rushthatspeaks: (Default)
As those of you who have been reading this blog for more than five minutes may have had cause to notice, I am going through something of a Derek Jarman phase at the moment, but seriously, this man's brain. I spent parts of my adolescence reading about the philosophy of art, as one does as a teenager trying to sort out the world, and Jarman is the only artist I've seen applying some of the things that struck me the most from those days. (This is where I leave out an entire tangent on the Situationists and Guy Debord.)

So this is his last book, his book about color.

If there were a genre this fit into, I would almost call it a commonplace book, a collection of quotations and relevant anecdotes tied together through stream-of-consciousness interludes, but while very quote-heavy it is more organized than I am accustomed to commonplace books being. It is whatever genre is typified by Pascal's Pensées.

He intersperses chapters about specific colors with chapters about theories of color, and the history of the way color has been thought about in the Western painting tradition. He also detours into alchemy. His erudition is wide and free-floating; I have no idea who half the people he quotes are, but the quotes are consistently interesting.

This is not a book to read if you are looking for narrative, or for a thesis statement, or any kind of actual argument. It is a book that is a jumping-off place for thinking. Jarman asks: why is it that color theorists don't seem to write about brown? What is brown, anyway, and what is its relationship to yellow? How is it that violet is the only color named, in English, after a flower? And then he'll be off on an anecdote about soap-bubbles or road-mending or Leonardo da Vinci, or descriptions of the paintings he's seen that are the most blue, the most gold, the most beige while still working as paintings. He riffs on and lists historical and emotional associations of the colors, spins paragraphs about unlikely interactions of different objects of the same color, goes into (not half-bad) poetry on occasion.

It is an idiosyncratic book. Pink and purple are in the same chapter, for some reason. Orange gets less than a page. I disagree totally with everything he says about grey, everything, including his spelling of the word-- well, maybe he's right about gray, but I know what I think about grey. He thinks of gray as a nothing-color, a color of defeat and loss and totalitarianism and awfulness, and he loves beige, and for me those two are precisely reversed. He is not wrong about silver the same way, but he doesn't say enough about it, it has about a paragraph. Iridescence gets a chapter, so does translucence; I was happy to see that, as they are, of course, colors, but many books would not have.

I don't know whether he wrote the chapter about blue before or after the script for his film Blue, but for him blue is the color of the infinite, of death and timelessness and resurrection, and so it is the chapter where he talks about dying, which he was actively engaged in at the time of writing (it was a long process), and the blue writings are understated and burning and accepting but never resigned.

I have no way of knowing whether to recommend this to anybody. I enjoyed it. It's the kind of book that I am always marginally amazed to see published, because it feels so different from what people usually think of as a book. Things in it are actively in dialogue with other things I've been reading and with the contents of my head in general, and if you don't have that set of mental circumstances, it would probably be neither enjoyable nor intelligible, and that is dependent on luck as much as anything (resonating with what I've been reading lately is definitely luck). If you're interested in painting, or in the ways that color can be used to provoke emotion in the viewer, you could find this useful. If you're a person who reads the Pensées or the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon for pleasure, you could find this friendly. But it is all so context-dependent that I cannot say whether any given person, or the aggregate of people in general, would find it worthwhile: I can only say that I did.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
After yesterday I wanted something I knew I would like.

This is the least of the Jarman I've read so far, since a lot of it is collected interviews, which means that some of the material repeats itself and some of the interviewers ask really stupid questions. (e.g.: Interviewer: You were telling me why you don't regret no longer being promiscuous-- Jarman: No, you were telling me why I shouldn't regret no longer being promiscuous.)

Also, more than his diaries this is a set of meditations on the films he was making at the time of writing, as opposed to about his personal life, and I have not yet seen the films of this period, post-Caravaggio and pre-Edward II. The principal one of these films is The Last of England, and it is clear that a) Jarman considered it his masterpiece and b) it tongue-tied him, he couldn't talk about it, he said what he had to say in it and when trying to explain it he goes into sentence fragments and heaps of broken images and bricolage of Ezra Pound and William Blake in a blender. It's very entertaining and ludicrously erudite but I have no idea what he means. Maybe after seeing it those chunks of book will make more sense, but I am not betting on that.

But around the edges there are some lovely things, descriptions of things he likes and doesn't about other directors, of a trip to Moscow and south to the Caspian Sea, of the experience of the couple of times he acted in films instead of directing them (both times playing real people, a painter he knew and a director he admires: I may have to hunt down the film in which he plays Pier Paolo Pasolini, being buried in a muddy desert at four in the morning).

