Thursday 13 September 2018

On Blu-ray - David Hare discovers the work of Derek Jarman and Andrew Haigh

After Lindsay Kemp's death, reported here a couple of weeks ago, my mind kept wandering back to that whole punk/post punk era of New Brit anti-establishment 70s and 80s protest. 
I guess the greatest exponents of the Costume/High Aesthetic/Romance/ Glam branch of gay punk were Lindsay, and of course Derek Jarman. The very best gay movie ever made in my opinion is Jarman's masterpiece, Edward II (1991) adapted from the greatest Shakespeare history/tragedy the old man never actually wrote. It was written by Christopher Marlowe. 
More recently I finally caught up with the new Lionsgate disc of Andrew Haigh's superb, completely non-gay Lean on Pete, which is however a product of the most refined gay sensibility currently working in movies. 
The Jarman hits one of its many, many peaks and my own heart breaking favorite, Annie Lennox (above) singing Cole  Porter's  “Every Time We say Goodbye” for the 1990 memorial anthem AIDS CD and video of Cole Porter covers called “Red Hot and Blue” while Edward and Gaveston clinch for what will be the last time. It’s on Youtube if you click on this link Every Time We Say Goodbye. The song was previously a track directed by Jarman. It’s a song that Jarman stages, dressed with minimal glam and heartfelt romance as a hymn to those of us who were dying during the plague. 
It is, needless to say a cue to floods of tears from every gay man who ever drew breath, and I proudly confess to such abasement. I have to say I have an uneasy relationship with Jarman's work. Indeed, the last time I tackled his Wittgenstein, with the grand company of Jennifer Sabine we both gave up after thirty minutes (no dibs Jen.) Maybe it's just that I find his work uneasy as a personal classicist. 
I often find Jarman's execution more inadequate than necessary for his conceptions. The didacticism and fourth wall elements of Wittgenstein and other movies have seemed to me fragmentarily incoherent. The late abstract films, when he went blind, are very moving, but as much for meta-cinematic reasons as anything. But the two majestic exceptions are his The Tempest and especially the Marlowe which is one of the first, and the greatest gay works of art in the English (or anyone's) language. 
It does take someone as completely immersed in gay sensibility as Jarman to actually come anywhere near queering the play up to the temperament and florid violence it requires in presentation. The accumulations of detail, like a male nude clusterfuck ballet (above), and La Tilda (below) swinging a 3500 quid Hermes bag in her first entrance, and then Annie Lennox singing Cole at the high point is where Marlowe's work needed to be taken. Only Jarman could do and he did it. 
From 90s glimmer punk to the new bucolic simplicity from Andrew Haigh in Lean on Pete, a devastating portrayal of a boy growing into a man which proudly belongs in the company of Mackendrick's Sammy Going South.
Haigh completely redeems his cred for me here after the disappointment of 45 Years. The latter was buried by ole dead eyes Rampling who, while she may be nice for BO and video sales, puts a really dampening pedal on the delicate psychology and nuanced mood of that screenplay. 
Pete is a wonder, with an 18 year-old Charlie Plummer (above) in an astonishing feature debut performance leading the movie in a moving narrative road journey with an old dying racehorse (below)whom he loves, who goes and dies in the middle of the story, leaving Plummer to work his way through the nightmare of growing up alone, on the road. I have no idea how much critical consensus played on this picture, but I celebrate it as joyously as his debut feature, Weekend in 2011. 
Haigh has the insight not to overwrite or over-direct either incident or performance, and leaves the space for action and pause to the intuitions of his actors. Despite that his players never seem improvisatory but always spontaneous. The narrative discovery travels with them and comes to us at much the same time. I am inclined to rate him formally with Kelly Reichardt, although they have quite unique personalities as directors The movie also looks drop dead gorgeous. And the new US Lionsgate Blu-ray is absolutely perfect. The Jarman comes from a recent Japanese Film Movement Classics Blu-ray which, if you can get it, is highly desirable.

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