Museo Reina Sofía:
free, until full capacity is reached, with prior ticket collection on the Museo Reina Sofía website from 10am on the last working day before the activity. A maximum of 1 per person. Doors open 30 minutes before screenings
Filmoteca Española: €3 per session. Times for these sessions may be subject to change. Please check the Filmoteca Española website and programme
Museo Reina Sofía and Filmoteca Española
Basilisk Communications and the LUMA Foundation
Every autumn since 2016, the Museo Reina Sofía and Filmoteca Española have organised an audiovisual season which combines, over a two-month period, the film programmes of both institutions. The 2020 retrospective shines a light on Derek Jarman (1942–1994), painter, film-maker, gay rights activist, stage designer, writer and gardener. Jarman’s indefatigable output reminds us at once of film’s importance in recognising difference and as an act of love and dissidence.
Jarman was a luminary who shaped a queer gaze and identity in film, countering not only the hetero-centred visual predominance in the medium, but also paving the way for queer interpretations and readings of the past, upholding an alternative present he would live and experience in permanent discord, from the explosion of punk in the 1970s to activism fighting AIDS-related discrimination in the mid-1990s. First and foremost, his work is characterised by mesmerising erudition which threads together ancient history, religious iconography, classic literature and art history, cast out to rock the present, not reaffirm it. Secondly, it is sculpted by constant autobiographical experience, with characters that predominantly allude to the role of the artist on the margins who lives with sweeping social, state and religious violence and repression, aspects Jarman would suffer as a public-eye gay figure in Thatcher’s Britain. Thirdly, his work rests on his belief in being able to transform art, a central theme ranging over different aspects of his work: an interest in medieval alchemy and occultism as knowledge of transformation, the search for myth and contemporary allegory to interrogate simplified versions of the present, and faith in surviving illness though art, as evinced in Blue, his final feature film. Finally, Jarman’s cinema is profoundly symptomatic of his era, for it is collectively inhabited by London’s underground music, art and culture scene in the period stretching from the 1970s to the 1990s.
The series comprises three programmes connected in a circular fashion: an opening session with Blue, which stands out as one of the most staggering and emotive films of our times, and a second session as the conclusion to the series; a second block including the entire body of fictional feature-length films Jarman was part of, from his origins as a stage designer with Ken Russell (1971–1972) to Wittgenstein (1993), one of his last productions, to cult films such as Sebastiane (1976) and Caravaggio (1986), among others. Lastly, a section encasing his forays into experimental Super-8 and 16mm film-making and the music videos the artist would zealously produce from the early 1980s, coming to focus on imagery of England’s alternative music and collage films like The Garden and The Last of England, in which a mix of languages flows out beyond any narrative order. The block culminates in the documentary Derek (2008), artist Isaac Julien’s homage to Derek Jarman.
With the sponsorship of:
Derek Jarman. Blue
UK, 1993, colour, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, DCP in Cine Doré and digital archive in Museo Reina Sofía, 74’
Opening session presented by James Mackay, a producer on a broad array of Derek Jarman films and curator of this series.
The film opening and closing the series, Blue, is formed by a single static shot of the colour blue with a voice-over and musical soundtrack. The voice reads a poetic and diaristic text written by Jarman, documenting his illness (AIDS) and impending death at a time when he had been partially blinded and his sight was almost completely reduced to blue light. The film, his final feature, was made a few months prior to his death. The visual language of Blue, an unchanging blue screen, directly references the evocation of the void and the areas of immateriality in the work of Yves Klein (1928–1962) through the use of the "International Klein Blue" colour. Andrew Wilson, a curator at Tate Britain, wrote: “The film’s voice-over is spoken by Jarman alongside long-term collaborators Tilda Swinton, Nigel Terry and John Quentin. The text — often spoken as a form of verse — is augmented by music and sound by Jarman’s regular composer Simon Fisher-Turner, as well as Coil, Momus, Karol Szymanowski and Eric Satie. (…). The film became a meditation on colour, the void and his disease. Jarman explained in a late proposal for the film: ‘The monochrome is an alchemy, effective liberation from personality. It articulates silence. It is a fragment of an immense work without limit. The blue of the landscape of liberty.’”
