I’ve written before about a film of his; Sebastiane. Despite the fact that Jarman himself identified as Christian, that’s not his only film that has a clear sort of “pagan sensibility” about it, and 1990’s The Garden, a pretty transparent Bible allegory (right up there with the too-often-forgotten movie musical The Apple) featuring a gay couple as the stand-in Christ figure, is probably #2 on any list of Jarman’s films by spirituality —and I only place it at #2 cos the story of The Garden follows a pre-set storyline, and pretty firmly sticks to it, whereas Sebastiane deviates wildly from the standard legend of the Saint it’s named for, and gives something altogether more about the symbolism than the story. Plus, the entire dialogue of Sebastiane was in reconstructed Vulgar Latin, which should give it high marks to anybody reading this. Jarman is also noteworthy for his several volumes of of diaries published (all of which I own in hardback), the garden of his Dungeness cottage he designed, GBLT activism, paintings, and also for directing several music videos and credits in art direction on Ken Russell films.
So, for the uninitiated, here’s a quick run-down of his other films:
Jubilee (1978) — With the assistance of John Dee (Richard O’Brian, writer of Rocky Horror, and Riff Raff in the original London West End cast and the film adaptation), Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre) journeys to the late 20th Century, where Buckingham Palace has been converted to a recording studio, and London is overrun by punks, led by anarchist schoolteacher Amyl Nitrate, and a new self-appointed Queen, living in a squat, who has named herself Boudica, or “Bod”, for short (also portrayed by Runacre). Filmed in 1977, features many faces from London’s punk scene and London’s theatre scene, including Jack “The Incredible Orlando” Birkett, blind dancer and mime.
The Tempest (1981) — Considered by some to be the best film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play of the same name, it’s tweaked for maximum queer sensibilities. Also features Birkett.
The Angelic Conversation (1985) — homoerotic film clips (stylistically reminiscent of James Bidgood’s Pink Narcissus), with voice-over of select Shakespeare’s Sonnets read by Judy Dench.
Caravaggio (1986) — Postmodern biopic of 16th Century painter, Michelangelo Caravaggio. Caravaggio’s style was controversial at the time, as he painted historic figures, and figures from Christian and Greco-Roman mythology in modern clothes and with modern props. Jarman’s film, stylistically pays homage to this.
The Last of England (1987) — I still have no idea how to describe this. Featuring Tilda Swinton (previously in Caravaggio), it’s composed of Jarman’s prose, bits of poetry, and disjoined vignettes about queer and British identity –which kind of sums up Jarman’s catalogue.
Edward II (1990) — Stylistically minimalist, and slightly fictionalised biopic of King Edward II.
Wittgenstein (1992) — Even more minimalistic biopic of the British philosopher. Filmed using all-black sets and costumes that stood in striking contrast. Like most of Jarman’s films, there are autobiographical elements.
War Requiem (1990) — Lawrence Olivier’s last film. A film adaptation of Bitten’s piece with poetry by Wilfred Owen.
Blue (1992) — Jarman’s prose and poetry, musical soundscapes by Brian Eno, Coil, even Genesis P-Orridge, and absolutely no visuals except for a constant blue screen. Possibly Jarman’s most autobiographical film.