ANDY KIMPTON-NYE: WHY DID YOU THINK DEREK WOULD BE THE MOST SUITABLE DIRECTOR FOR WITTGENSTEIN?
TARIQ ALI: We were going to do a series on six or seven philosophers that was the original discussion with Channel Four and I wanted each of them to be very different, then these were whittled down to four, finally to three, so we were going to do Wittgenstein, Spinoza and Locke. And I knew Spinoza, because we’d already shot it, and I knew how it had been done because I did the script for that, Locke we were going to do last and I thought it would be just incredible to get someone of Derek’s talent, capacity, imagination to take on Wittgenstein, so I rang him up and he said ‘God how amazing, I was thinking of doing a film about Wittgenstein called Mad Ludovic’ and so I said ‘well this has already been scripted by Terry Eagleton and would you like to see the script?’
And he said ‘yes’ and so I sent him the script and then he rang and said ‘it can be improved and we’ll work on that but the answer is yes, so why don’t you drive down to the coast?’
So, I drove to Dungeness and we drove into, you know, Derek’s cottage and after showing me his garden, which was obligatory, we then went into the town and had lunch together and got on really well and I just knew that he was going to do an absolutely amazing film.
I mean he’d already read the script and was beginning to think. And then we got working very fast on that. It had a tiny budget, absolutely tiny budget of… I think the total budget for the film which Channel Four had given us was £100,000, which is you know, less than they gave documentaries in those days. Maybe it was 150, that’s right, it was £150,000 and Derek said we are going to shoot it on 35mm, it would be good to try and get a tiny bit more money, so the British Film Institute, which still had a production side dedicated to helping innovative directors decided to come in with, I think, another 50, that took it up to 200 and then Derek still said ‘still cutting it a bit fine’. He said ‘there’s no-one else in this wretched country who’ll give us money for this project, why don’t you ring Takashi in Tokyo he’s a great fan of my work’. So we rang him and he immediately said ‘OK I’ll give £50,000’ so that’s the budget on which we did the movie.
And I mean Derek was absolutely amazing, he was on the set virtually before anyone else and was the last to leave. I was totally exhausted and Derek being ill at that time already and yet…
But back to the beginning, first there was the sort of pre-production which took place in our offices in Kentish Town where he was cheeky… I mean we were meant to be auditioning, looking at people, discussing the script and he was already on the phone from the office to a producer in New York discussing his next movie. (laughs).
Anyway, finally the show got going and we filmed it on – in a lovely little studio in Theed Street near Waterloo, I think it doesn’t exist any more. It wasn’t totally soundproofed but we managed and Derek shot it like a work of art almost, you know, the costumes, which were done virtually free of charge by Sandy Powell, because it was Derek, and lots of people thought this was going to be his last movie, which in terms of actors and actresses it was. I mean Blue was basically an amazing concept, but it didn’t require all that, so it was Derek’s last movie.
And so everyone just came in, and I remember we were short of extras one day and he said ‘oh ring up that gay club’ - this was for students to listen to Wittgenstein lecturing - and suddenly all these guys turned up and he… it was tremendous experience actually when I think back on it.
WHAT WERE HIS OTHER TALENTS?
He was a very warm human being and did think about lots of things, but not in the way I did necessarily, I mean he was a sort of lateral thinker, and he wasn’t political like I am in the direct sense of the word, if you like. Political you know on the head, but he was very hostile to the establishment and I remember what had angered him greatly in those days when we were talking was Ian McKellern accepting a knighthood from a Conservative Government and Derek said he just sold out completely, just because John Major invites him in you don’t have to accept a knighthood, so he was very principal led on all these questions. And there was a gut anti-establishment reaction, which you always got from him.
WHERE DID THAT COME FROM? DID YOU FIND OUT MUCH ABOUT HIS PAST?
Well, yeah, his father was an air force officer, curiously enough when we were talking it emerged that Derek used to spend his childhood, or youth, in Pakistan every summer and we discussed the 50’s in Pakistan because that was my country and I was growing up there. And every summer we used to go off to the foothills of the Himalayas where little villages existed where you could have a summer holiday, one of the most beautiful parts of the world, and there was an air force base about two and a half miles from where I used to stay and we knew most of the kids, air force kids, quite well, because they used to come and play with us, not all of them but some of them. So, Derek said that he used to go there and I said ‘how funny that we never met up and what a coincidence that we’ve met up after these years and we used to be very close in those days’.