Ken Russell. The Devils
UK and USA, 1971, colour, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, DCP in Cine Doré and digital archive in Museo Reina Sofía, 111’
Derek Jarman worked on The Devils, one of the most contentious and controversial films in the history of cinema, as a production designer, designing the sets and historical settings. The film narrates the rise and fall of Urbain Grandier, a dissolute, tyrannical Catholic priest from seventeenth-century France, and the obsessive and neurotic desire for him by Ursuline Sister Jeanne des Anges, played by Vanessa Redgrave. Nestled among this account is the witch-hunt as a power struggle and the persecution of the freest and most alternative form of sexuality. Adapted from Aldous Huxley’s book The Devils of Loudun (1952), the film was banned in many countries and roundly censored in those where it was premiered, receiving an “X” rating. Despite this, Ken Russell would receive the Best Director Award at the Venice Festival in 1971. Jarman, in the tradition of the modern stage designs of Adolphe Appia (1862–1928) and Edward Gordon Craig (1872–1966), designed the sets as a total work of art that depicts religious totalitarianism.
Ken Russell. Savage Messiah
UK, 1972, colour, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, DCP in Cine Doré and B-R in Museo Reina Sofía, 103’
A biographical film on avant-garde sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891–1915) and the second Ken Russell-Derek Jarman collaboration. Once more, Jarman would design the sets and historical settings, with Russell confessing his interest in Jarman as “the last true bohemian”. The film explores both the life of an artist against the grain of aesthetic and social conventions in the origins of twentieth-century avant-garde movements, and an idiosyncratic love story between Henri Gaudier and Sophie Brzeska: she, a writer and 20 years his senior, would have an intense and strictly platonic love affair with Gaudier that would last five years. The sculptor, who would die aged 24 in the First World War, adopted the name of his companion to avoid problems of acceptance and so they could pass as brother and sister. In this instance, Russell examines one of his favourite themes, the artist-genius, albeit divested of any mysticism.
Derek Jarman y Paul Humfress. Sebastiane
UK, 1976, colour, original version in Latin with Spanish subtitles, DCP in Cine Doré and digital archive in Museo Reina Sofía, 85’
Sebastiane is one of the founding films in the construction of queer cinema, whereby the homosexual gaze defies the heterosexual subject that has predominated the history of the medium, both in production and reception. Despite it being Jarman’s first fictional film, he was already putting in place his major themes with striking clarity: the marginalised figure, brimming erudition, the fusion of myth, occultism and ancient history, and the search for the ideal beauty to express sexual difference. Shot in Latin in Jarman’s wharf studio in London and in Sardinia, and with a shoestring budget of 30,000 pounds, the film tells the story of Saint Sebastian, a member of Emperor Diocletian’s imperial guard banished to a military garrison on the coast and reduced in rank to private. There he must survive the sexual assault of Severus until his execution as he defends ideal love based on pacifism and nature.
Derek Jarman. Jubilee
UK, 1978, colour, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, DCP in Cine Doré and digital archive in Museo Reina Sofía, 103’
A cult film through which Derek Jarman was able to bring to bear the rage, dissent and frustration of the British punk movement. Jubilee, alluding to the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II, is a fiercely original film which moves between science fiction, music video, trash aesthetic, arthouse cinema and epoch-making document. Queen Elizabeth I of England is transported 400 years into the future, from 1570 to 1970, a present future in which she witnesses the United Kingdom plunged into chaos, with Elizabeth II murdered, a fascist police government and mass-media manipulation. In the midst of this social and physical decay, shot to urban scenes of post-war London, violent gangs, played by punk icons like Jordan, Toyah Wilcox and Adam Ant, seethe and swarm. Brian Eno also composed his first film score for this classic in political dystopia.
