THE LAST DAYS OF ENGLAN
'With ("timi‘uggio interviewers were always telling me I'd made a self-portrait. so on 'l'lie1-u.vl ()flz'ngltuiil I decided to bring the autobiographical elements to the fore.‘ says Derek .larman of his stunning new feature which had its premiere on Sunday at the Edinburgh Film Festival. ‘I felt there were things in my life that were shared by everyone and that I should explore that .'
We sit outside in the intermittent Edinburgh lunchtime sun. which is peeping nieekly through the passing clouds. both recovering a little from the morning's screening of the ramrod experience that is undoubtedly its maker's most powerful work to date. ‘Without sounding big-headed. I‘m blit/ed by the film every time I see it .‘ he adds. winding down with a chain of cigarettes: forty-soniething but still expending the fiz/bomb nervous energy of a bright young thing.
'l’here's a fairly off-hand side to this impish personality too though. I remember on the previous occasion we met almost choking on my coffee w hen he proclaimed that ‘films should be knocked off in an afternoon’. Indeed. that sort of relaxed approach lies behind the genesis of The l.(l.\l ()l lineluml. as he explains: "I'his time I thought I'd start offin my flat in the (‘liaring (‘ross Road and just see where it went. . .'
The result is an ambitious. complex and often brilliantly realised piece of dynamic cinematic poetry . that sees .larman breaking out of the poised historical languor of ( 'urui'uggiu to cast his eye over the contemporary scene with the same combative bleakness he brought to the punk opus Jubilee some ten years ago. The central section shot at night in the director's study as he works on a new painting. blends with documentary-style reportage of inner city decay. his grandparents‘ and parents‘ home movies which chart the history of the .larman family from WES to N“. and expressionistic fragments of an imagined movie love story featuring 'I‘ilda Swinton and Spencer Leigh from (iii-arugula. ’I‘he separate strands are then pulled together by sophisticated intercutting. often at dizzying speed. Iintirely shot on the Super S format then transferred through video-scanning to 35mm cinema standard. the film relies on the juxtaposition of image with an eclectic soundtrack largely recorded out on the streets (ey erything from singing tramps to jingoistic eulogies on the occasion of I’ergie‘s wedding) creating its own eloquence whilst eschewing conventional narrative or dialogue. It’s both the state ofthe nation. and. unashamedly. the state of Derek Jarman.
"I'he film is based on the fact that my father was in the RAF. ‘he explains. ‘I was brought tip iii a world which was very different from any ordinary community. When I was a teenager there in the Fifties people still talked of civvy street and going down to the town. so naturally it bred a certain sense of isolation. 'I'hen it seemed that everyone else was an enemy. and that sort of military presence continues today.
‘My father flew bombers from I.ossiemouth. He was one of the Pathfinders. He never stopped fighting the war. 'I'owards the end of his life he was doing bombing raids on 'I‘esco‘s. He wouldn't speak to me or my sister for the last eight years. When we came to the house we had to sit outside on the lawn. Ile died last year and out of all the things he owned I knew that what I wanted most were his and his father‘s home movies which you see in the finished film. It ties things together. the Imperial embers and all that.‘
In the film‘s scheme of thingsJarman Snr‘s war footage and clips from I’ifties' Pakistan are the reminders ofa disintegrated empire (‘I Iitler‘s l(’l)(’ll.\‘l'(lllnl was pretty pathetic w hen you
Derek Jarman‘s new film The Last Of England has received its world premiere at this year‘s Edinburgh Film Festival. 'I‘revor Johnston talked to the outspoken director.
compare it to what the Iinglish had already done‘) that contrasts with the contemporary sequences of urban decay. ‘We spent a lot of time shooting in these ruins. mostly on the back of pop videos. We did The Smiths and Iiasterhouse. where we were meant to shoot for a w eek but finished early and spent the rest of the time doing ourown film.’
"I‘he boy in most of those sequences is called Spring. Ile told me ( ‘urut'uuglo was shit but wanted to act. so we iust put him in front of the camera. He's himself in the film: he came in the clothes you see. and he really is this middle-class kid out on his own doing smack a lot of the time. We never even knew where he slept at night. he told us it was none ofour business. I remember coming back to the flat one day and he was sitting outside on a bollard. "I low long hay c you been here?” I asked him and he said "Six hours. I might as well be here as anywhere else. ” '
Yet these scenes play against the film‘s ev en
darker visions. where terrorists in paramilitary uniforms round tip and execute innocent citizens. "I"liey"re revealed as collaborators. of course. The 'I'hateher figure asks them whether they enjoyed The Falklands and they say “Yes. Ma'am." You see it's a question of who the real terrorists are'. Later. 'I'ilda Swinton takes part in a grotesque parody of a royal wedding. only to suffer a change of heart soon afterwards. "I‘o me that's the disintegration of the Family. which is part and parcel of latterday capitalism. Appeals are made to it all the time. but it simply isn't working. You see that with 'l'ilda trying to rip her way out of the wedding dress. which is terribly difficult because there‘s so much history attached to it. ’I‘hey're very well made things too.‘
It seems the only real happiness in the film occurs in the idyllic home movie clips of the young .larman as a playful child. I ptit it to Derek that his film seemed to present a dreamy retreat into the past to avoid the harsh climate of the present.
‘I suppose you could read it like that. btit you have to realise that the Ilitler speeches and the bombs on the soundtrack tend to undermine it. With a film like this the path is not straight. In the end. I think everyone feels a sense of loss for the past. lispecially as you grow older you do. A sense of loss for ridictilous things like a certain cafe or a shop that's closed down or a part of town that's been demolished. ’l'herc's a feeling of “If only things had been different”.'
'l'he multi-faceted nature of lllt' Luv! 0/ latiglmitl's editing strategy creates a welte r of ambiguities. an index of possible meanings. and may consequently prove less accessible than the ‘commercial‘ (trmmggio. Yet. as .larman is at pains to point otit in the memoir w hich will be published to accompany the film. he is engaged in ‘thc battle for a cinema which grows tip and uses the direct experiences of the author like any other artform . . . and declares that experience is the basis for serious work .'
()n the ‘Wliere's the narrative." issue he becomes quite animated. ‘I low can you be so simplistic about things that are so complicated." he asks. ‘I-‘or me. the audience is made tip of a lot of individuals from all different walks of life.
’I wish there could be more personal films. I think everyone's life is interesting. We really need to discover that everyday life is interesting. that we ought to have the courage to live it. At that point one starts to say who one is and w hat one feels about things. rather than iust let's adapt another novel that might make a good film'.
To a certain extent everyone's life is tlttiyct'sal. We are all born. we all die. we all share similar emotions. Imight admit that lllt’ Lust 0/ ling/mu! is probably a film for a small audience. btit really if the proper channels of communication decided to promote it I think a lot of people would find things in it they liked. and for very different reasons.'
Personally. I found the scene with 'l‘ilda Swinton despairing for the loss of her lover wliilst Marianne Faithful‘s rendition of 'l‘he Skye Boat Song swells on the soundtrack somehow very moving. But it seems I am not alone in that. ‘A friend of mine said the same thing.‘ says .larman. ‘it reminded him of the I Iighland clearances. I Ie was Scottish. a history teacher.’
And why use that particular music'.’
‘()h. I was thinking of my mother. She tised to sing it to me and my sister before we went to sleep. I always thought it was a wonderfully sad song. Still do.‘
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The List ll Aug — 3 Sept 37