And then I said to him ‘you realise that not far from that region is a big, big province in Pakistan where most of the people are bisexual – in fact it’s well known that this particular tribe is very gay’ and he just screamed with laughter – he said ‘you mean I could have had fun?’ I said ‘well you could have’.
HE ALMOST CAME FROM A KIND OF OLD-STYLE COLONIALIST BACKGROUND, BUT YET HE WAS ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT...HOW COME?
I mean, lots of kids who grew up in those families, they rebel, you know, they didn’t agree with it, I mean, large numbers of my friends at University in this country grew up in Colonial families and became extremely hostile to that whole way of life, so I’m not surprised by that. But I think… Derek wasn’t rebelling just against that, there was the question of his sexuality, there was growing up in society where homosexuality was legally banned, you could be locked up and lots of people were locked up for being gay. And that is a radicalising force as well - that you ask what sort of society is it that locks you up because of your sexuality and you begin to then ask other questions, so I think his anti establishment feelings were a combination of many things: possibly parts of his childhood and youth, certainly what he encountered when he came out. Then he mixed in a whole circle of bohemians, you know, painters, artists of various sorts, crazy film-makers and that’s a very radicalising influence, because you don’t trust anyone really except your own instincts. You don’t believe a word the politicians are saying, you don’t believe a word you’re told by the people running the television networks, you just know that everyone who has reached the top has reached the top because of some defect, not because he or she is particularly gifted.
And Derek had that in him, he would… you know, I remember we were discussing how little money we’d got for Wittgenstein from the British Film Institute and he named a few names there and said ‘and these so and so's have given a million quid just to a particular film-maker because they think it’s politically correct to do so’. So, I mean you know we were we would talk like that for ages, and so I think that was… these were the roots of his radical anti-establishment opinions.
HE SAID THAT IF “I HADN’T HAD TO STRUGGLE FOR MY SEXULAITY AND RESPECT I WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN HALF THE FILM-MAKER I BECAME”. WHAT DID HE MEAN BY THAT?
I think it opened him up creatively, you know… sort of coming out like that also made him think completely different I mean he could have, if he’d been totally staid and straight, gone to school, got a job - not joined the air force I can’t imagine him doing that in the circumstances, but certainly have got some mainstream job and done a bit of painting on the side, but realising who he was and what there was in him and struggling for that opened him up in a 101 different ways, opened his mind you know and he became what he was.
It’s quite funny because by the time I met him he was totally relaxed about all this and when I said to him before we started filming, we were having lunch in a sort of horrible greasy spoon place not far from Kentish Town where – because he loved all that stuff you know – he and Tilda both loved it - fried eggs and bacon and sausages and cups of undrinkable tea, so we used to go there and … I remember just a week before we started filming, Derek and I went alone and I said ‘now Derek I think we’ve got to shock your fans with this film’ and he said ‘what do you mean? Yes let’s shock them what do you mean?’ I said ‘no bums and willies at all – that’ll shock them’. So, he said ‘fine’ and that was the deal we kept to and people were amazed, because everyone said ‘oh God you’re producing a Derek Jarman film so are we going to have lots of pretty young boys in it’ and I said ‘well I don’t think we are actually’ (laughs).
And he was wonderful with actors, just absolutely sensational… it was the way he directed, you know, he was you know basically, I think, Derek’s film work grew out of his painting, you know, so for him a film and the different takes and images he saw through the camera, for him they were very much like a painter sees and works and in Wittgenstein if you look at that film, it almost is like that, because if you look at the costumes it’s a very stylised film, I don’t think Derek’s made anything else like it… Edward II was quite different in the sense of what else, you know, went into it as well. Caravaggio I guess was like that also very stylised. Yes.
IN WITTGENTSTEIN IT’S JUST BLACK DRAPES WITH COSTUMES AND PROPS USED TO SUGGEST PLACE, HISTORY AND CHARACTER – WAS THAT CHOICE OR NECESSITY?
