Director : Derek Jarman
Screenplay : Derek Jarman
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1977
Stars : Jenny Runacre (Queen Elizabeth I / Bod), Little Nell (Crabs), Toyah Willcox (Mad), Jordan (Amyl Nitrite), Hermine Demoriane (Chaos), Ian Charleson (Angel), Karl Johnson (Sphinx), Linda Spurrier (Viv), Neil Kennedy (Max), Orlando (Borgia Ginz), Wayne County (Lounge Lizard), Richard O'Brien (John Dee), David Haughton (Ariel), Helen Wellington-Lloyd (Lady in Waiting), Adam Ant (Kid)
Nineteen seventy-seven was jubilee year in Great Britain, celebrating the Queen’s 25th year on the throne. It was also the year that saw the release of Derek Jarman’s Jubilee, an ironic title if ever there was one, given that the film is a cinematic middle finger pointed directly at everything traditionally British. Steeped in the punk ethos that was taking the country by storm in the mid-1970s, Jubilee was aptly described in one of its early screenplay drafts as “an anarchic comedy of sex and violence.”
It was Jarman’s second feature after 1976’s Sebastiane, and in many ways it is not a typical Derek Jarman film. Jarman, after all, wasn’t a punk, but adopted the punk mentality for Jubilee as a way of connecting with an audience that shared some of his sensibility. Openly gay, politically defiant, and exuberantly experimental in his artistry, Jarman melded his ideas with punk imagery and music, thus fashioning an insolent statement about Britain that many loved and many more loathed. Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t just conservatives who hated it, but many punks who felt that their ethos had been misappropriated by someone from the outside. After all, despite all the sex, violence, and anarchy present in the film, it isn’t hard to see it as a rather conservative cry about the impending dissolution of British society.
The film opens in England 400 years earlier, with Queen Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre) and her court astrologer and alchemist, John Dee (Richard O'Brien, creator of The Rocky Horror Picture Show), summoning forth the angel Ariel (David Haughton) to show them the future of their great nation. These opening scenes are shot with lush serenity—all green foliage and candlelight—suggesting that Elizabethan England was a golden age, a time of beauty and peacefulness.
This calm past is then violently juxtaposed with Jarman’s vision of the chaotic near future, in which England has deteriorated into a state of near-anarchy, with punk gangs roaming the burning streets, corrupt cops taking advantage of the weak, and all power concentrated in a mad, cackling media mogul named Borgia Ginz (Orlando). Ginz is all bulging eyes and square teeth, a truly frightening creation bursting with malice and a complete lack of empathy. At one point, he proudly declares, “This is the generation who grew up and forgot to lead their lives … they were so busy watching my endless movie.”
In today’s media-saturated world, in which the division between the real and the mediated hyperreal is becoming more and more tenuous, that is a frighteningly prescient statement. One of the reasons people keep returning to Jubilee is because Jarman’s dystopian vision of what was to come is not terribly far removed from where we are now. Granted, the streets of England have not been overrun by wild gangs (as Stanley Kubrick also envisioned in 1971’s A Clockwork Orange), but power in the media has been concentrated to a frightening extent in a small number of conglomerates who, for all intents and purposes, control the world’s knowledge. As Ginz gleefully says, “It’s power, babe, power. I don’t create it. I own it.”
Much of the narrative focuses on a mostly girl gang run by Amyl Nitrite (Jordan), a punk schoolteacher who is writing her own history of the world. Other members of the gang include Crabs (Little Nell), the resident nymphomaniac who sets her sites on a young punk musician named Kid (Adam Ant, before he went ’80s New Wave), Mad (Toyah Willcox), a sneering, orange-haired pyromaniac, and tough-as-nails Bod (also played by Jenny Runacre). Also included in the group is a gay couple, Sphinx (Karl Johnson) and Angel (Ian Charleson), who seem to exist mostly to fill out the film’s breadth of sexual fluidity.
There is not so much a story involving these characters as there are a series of scenes that range from slapstick comedy, to musical numbers, to moments of sudden and shocking violence. Adopting the punk aesthetic of bricolage, Jarman seems to have put the film together almost randomly, ignoring most of the tenets of classical narrative construction and relying instead on the power of imagery to shock, appall, titillate, and engage. There are moments of near visual rhapsody in Jubilee, including a violent revenge sequence near the end and a musical number involving Amyl Nitrate’s rock reworking of “Rule Britannia.”
Jarman’s imagery of a wasteland future is also disturbingly immediate, particularly in the way he can locate all anxiety about social decay in the single image of a burning baby carriage. Jubilee may not be pretty and its political statements and ideological intent may not always be clear, but it is certainly a film that you don’t easily forget.
|Jubilee 25th Anniversary Special Edition Criterion Collection DVD|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection / Home Vision Entertainment|
|Release Date||May 27, 2003|
| 1.66:1 (Anamorphic)|
Jubilee was originally shot on 16mm, so the resulting image on this DVD is understandably a bit soft and grainy. The widescreen anamorphic transfer was taken from a 35mm CRI struck from the original 16mm camera negative and then digitally restored using the MTI Digital Restoration System. Jarman’s colorful palette of imagery is well presented, with bold hues and relatively good contrast. Black levels tend to be a bit unstable at times, but otherwise this is an extremely good transfer of a low-budget film.
|English Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural |
The original one-channel soundtrack, mastered at 24-bit from a 35mm magnetic audio master and then digitally cleaned up, comes through clean and clear, although it is understandably restricted in range and fidelity, given the source materials. The musical scenes in the film sound quite good, though, even in monaural.
| Jubilee: A Time Less Golden documentary|
This well-done 37-minute retrospective documentary, which was produced especially for this DVD release, includes interviews with filmmaker and critic Tony Rayns, stars Jenny Runacre and Toyah Willcox, production designer Christopher Hobbs, and art department assistances Lee Drysdale and John Maybury. They all have interesting and sometimes conflicting memories about Jarman (who died in 1994) and the film’s production (most interesting is how innocent Willcox was at the time, given the extremity of the character she plays). The documentary also includes brief clips from Derek Jarman’s initial cinematic experiments with Super-8. Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1).
Jordan’s Dance short film by Derek Jarman
“A New Wave Movie”
New essay by Jarman biographer Tony Peake
© 2003 James Kendrick