I first became aware of Derek Jarman when I was a teenager and realized that he had attended the school that I was currently at. I was surprised that such an apparently important artist was never mentioned by anyone at the school, nor his work celebrated or even kept in the school library. But given that this was a rather traditional boarding school on the south coast of England, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Being a lazy teen and given the lack of Jarman films at my fingertips, I didn’t think much more of it.
My next major encounter with his work came many years later when I gained my first and last IMDb acting credit for playing the silent but crucial role of “Cruising Boy” in a short film inspired by Jarman’s childhood. During filming we visited Prospect Cottage, Derek Jarman’s former home still maintained by his partner Keith Collins. Visiting this place, I suddenly understood what an extraordinary figure he had been and felt very stupid that I hadn’t taken the impetus to discover his work years earlier, and promptly began correcting that.
Jarman is one of the most important queer filmmakers in the canon. And it is encouraging that this year, the 20th anniversary of his death, various organisations have taken the initiative to expose his work to a new audience. The Berlinale will screen “Sebastiane” in its panorama section, while London’s BFI have scheduled a vast retrospective. And this is just the beginning.
Here at /bent we will be covering some of these events with the aim of giving Jarman’s films the attention they deserve. Until then, it only remains to say Happy Birthday, Derek. Stay tuned for more.