Necessity, but you know it then became choice as well, because when we saw how stunning those costumes looked against the black background Derek said, you know, I remember him saying to me ‘actually it’s the only time he said that, he said ‘actually it’s great they give us so little money, because it forces us to be more and more creative, to try and produce something with such little money, you know, makes you think creatively’. And there is a strong element of truth in that.
WOULD HE, OR COULD HE HAVE WORKED WITH A MULTI-MILLION POUND BUDGET?
(Laughs) I don’t know… What would he have done with a multi-million pound budget? I think he would have had to… he would have enjoyed that, he would have enjoyed that he would have had a lot of fun, we would have made sure that there was gourmet food served on the set every day, it would have been used, you know, for the benefit of everyone and he would have bought the whole crew and cast new suits, new clothes (laughs) and probably put in, you know, would have had some epic idea with that, and put in some big war scenes which he would have subverted by showing a lot of gay love-making going on behind (laughs).
I can just imagine… I mean one of the films we were talking about doing when he… Before he died, he was very obsessed with the Jericho painting ‘Raft of the Medusa’ it’s a pretty horrific painting. And he said ‘I want to do the painting with all these people on the raft who know they’re going to die and I want to make this painting into a movie, but all the people on the raft are dying of AIDS, so make it into a very modern movie: what do you do when you know that death is confronting you?’ And he said ‘that’s how Jericho painted the Raft of the Medusa and he said ‘I totally understand that painting and that’s how I want to do the film’. So we would talk about that, you know, we would go to his favourite Chinese dive in Soho and talk about that.
And then one day I remember reading a new book had come out – a biography of J Edgar Hoover, the horrific fascist who led the FBI, and it came out that not only was he gay, but he was a transvestite and we were just roaring with laughter, and I brought it into a restaurant and read sections out to Derek and I said ‘look I think the Raft of the Medusa is the film which has got to be made in a completely different way, so there’s a story we are filming, the Raft of the Medusa, but suddenly while we’re filming it we have J Edgar Hoover coming in in a big car surrounded by G-men and saying the film can’t be made because it’s absolutely corrupting and then the door opens and out steps J Edgar Hoover dressed in a beautiful red dress as a transvestite.
So we started then thinking how we would make this movie and Derek even thought of an actor, a blind American friend of his and he said he could play J Edgar Hoover, I’m trying to remember his name now…
Could well be him, actually yeah, yeah. So this is how we used to talk and actually the first draft of that script without the J Edgar Hoover insertions was already written. And then his health got worse and he was taken into Bart’s and I would go and see him there and we would sit and chat and stuff and he slowly began to go downhill.
BACK TO THE SET OF WITTGENTSTEIN, YOU SAID HE WAS GREAT WITH ACTORS, HOW DID HE WORK WITH ACTORS? DID HE JUST LET THEM TRY TO FIND THEIR OWN WAY?
He did let them try to find their way, but he had a very clear idea of what he wanted from them and because they were mainly actors he’d worked with before, I mean Tilda Swinton was his Muse, you know, he absolutely adored her, she could do no wrong and Tilda didn’t need to be directed by Derek, she knew, and Karl who played Wittgenstein was so perfect, I mean he was so perfect, you know Derek and I would both sit there and just marvel because he did suddenly become Wittgenstein and what was quite stunning was when we had the first showing, public showing of that film, it was shown at Cambridge, at a cinema in Cambridge, and all the oldies came to see it including Wittgenstein’s own landlady who was still alive at that point and people who knew Wittgenstein and Derek said when they turned and applauded at the end and said ‘thanks, he (Wittgenstein) was just like that’. It was a fantastic tribute. Fantastic tribute.
They were such good actors most of them that they didn’t need… they knew what was needed from the script, occasionally he’d do, you know, he’d do lots of takes but just to get the image right, everything right, I mean if someone moved about… It was choreographed as you can probably tell very carefully choreographed… and the umbrella we used in it, I think it was a green umbrella, I can’t remember now… it was a scene in which Ottoline, Morrell and Bertrand Russell are walking…
IT WAS BERTRAND RUSSELL AND WITTGENSTEIN AND THE GREEN UMBRELLA…
And that green umbrella was a gift to Derek from Fellini, it was Fellini’s umbrella….