Derek Jarman. The Tempest
UK, 1979, colour, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, DCP in Cine Doré and digital archive in Museo Reina Sofía, 92’
An original adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1611), this film constitutes a project to reinterpret what Jarman would spend years pursuing, in this instance moving between theatre and cinema. The film enabled him to explore a middle ground between both mediums, something he would also develop in later works, such as Edward II and Wittgenstein. With the magical and supernatural strand of the film Jarman returned to the history of alchemy and occultism, a mainstay in his Super-8 and 16mm work. The adaptation would punctuate forgiveness in this story of betrayal, revenge, condemnation and romance, foregrounding, through second readings, the relationship between Prospero and Ariel.
Derek Jarman. Caravaggio
UK, 1986, colour, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, DCP in Cine Doré and digital archive in Museo Reina Sofía, 93’
This biographical film about Baroque painter Caravaggio (1571–1610) is one of Derek Jarman’s biggest mainstream successes. Behind the theme is a complex web of correspondence and relations. Firstly, the film-maker identified with Caravaggio as a revolutionary gay artist hounded during his lifetime, whether it be by the Vatican or in Thatcher’s Britain. Secondly, in both there is the common conception of ancient and religious history in a profoundly contemporary and troubling sense, for instance the religious themes of Caravaggio with vagabonds and prostitutes from his time or anachronisms in Jarman’s Jubilee, The Tempest and this film. Finally, the two artists employ the body as a rupture of hierarchies of representation: Caravaggio against the decorum of classical painting, Jarman against the hetero-dominant gaze, for instance in Sebastiane. Ultimately, Jarman would say: “We’re both hindquarter boys of the night”. The film employs a tableau vivant — a living picture — with bravura and constitutes a first outing in film for Tilda Swinton, who would become Jarman’s muse and go on to work with him on numerous occasions.
Derek Jarman. War Requiem
UK, 1989, colour, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, DCP in Cine Doré and digital archive in Museo Reina Sofía, 92’
An inherently operatic film, in which the symphonic composition War Requiem Op. 66, (1962), by Benjamin Britten, fuses with documentary archive footage and a series of scenes and tableaux vivants (living pictures) on the First World War, drawing inspiration from the poetry of British soldier Wilfred Owen (1893–1918), who died in battle. The film also includes eye-catching performances by Laurence Olivier in his final role, and a mesmerising Tilda Swinton. War Requiem is a plea against the horrors of war in all its manifestations, and although its use of military imagery approximates Imagining October (1984) and The Last of England (1987), it sits closer to the rest of Jarman’s oeuvre, where images and music combine without the predominance of narrative, for instance the short film Aria (1987), or the music videos he made, included in this season in the form of a monographic session.
Derek Jarman. Edward II
UK, 1991, colour, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, DCP in Cine Doré and digital archive in Museo Reina Sofía, 90’
Based on the 1562 tragedy of Christopher Marlowe, this film represents another queer re-reading of history and the use of the past against a present oppressor. The film explores the persecution of King Edward II, a gay archetype recovered by Jarman, joining a far-reaching repertoire with figures such as Sebastian, Caravaggio, Prospero and Pasolini. Jarman deliberately uses anachronism to speak of homophobia in Thatcher’s Britain, particularly after the approval of the controversial Article 28, amended to the 1986 Local Government Act, outlawing any representation of homosexuality. In this way, the mix between a medieval and contemporary set design, with strong influences from the staging of The Devils (1971), juts out in the sequences where Annie Lennox renders a version of a Cole Porter song to the protest of the contemporary gay rights group, OutRage! Alongside it the unremitting theme of institutional violence meted out on the individual.
