Monday, 5 March 2007

Jubilee (1977) - Derek Jarman

Jubilee was only Jarman's second feature length release, having already made a cult name for himself in the London community through short 8mm films. Already, off the success of Sebastiane, Jarman is carving out his uniquely british vision of society, culture and punk rhetoric. A far more linear story than The Last Of England, but similar in many visual and thematic ways, Jubilee follows Queen Elizabeth I on a voyage of discovery. The Queen, accompanied by John Dee, calls upon an angel (played by Adam Ant) to provide her with knowledge. This knowledge he provides her by way of a vision of England's future - a future unmistakebly 1970s, although it bares uncanny resemblances to Kubrick's Clockwork Orange dystopia.

In this future we see a group of punk artistes, visionaries or misguided souls - that is for the audience to make up their minds, but undeniably extraordinary. We watch Amyl Nitrate, Chaos, Crabs, Sphinx et al as they record music, discuss life and politics, and generally cause chaos. They live in what would generally be considered at best a squat, at worst squalor. There's an awful lot of bravado and pride on show in their actions and speeches but this isn't reflected in their derelict, cramped and messy environment.

It's to this clash of ideas and reality that the film turns, or at least - seems to suggest is present. We watch our protaonists, apparently happy in thier lives (or if not hapy then at least content) but there's always the pervading sense of something being array. As the film progresses it becomes clear this is not a celebration as the title may suggest, but some sort of mouring of society or perhaps a paen to the classical times of Elizabeth when things were 'better'. Via some interesting distractions, such as a Eurovision entry featuring Rule Brittania mixed with divebombing and Hitler rhetoric, the film introduces an eccentric record exectuive-come-monopolist, Cardinal Borgia Ginz - played by Jack Birkett at his very best indeed.

Ginz represents the key to the film. He gets the lionshare of the best lines that reveal amidst this punk dystopia he is making a fortune. He has bought everything he can in order to preserve and widen his power, he is in effect - exploiting the anarchic youth that he embraces with one hand and shuns with the other. It's him who runs the Eurovision contest, he runs the media which has a vice-like hold over the attention of the protagonists and he in a very Orwellian sense, is the protagonists' Big Brother. Whether anything should be read into the campness with which he is portrayed i am unsure, however what he stands for is unmistakeably important to the narrative thrust of Jarman's film. These young punks believe they are changing the world, they believe they have power and an ultimate sense of freedom following the abolition of law and order that is mentioned in the movie, but they dont. After all the strife, after the chaos that has ensued in persual of total freedom for the citizen, everyone is ultimately the capitalist's slave - and not just any capitalist but a media mogul. His infectious power, his midas touch sucks the vulnerable, weak and dissasociated into his grasp where he can use them as he likes. The ultra-cynical subtext is palpable, especially when the pseudo-philosophical ramblinsg of the punks get to their most rambling verbose sections. Jarman is not praising the punk movement; he is highlighting the irony in the punk reliance on mas media. He is detailing, quite cleverly i may add, how those who controlled the direction of the movement (as he saw it) were little removed from those punk sought to attack and ridicule.

The film finishes by nicely, and again - ironically, circling in on itself. Happiness is swept away with hope to be replaced by despair, all at the doing of the punks who are only acting out of what they feel is justice. Self destruction reigns supreme and, although the monologues may be pretentious tosh at times and the actinga bit wooden, the film does have enough merits to make for worthy viewing. From a nostalgic perspective it's interesting to see the likes of Toya Wilcox when she was still punk's darling, along with Adam Ant doing his best to ape David Bowie but the main source of intrigue and debate in this work is what it's saying about the era that spawned it. It's a far cry from the homoeroticism of Sebastiane, focusing on female empowerment and violent feminism for the mospart as the 2 gay characters are resigned to the periphery, that allows Jarman to focus on the social implications of the plot to a far greater degree - expanding on narrative themes far more competently than in any of his previous work.

Not Jarman's best film by any stretch, but one worth a look for anyone interested in British sociopolitical history. 7/10


TheDrunkenAngel said...

I queued it a fair while back, I can't wait to see it. Your essay is excellent, great reading material for seven minutes or so. Good stuff, dude.

Check out the top 20 masterpiece "Hana-bi", I'm currently reviewing it.

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