Thursday, July 03, 2008


Has there ever been a more poignant directorial swan song in cinema than Derek Jarman's Blue?

I suppose the legend behind it rivals that of a broken down & dying John Huston pushing through the latter stages of life in order finish The Dead. But, no. "Legend" is too disrespectful a word. Derek Jarman died of AIDS, and prior to his death he lost his sight due to eye lesions. What a cruel joke that a director with such visual flair and pop would lose his ability to see. But in the way others turn their illnesses into charitable opportunities, Jarman persisted and turned his into art.
I caught myself looking at shoes in a shop window. I thought of going in and buying a pair, but stopped myself. The shoes I am wearing at the moment should be sufficient to walk me out of life.
For those unfamiliar, Blue is 76 minutes of a blue screen with Jarman reading over it. Nothing more. The experience is like witnessing the circle of film complete its cycle from the days of just images without sound to finally just sound without images. And while it may seem like a chore to stare at a blue screen for a hour and fifteen minutes, it isn't. Blue is hypnotic and soothing, and - if you can believe it - moves along at a quick pace.

The harmony in the film is Jarman's readings. There is a precise timing and rhythm to it. Just like a stand-up comic or a classical storyteller, there is structure. Most of what is spoken describes the somewhat linear time line that the director spent in various hospitals. In and out of these tales are memories, elegies to dead friends, poetry, random observations, news clips, chanting, and song that gives punctuation but also fill spaces.
Karl killed himself - how did he do it? I never asked. It seemed incidental. What did it matter if he swigged prussic acid or shot himself in the eye. Maybe he dived into the streets from high up in the cloud lapped skyscrapers. The nurse explains the implant. You mix the drugs and drip yourself once a day. The drugs are kept in a small fridge they give you. Can you imagine travelling around with that? The metal implant will set the bomb detector off in airports, and I can just see myself travelling to Berlin with a fridge under my arm.
I wish I could sync up Jarman's voice to accompany his words that I am pasting in this post. By simply throwing them up there I'm doing him a slight injustice. They need to be heard, not read. And, I think, in that way, Jarman is asking us to relearn the way we watch movies. Deceptive in its presentation, Blue requires interaction from the viewer. It's like a clean slate or mind enema for those of us who have seen so many movies that we've forgotten how to watch movies.

It's fitting then that Blue finally got it's DVD release smack dab in the middle of the summer blockbuster season where, too often, people go to theater to zone out rather than tune in. Sometimes spending time with the most basic elements of an art is the clearest way back to remembering how to appreciate it.


elgringo said...

This movie blue me away.


Just kidding. But it actually a really amazing way to make a film. We watched it in an Aesthetics and Film class after reading about the Kantian Sublime.

Sure, it's hard to make it through the entire film. It was for me at least, but it's an important film none the less.

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent film review and commentary on its relation to society.