospect Cottage was a tiny fisherman's house in a seacoast desert within sight of a functioning nuclear power station. It was a flat, desolate location and the soil was unfertile. At first therefore Jarman "gardened" only sculptural objects there. But in time he did plant things, and the garden surrounding the cottage still exists. Jarman shot many exteriors of The Garden in the vicinity of his cottage. This surreal film has a ready-made surreal landscape, Jarman's eccentrically-chosen country home. This Garden is Eden, Paradise, but also Hell.

    Visually rich, turbulent, and intense as it is, The Garden is not an easy watch. But while the details of this mostly wordless (but richly scored and sound-designed) film may remain inscrutable, its themes emerge clearly enough. Maslin's review is surprisingly fair and accurate on this score. As she says, the film is "a peculiar blend of reflectiveness and fury," its focuses "AIDS, Christianity and intolerance," combined "into a feverish vision of far-reaching decay." (They also come, one must emphasize, with tonic moments,of peace, unity, love and hope.)

    As there are recurrent themes there are recurrent people, woven in a maelstrom of anxiety and beauty. There are two handsome, smiling young men with close-cropped hair, like twins, cuddling and kissing like lovers, always together, finally seeming dual stand-ins for Christ - as gay men, tormented by society through history, were served up in Jarman's time as a generation of Christ-like lambs sacrificed to AIDS ("Cold, cold, cold: you died so silently"). They carry crosses, and later are tarred and feathered, in typical Jarman improvisatory style, with jam from a jar and fleece from a torn down jacket. The torturers are men who jeer and act crazy and beat on tables. Initially they are dressed like Santas and sing "God rest ye merry, gentlemen."

    A little boy in jeans and a loose singlet reappears, carrying the skeleton of a bush. A small group of boys in school uniforms laugh and play, but later the focus is on cane-rattling, abusive schoolmasters.

    Instead of twelve apostles, twelve matronly Italian-looking women sit in a row at a long wood table near Jarman's house and run their fingers around the rims of crystal glasses making them ring, a droning sound half pretty, half grating. Much later they will be replaced by twelve old men. The boy in jeans and singlet briefly mimes fencing on the same long, now empty, table, then dons a knight's shining helmet. A bed floats in the water, made up with clean white sheets (a feat of logistics in this) with Jarman himself lying there , curled up, nude to the waist, vulnerable. There are closeups of eyes with a sense of menace: would not the Dalí and Buñuel of Un chien andalu like to have made this film? Jarman is in pulsating resonance with revolutionary early cinema history.

    But all is never dark in Jarman's imagery. Frequent rear-projection backgrounds appear in the film of fields of bright bunched flowers. (In this and many other visual ideas, The Garden is not far from the imagery of Gilbert and George.) Sprigs of blooms or verdant branches are held aloft as symbols used "hauntingly" (Maslin writes) "as evocations of hope and beauty in a landscape that is otherwise so bleak." The flat shale plain around Jarman's Dungeness cottage is forbidding, but memorable. The Yin and Yang inherent in the place reside in the planted flowers with the nuclear power plant in the background.

    Jarman is known as having "defined experimental" with his "fearless" use of Super 8 cameras, and very often The Garden's surface texture might seem to oscillate between the look of stock footage and home movies, were not the images thus depicted so striking. He could be so prolific partly through making a bold personal virtue of roughness. The verve of his visual imagination never flags.

    Tilda Swinton is woven throughout the film, an everywoman, but most visably a medieval Madonna or a hooded Mary Magdalene. As a Madonna with child, she shows her babe to a gang of paparazzi who swarm over her and virtually devour her, their long-zoomed SLR's ca-chinging menacingly - an indictment of the modern media world if ever there was one. To say Swinton "stars" in The Garden is misleading because she is anonymous in the film and barely recognizable, if at this point anyone would have recognized this now famous and ageless actress. She nontheless was a major muse and collaborator for Jarman, appearing in seven of his films, starting with Caravaggio in 1986, even with him when he bought Prospect Cottage. I myself became aware of Jarman first through an intriguing paperback called Derek Jarman's Caravaggio: The Complete Film Script and Commentaries, which led me later to the strangely seedy cinema on Market Street in San Francisco where Caravaggio was shown. A memorable cinematic day.

    Tilda is the glue that holds The Garden together, but its emotional center is the handsome young men, so maybe the film doesn't hold together at all. None of Derek Jarman's films has ever seemed completely successful to me. But as time goes on, it becomes clear that their bold imperfection makes them more valuable than a thousand more polished movies.

    We are lucky that The Garden, unavailable for twenty years, and never available on DVD/Blu-Ray in the United States, has been restored in a beautiful new 2K digital restoration from Zeitgeist Films.

    The Garden, 92 mins., debuted at Toronto 6 Sept. 1990. It has shown at other international festivals up till the present day. The Zeitgeist Films restoration, which debuted 8 Feb. 2019 at the Berlinale 2019, opens at Metrograph, New York, 28 May 2019 and will show at other locations thereafter. KINO LORBER U.S. DVD RELEASE: August 27, 2019.

    Jarman's Prospect Cottage at Dungeness, in Kent
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-22-2019 at 08:21 PM.


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