theological sanctioning of the persecution of ‘ homosexual men and women, are a stylish
vindication of the kind of filmic practice I completely alien to many a mainstream auteur. ‘
The whole thing that happened through the . 80$,” claims Derek Jarman, forthright as ever ' about the issues that motivate his work, ‘is that it took six years and about thirty or forty thousand people to die before anyone in government circles paid any attention to AIDS at all. It took Ronald Reagan seven years before he mentioned the word. And a lot of this has to do with the church. 3 I’m afraid.‘
As Jarman’s words indicate, behind the characteristically vibrant mosaic of image and sound, his main concern is to sketch out the links between the current AIDS debacle and the centuries-old theological sanctioning of the persecution of homosexual men and women.
His work on the film began with him pottering around at home, in and around the cottage at Dungeness in Kent which he bought several years back. ‘There was no written script to start off with,’ Derek recalls, ‘just some notations and some poems which were guidelines. It started off with the Super-8 camera filming the garden I was building there over a period of two or three years. We ended up with thirteen hours of landscape. It was done with no idea of specifically making a film, but just at moments when I had the camera there and the sun seemed to be in the right direction.’
The next parts to be added were the sections with Tilda Swinton , who was filmed every time she came down to visit. Jarman describes some of it as ‘ almost home movie-making’, but by now there was enough material in the can to form a basis for a feature, and producer James Mackay had sensed interest from frequent backers at the German television network ZDF. Next on the agenda was the setting up of a formal studio shoot in London, three days of ‘appalling’ filming at Dungeness (where the seafront shingle made it impossible to move the equipment around) having proved sufficient to convince all and sundry that, beautiful as it was, the coastal location was also impractical.
It was during a productive ten day period in the studio that the component parts of The Garden‘s . final collage came together. The film starts with Jarman at home, where water drips on to a handily-placed crucifix, and progresses through a series of dreams within dreams that bring out the central thematic issues. Tilda’s turns and the aforementioned ambient landscape scenes blend in with tableaux vivants and conventionally cut-together sequences that are redolent with religious significance.
Sebastiane also drew from sources in early Christian iconography, yet The Garden is significant for the thematic use it makes ofthe religious imagery. ‘I wanted to bring it in because I believe that religion forms the whole basis ofthe problems gay people have faced right up to Section 28’ is Jarman’s central thesis. ‘The whole situation has always been based on the proscription of that sexuality, which starts really with a vengeance in the eleventh century. I mean Thomas Aquinas, the area where he’s talking about sexuality is pretty fascistic, and St John Christosin is a Nazi I’m afraid. You only have to read his stuff and he comes out slightly to the right
Although it’s evident that he knows his theological texts. Jarman stresses that ‘it’s not a documentary in the sense of saying ‘look all ofthis started in the eleventh century’. What I do is take the whole of the Passion and then in some ofthe sequences replace the figure of Christ with the two young men we see elsewhere in the film. I was trying to show where that kind of repression has come from and how it has continued. I hope that the film might set up a debate between people. I’d like that to happen.’
After the Last Temptation of Christ controversy and the whole Satanic Verses affair. isn't he worried that it might offend people?
‘No. I may be living in a fairly narrow world, but I think it‘s an extremely respectful film. I’ve never become a convert to any of the actual churches but I find it an extraordinary area simply because I‘m amazed by people who believe. In a nice way, I mean, not in a bad way. In the film I think you are fairly aware that the problems and the extreme situation we’ve gotten ourselves into are man-made. The role that Christ plays in the film is a passive one. He‘s almost distraught, as if the world had forgotten his message.’
With a final budget ofjust under £1/2 million. The Garden is continuing proof of the relationship between financial and aesthetic independence. Jarman gets to make his movies his way because they cost so little. The textural quality ofthe images and the modest budget are a result of the singular way in which The Last of England and now The Garden have been put together. Both were filmed largely on the home movie Super-8 format before being transferred on to video. thus facilitating the editing and much manipulation of the image on state-of—the-art technology. before being processed on 35mm film for a normal cinema release. So simple it’s a wonder no one thought ofit sooner.
The final version of The Garden was distilled from over twenty hours of footage into a 90-minute feature, but unfortunately Jarman himself had little input in the proceedings. Suffering from HIV-related illnesses, a recent trip to Poland was to leave the film-maker in hospital with TB. but despite being very poorly for a number ofweeks he was positive enough to offer his own assessment of the way the piece has turned out. ‘A series of moods. I suppose' he calls it, before once again returning to the disturbing wider picture which inspired it. and which continues to drive him forward despite his occasionally faltering health.
‘I was trying to look at the whole religious view of sexuality. because I don’t think you have to be a Catholic to see where it all started. where it all spread out from. You’re dealing with a situation which. over the centuries, really has amounted to genocide. It's as big as that ifyou look at the number ofpeople whose lives have been damaged. Even now kids commit suicide because they’re being brought up in a staunchly Catholic family. This girl came up to me and told me that her brother killed himselfat the age ofseventeen because he couldn’t cope with his sexuality. That has to end.‘
The Garden gets its world premiere at the Cameo cinema on Mon 20 Aug, 8. 45pm. Tickets from the Edinburgh International Film Festival box office at Filmhouse. Lothian Road, 228 2688.
The List 17- 23 August 19903