Derek Jarman’s films are undeniably experimental. In his case, I think this is mainly due to the notion that he tries any idea that comes to mind: clunky language in all but Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II, but even here he used almost childish dumb-shows sprinkled liberally around.
I’d seen many of Jarman’s films fifteen years ago and found them deep. Fifteen years on, I realized at least that level of intellectual pretention has withered.
Jubilee was the final film on my Jarman list. I went in with low expectations but was all but blown away. The film was made in 1977 (the title, I believe is based on 1977 being Queen Elizabeth II’s 25 year jubilee) during a dense time for the punk movement in Britain. Given the experimental and angry nature of the punk scene, an experimental film would be fitting.
Jubilee is a frame narrative. Elizabeth I demands that her court astrologer show her a vision. He calls forth an Ariel (black clad, black eyed). This sinister takes her to the era of a decadent Britain of her namesake’s rule.
In as much as there is a main character in this otherwise ensemble piece, Amyl Nitrate (Jordan) is a sort of historian rewriting history as a whole and keeping a history of her mates. Generally she and her mates explore the violent aspect of punk and the fierce anti-establishment nature required by this religion. The violence is not tacked on or glorified, it fits the flow and plot as a whole.
The film also shows the inherent hypocrisy that cannot ever be resolved: if your religion is non-conformity, when you try to survive on your music or art, you are a sellout and conformist.
With regards to the plot, Jubilee has far less politics in it than I was expecting given both the era and the director.
Amyl and Mad (Toyah WIllcox) have the most screen time, but do not control the flow. Each character has a scene that belongs to her or him. Given the staunch independence, this is a thematic consistency.
While being emblematic, Jubilee was plot driven—rare in large part of the rest of Jarman’s oeuvre. Since it starts with seriously clunky Elizabethan meter, I didn’t think I would finish it. Instead, I didn’t have to pretend at all. It is simply a good film.
There is politics; it is not possible to make a film about punk without some form of politics. What is striking though is that Jubilee is anti-authoritarian period; there is no mention of the queen, parliament, or the prime minister. The police are present and important but their involvement is relatively brief.
The demonic Mr. Dee (Richard O’Brien) is the emblem of all media. So he apparently already controls all past performers and is now working to control the new culture. This desire leads to what is the only—so far as I could tell on two viewings—overtly political statement. Amyl performs an irreverent lip-sync version of Rule Britannia done in electronic mode. At times it is sexual but mainly it is aggressive. The one political moment is a brief goosestep pantomime with a short Hitler voiceover.
The frame is closed at the end with Elizabeth wandering off with her astrologer. The language and leaving are ambiguous; again, nicely done thematically.
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day
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