Derek Jarman. Wittgenstein
UK and Japan, 1993, colour, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, DCP in Cine Doré and digital archive in Museo Reina Sofía, 75’
“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”, wrote Wittgenstein (1889–1951), whose life forms the narrative for this TV film commissioned by Channel 4 for a series on philosophers. Picking up on this idea, Jarman steers the film towards an original frontier space straddling theatre and film, where both languages are contaminated and strengthened. The philosopher’s life transpires in a series of disrupted fragments played by personages dressed in vibrant colours to a minimalist setting. The original script by Marxist theorist Terry Eagleton doesn’t shy away from the shadows of Wittgenstein’s biography, which thicken as they are related from a child-like vision of his childhood: gay sexual orientation, frustration with teachings or his conflicts with Bertrand Russell, all of which contrast with the lucidity of genius.
Derek Jarman. Electric Fairy
UK, 1971, colour, original version, sound, digital archive, 6’30’’
Derek Jarman. In the Shadow of the Sun
UK, 1972, colour, original version, sound, digital archive, 57’
Electric Fairy saw Jarman first make inroads into film-making as a director, after previously designing the sets for The Devils (1971) and Savage Messiah (1972). The film, lost for many years and recovered recently by James Mackay, reflects the camp sensibility of that era in relation to the participation of the film-maker in the Gay Liberation movement. In the Shadow of the Sun, meanwhile, is the culmination of two years filming in Super-8, with Jarman dubbing the series of films “the art of mirrors”. This full-length work would incorporate numerous earlier films, such as Journey to Avebury (1973), Tarot (1973) and Death Dance (1973), a more ambitious ensemble including different overlapping layers and an extension of time through re-filming slowed-down projected images. In 1981, the film was transferred to 16mm and an original score was composed by Throbbing Gristle.
Derek Jarman. Imagining October
UK, 1984, colour, original version, sound, 16mm, 27’
Julian Cole. Ostia
UK, 1987, colour, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, digital archive, 27’
Imagining October stemmed from an invitation to curate a group exhibition, with John Maybury and Cerith Wyn Evans, as part of the 1984 edition of the London Film Festival. Jarman accepted a proposal by the British Film Institute (BFI) to travel to Soviet Russia with a group of film-makers and critics, including Sally Potter and Peter Wollen, who would both appear in the film, taking his Super-8 camera with him on the trip. Upon his return, he filmed a group of soldiers, played by young artists like Peter Doig, posing for a group portrait. The slogans, inspired by Mayakovsky, offered a critique of Thatcher’s Government with images comparing and contrasting it to the Soviet State. Julian Cole’s Ostia, for its part, depicts the last night of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s life and presents Jarman in the role of the Italian film-maker. Although it was made on a low budget and filmed in London, its faithfulness to the events surrounding the death of Pasolini are striking, and no subsequent film on the same theme has managed to capture such an alluring portrait.
Derek Jarman. Super-8 programme
Studio Bankside. UK, 1972, colour and b/w, original version, sound, 6’47’’
Journey to Avebury. UK, 1973, colour, original version, sound, 10’
Tarot, also known as The Magician. UK, 1973, colour, original version, 7’39’’
Sulphur. UK, 1973, colour, VO, sound, 15’
Sloane Square, also known as Removal Party and Sloane Square: A Room of One’s Own. UK, 1974–1976, colour and b/w, original version, sound, 8’
A Break from Sebastian, also known as Sebastian Mirror Film. UK, 1975, colour, original version, sound, 6’
Waiting for Waiting for Godot. UK, 1982, colour, original version, 7’14’’
All screenings in the session are in Super-8 transferred to digital
A cross-wise selection of seven Derek Jarman films produced in Super-8 between 1972 and 1982. The film-maker would pick up a Super-8 camera for the first time in 1972, quickly becoming adept at filming and editing in the medium and producing a prolific body of work, making 42 films across this ten-year period. In most cases, the films were accompanied by music pieces selected from commercial records and tapes. In the films screened in this session, the soundtracks have been created expressly by Simon Fisher Turner, Coil and Cyclobe, and the A Break from Sebastian soundtrack is composed by musician Nick Hudson.