So. Not a book for people unfamiliar with Jarman as a director, or possibly even as a writer. But I liked it. It has all his facets, rage and irony and humor and endless benevolence and brilliance.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
This book is one of the main reasons I had to go on hiatus from writing these reviews for a while. You see, it hurt me very badly, and I can't tell yet whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, although probably a good thing on the whole. So it has taken a while to process.

I don't often see reviewers mention that a book has hurt them. It's personal information, I guess, of the sort that a lot of people try to keep out of a book review. It may be unprofessional to mention. It certainly does not assist in maintaining the fiction that the reviewer is in a state of godlike critical detachment and objectivity, but honestly that's not a fiction I am terribly interested in maintaining, and if you read many books, you know perfectly well that sooner or later one of them is going to leave you with scars. Sometimes it's the wrong day or the wrong time or the wrong subject matter; sometimes it's that something about the book or the author strikes you as immoral, unethical, or downright evil; sometimes it's that the book is very good and honest about things that are problems in your life, about which maybe you were not wanting to hear the unvarnished truth just at present.

Or, as with this book, sometimes it rings changes on your new and old griefs.

Derek Jarman was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1986. These are his diaries from 1989 and 1990. )
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
In Boston, fairly recently, in a basement, [personal profile] sovay and I watched Derek Jarman's Caravaggio, and then wide-eyed and astonished went as quickly as possible to find his Edward II, two films which juggle anachronisms with a bitter beautiful wit, indelible from first to last instant. I'd thought Sally Potter had found Tilda Swinton for Orlando, but I was wrong: it was Jarman. In Caravaggio she doesn't look out of her teens, so skinny and sharp and vulpine I thought she was playing a boy, and then all of a sudden from under her headscarf that glorious copper hair, as violent as her grin. In Edward II she tears a man's throat out with her teeth. Amazingly enough, I am not even sure she is the best thing about these movies; there are so many things to choose from.

So [personal profile] sovay got me this book for Christmas.

Jarman's death is the shadow over this book, far too early, AIDS. In the paragraph he gives here of introduction (my copy is from this book's second edition) he says that after diagnosis his goal was to outlast Thatcher's term of office, which he managed. "Now I have my sights on the millennium," he says, "and a world where we are all equal before the law." He got to 1994. This made bits of the book almost too painful to be readable.

But he's the best writer I've seen on film since Louise Brooks, if not a better, mordant, delighted, never quite having the opinion you'd expect (hates Peter Greenaway, hates Julian Schnabel, the directors I find most like him, though to be fair he only knew Schnabel as a painter-- worships at the feet of Pier Paolo Pasolini, which simply flat-out confuses me). He's erudite and vicious, documenting economically one of those odd lives in which somehow no one he knows ever has any money but they all have priceless antiques in their unheated apartments, continuously either scrabbling with arts boards for inadequate financing or finding themselves on tour with Alice Cooper, no apparent intermediary steps. He appears to have had more than half of what I know as twentieth-century pop culture tromp through his living room at one point or another, sometimes entirely by accident, as when offering a young woman a seat on a train led, in a way that seemed sensible at the time, to his designing two films for Ken Russell. About half the half of pop culture fell through his bedroom, too, I think. There's a bit where he picks a guy up in a bar and is telling him about the film-in-progress, Caravaggio, and the guy says if it's about Italian murder, where is all the Gesualdo on the soundtrack? and all I have to say about this is, some people have better luck than others at bar pickups, seriously.

There are two still photos in this book that taken sequentially illustrate almost everything I find interesting about cinema. The first is a still from Sebastiane, Jarman's first feature, an epic about the life of Saint Sebastian filmed in Latin with a lot of nudity. The picture is Sebastian, on his post, with the arrows, after being shot and before dying. He's naked and bleeding and bloody-but-unbowed, and resembles greatly many, many pieces of religious art and also the artsier type of fetish magazine, though it is genuinely a fairly classy picture. Then in the second still, the camera's swiveled ninety degrees, so we can see the camera which is taking the first shot, and everyone in profile. In this one, Sebastian is, quite firmly, a naked guy tied to a post, and he has been tied to this post for a bit of a while now, thank you, and it is hot out and the arrows look uncomfortable and you can see that his back does not appreciate having been tied to a post for a long time and that he wants to get this over with. And they're the same shot, taken at the same moment; it's all in how you look at it. Because that's what movies, and actors, can do.

Derek Jarman supervised both photos, of course. Knowing them both to be important is part of what made him such a great director. This book (which is, I should mention, funny on top of everything else) is a treasure, because he never settles for a simple look at anything, and has the command of his own voice to go with it. Apparently he started as a painter, then a theatre designer, drifting into cinema accidentally and winding up somehow also a published poet. I only regret he never gave us a novel.


rushthatspeaks: (Default)

March 2017

56789 1011


RSS Atom

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Mar. 24th, 2017 12:07 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios