Magazine article Artforum International

Home Movies: Ed Halter on Derek Jarman's Super 8 Films

Magazine article Artforum International

Home Movies: Ed Halter on Derek Jarman's Super 8 Films

Article excerpt

DEREK JARMAN was once lionized as Britain's homegrown Cocteau. Features such as Caravaggio (1986) and Edward II (1991) marked him as heir to the baroque art-house theatrics of Michael Powell and Ken Russell, while his unabashed homoeroticism and strident politics were an inspiration to the New Queer Cinema, of which he was a leading light. Jarman's influence has dimmed since his AIDS-related death in 1994, but recent activity suggests a reassessment. Last year, Zeitgeist Films released a remastered box set containing Caravaggio, Wittgenstein (1993), Blue (1993), and The Angelic Conversation (1985), while British artist Isaac Julien premiered his biographical documentary Derek (2008) and organized an exhibition of paintings and films by his former mentor at London's Serpentine Gallery that included Jarman's rarely screened Super 8 films from the 1970s and '80s. In New York, Elizabeth Dee showcased four digital transfers of Jarman's Super 8s this past February, and now X, a new nonprofit created by Dee to revive the former Dia Center for the Arts building in Chelsea, has installed eighteen of the small-gauge works on three floors as the centerpiece of its current, inaugural show (through May 30).

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Jarman's Super 8 work constitutes a major portion of his filmography: In the six years prior to his debut feature, Sebastiane (1976), he completed more than forty Super 8 films and continued to work in the format throughout his career. Certain practices and motifs carry over, but the Super 8 films form a body of work distinct from the features--more improvisatory, often nonnarrative, replete with arcane symbolism, and deeply invested in the material, non-representational qualities of the image.

Stan Brakhage, Ken Jacobs, and George Kuchar produced standard 8-mm films in the '60s, but the more recently introduced Super 8 system wouldn't be widely embraced by the avant-garde until several years after Jarman began shooting on the new gauge in 1970. The user-friendly but technically limited format was at that time primarily employed for home movies, and many of Jarman's earliest titles document the scene around him in a diary-like fashion--self-consciously if nonetheless casually, as friends were then calling him the "Andy Warhol of London." A steady pulse of shots taken around his London studio, Studio Bankside (1970-73) contains markers of nascent gay lib: a tube of K-Y displayed amid antiques and ferns. In Andrew Logan Kisses the Glitterati (1973), Jarman's young neighbor enthusiastically osculates men and women in various camp costumes, from raffish '30s garb to a multicolored clown suit.

Other films evince Jarman's interest in the occult, linked to his admiration for Kenneth Anger. …

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