Derek Jarman. T.G.: Psychic Rally in Heaven
UK, 1981, colour, original version, 16mm, 8’
Derek Jarman. Pirate Tape: William Burroughs
UK, 1983, colour, original version, 16mm, 15’
Derek Jarman, Michael Kostiff, John Maybury and Cerith Wyn Evans. The Dream Machine
UK, 1984, colour, original version, 16 mm, 32’
Psychic Rally in Heaven was shot in December 1980 in London’s Heaven night club, directly after Throbbing Gristle finished recording the score to In the Shadow of the Sun. The film was initially silent, with music added after Throbbing Gristle’s album Second Annual Report. Pirate Tape: William Burroughs is a portrait of the writer during his visit to London for The Final Academy, a counterculture event organised by David Dawson, Roger Ely and Genesis P-Orridge. The Dream Machine also surfaced from this activity, Bryon Gysin’s visit to London and the exhibition Dream Machine, an optical-mechanical meditation device Jarman designed with Ian Somerville in the B2 Gallery. The collective film comprises four dreams, each a different work by each of the four artists, who would form an informal group during this period and create and exhibit films and paintings in London.
Derek Jarman. The Angelic Conversation
UK, 1985, colour, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, DCP Cine Doré and digital archive in Museo Reina Sofía, 78’
The Angelic Conversation is a succession of images of gay love, ethereal coastal landscapes and variegated gardens to a background reading of 14 love sonnets by William Shakespeare, read by actress Judi Dench. The soundtrack was composed by experimental group Coil. To this non-linear, dreamlike structure, invoking ritual and magic, an Arcadian world seems to take root, interrupted by modern images of radar systems and burning cars which, in the words of Jarman, “remind you there is a price to be paid in order to gain this dream in the face of a violent world”. This film condenses many of the themes and images of his Super-8 work and the expanded form of the music video Jarman would explore in depth, in addition to a queer re-reading of high culture as Shakespeare is returned to time and again, with his adaptation of The Tempest (1979) one such example.
Derek Jarman. The Last of England
UK, 1987, colour, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, DCP in Cine Doré and digital archive in Museo Reina Sofía, 87’
This film and Jubilee (1978) make up a dystopian duology against the most conservative and excluding side of England. Where Jubilee was all punk rage and anger, The Last of England is frustration and melancholy. Jarman wrote: “In Jubilee the past dreamed the future present. The Last of England has the same form, but with the difference this time that I have added myself to the film. Here the present dreams of the past future”. The film takes its title from an 1855 pre-Raphaelite painting by Ford Madox Brown, in which a man and a woman from the English countryside leave the country to start a new life in Australia. Jarman made the film shortly after he was diagnosed as HIV positive and, therefore, imagines himself among the people being banished through the mounting state violence against the HIV-positive community, an event which, as a past future, reminds him of his grandparents’ emigration to New Zealand. The Last of England, with the preliminary title Victorian Values, pivots around footage of riots, amateur recordings and Super-8 material in a tormented vision of England on the edge. Through fiction alluding to the present, Jarman conveys the desperation of Thatcher-era Britain.
Derek Jarman. Aria
UK, 1987, colour, original version, digital archive, 5’
Derek Jarman. Selection of music videos
UK and Spain, 1983–1993, colour and b/w, original version, digital archive, 75’
Including, by order of screening:
Psychic TV. Catalan
The Smiths. The Queen is Dead, There is a Light, Panic and Ask
Easterhouse. Whistling in the Dark and 1969
The Mighty Lemon Drops. Out of Hand
Bob Geldof. I Cry Too and In the Pouring Rain
Pet Shop Boys. It’s a Sin, Rent, Paninaro, Domino Dancing and King’s Cross (screenings for the first international tour)
Suede. So Young
Patti Smith. Little Emerald Bird
Suede. The Next Life (AIDS benefit concert)
This session encompasses the music videos Derek Jarman made from the mid-1980s onwards. Although he had made other videos before this point, the film-maker wanted greater freedom and would use the genre to try out different ideas. The programme gets under way with Aria, his contribution to the collective feature-length film which entailed narrating a story through an operatic aria. When a commission arose to make a new piece for The Smiths, Jarman decided to bring together young artists and film-makers from his sphere — Richard Heslop, John Maybury, Christopher Hughes, Cerith Wyn Evans, David Lewis, Andy Crabb — creating a collaborative group that would go on to make music videos for Bob Geldof, Easterhouse, Pet Shop Boys, Patti Smith and Suede. Among these clips is Catalan, made in Spain via a commission from journalist Paloma Chamorro, with music by Psychic TV, a story by Jordi Valls (also known as Vagina Dentata Organ) and a concept by Genesis P-Orridge, whose live broadcast would almost be suspended on the Spanish TV programme La edad de oro. Jarman would draw on these works, in the main produced by James Mackay, and they would constitute a space of experimentation with film-making techniques that became fully realised in The Last of England (1987) and The Garden (1990).
Derek Jarman. The Garden [El jardín]
UK, 1990, colour, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, DCP in Cine Doré and digital archive in Museo Reina Sofía, 95’
The Garden is Jarman’s fragmented low-fi revisioning of the Passion, starring Tilda Swinton as the Madonna and queer lovers, Johnny Mills and Keith Collins (Jarman’s partner), as Christ. Set in the stark, otherworldly landscape of Jarman’s garden home in Dungeness, Kent, the film expresses fury over the homophobic lack of response to the AIDS crisis, which Jarman himself suffered with during filming. It’s also a reenactment of his childhood trauma of being punished for sexual exploration. At boarding school in England, he and another boy who shared a “secret garden” were beaten and shamed when found. This “paradise perverted,” as Jarman called it, is reflected in intermingled scenes of whacking schoolmasters’ punishing rods and the lovers' lashings. The opening narration resonates with the uncertainty of our present-day pandemic: “I want to share this emptiness with you / Not fill the silence with false notes or put tracks through the void / I want to share this wilderness of failure.”
Mary Katharine Tramontana
Derek Jarman. Glitterbug
UK, 1994, colour and b/w, original version, DCP in Cine Doré and 35 mm in Museo Reina Sofía, 56’
Glitterbug was conceived as an accompanying film to Blue (1993) and is made up of images to no narrative sound. However, the film-maker’s rapidly deteriorating health meant the project could not be carried out on the scale he had envisaged and had realised in Blue. Fortunately, a commission by BBC Arena enabled Jarman to revise his Super-8 archive and, working with David Lewis and Andy Crabb, to produce a visual memoire from it. Brian Eno, who had worked previously with Jarman on Sebastiane, Jubilee and Blue, composed the score.
Isaac Julien. Derek
UK, 2008, colour, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, digital archive, 75’
Film-maker Isaac Julien’s words define this film: “In a collaboration with Tilda Swinton, Derek poetically tells the story of Derek Jarman through extensive use of archive footage. The documentary is centred in a day-long interview Jarman gave to Colin McCabe in the ‘80s. From Sebastiane (1976) to Blue (1992), Derek Jarman’s films constantly interrogated time and art, and epitomised his own era. He was a painter, part of that moment that made sixties London a capital of the art world. He was a film-maker, perhaps the single most crucial figure of British independent cinema through the seventies, eighties and nineties. He lived as a gay man surfing the joys of Gay Liberation and the sorrows of Aids. He lived as a participant observer, noting with pen or camera all that passed before him — from punk to Thatcher, from Hampstead Heath to film premiere. Now those images serve to place his art in his time, to produce a fascinating history that we can put to use”.