HE LOVED FELLINI, DIDN’T HE?
Yeah, he loved Fellini and went and saw him at work and just thought he was amazing and Fellini was a very, very big influence on Derek.
WHERE IS THAT UMBRELLA?
I don’t know where it is. You see if there was a proper film museum in this country, which respected people like him, that’s where you would have all the stuff, but anyway I don’t know what happened to it…
WHAT WAS HE LIKE COMPARED TO OTHER DIRECTORS?
I got on so well with him that it was just a treat for me. And everyone was surprised, knowing me and knowing him, but we really got on very well.
Because we weren’t, you know, we’d not met before, we were both quite particular in what we wanted and what we did and he wasn’t that political and for me… most of my close friends are political, but I really got on incredibly well with him and I think he was in many ways… he was the most creative director I worked with, very open, you know. I have always felt this in virtually any art form that the key to real creativity lies not just in very strict choreography and planning – that’s also very necessary – but also in the capacity to be able to improvise at the last minute, or suddenly something isn’t working you totally rework it and Derek had that capacity, he could improvise something very, very quickly, so if the following scene wasn’t working with six people sitting there in a particular way he would immediately say, look around the set and say, ‘ok try it on there – put the lights on there’ you know the whole thing was set up very quickly, people who worked with him tended to be very quick… and let’s try it there – oh that works – so we’ll go with that one.
WAS HE ALWYS VERY WELL PREPARED?
Yeah, he was very well prepared for that, very well prepared, but he was also very encouraging to camera people… the camera person said ‘let me try that way Derek, I think it looks much better like this’. He said ‘OK try it, yup, it works, go, let’s go with it’. You know, he was very encouraging like that there was… his authority was exercised not by shouting at people, or ordering them, but because people respected him, they did things he said because they knew him.
WHAT WERE DEREK’S POLITICS?
I think Derek’s politics were what I said earlier, basically he had a gut hatred of the Establishment, didn’t trust them, didn’t trust any establishment, not just the political establishment, he didn’t trust the cultural establishment, he certainly loathed the cinema establishment, he was very, very critical of the Government culture and how people functioned and what they did and he had to operate in the little spaces between all this and he knew that that was what he was doing. And I think his hatred was pure, you know, that’s the only way to hate, it must be pure, you can’t sort of fool around - and I think that’s how we got on very well, because my hatreds tend to be pretty pure too.
EVERYONE POINTS OUT HE WAS A GENTLEMAN – WAS HE ALSO CAPABLE OF HATING?
Yeah, he was, I have absolutely no doubt about that. We used to sit and bitch for ages about people who shall be nameless. He was capable of hating and capable of getting very angry, people really close to him will tell you that… I know this perfectly well because I spent a lot of time with him at the time. Of course he was, you know, incredibly sweet, very decent, very sociable all that, but that wasn’t just… that wasn’t Derek, I mean, he had another side to him that’s what made him, you know. I mean there was a very English quality about him and in the nicest possible sense, you know, but he was an English dissenter, but a cultural dissenter, that’s the tradition he built for himself.
WAS THERE A CONNECTION DEREK MADE WITH WITTGENSTEIN?
Well, Wittgenstein was gay as we know, but we didn’t make a big deal of it, I mean, there were one or two scenes with Keith which were sort of slightly steamy, but I don’t think there was too much of that, no, I think he was just interested in him for what he was… He’d always been interested. Subsequently to the filming, I think he found out he had fallen in love with a hospital porter in Bart’s – Wittgenstein had – and Derek said to me ‘oh my God I wish we’d known that’. I said ‘no, no I think it’s just as well we didn’t (laughs)’. But his interest in him was as a human being and he read Ray Monk’s biography of Wittgenstein which he absolutely loved and that brought Wittgenstein to life for him and that, you know, he made changes in the script on the basis of that and that’s all it was.
OF WHAT INTEREST WAS ‘CLASS’ FOR DEREK? WITTGENSTEIN WANTS TO MOVE TO RUSSIA. HE TELLS JOHNNY TO GET A MANUAL JOB AND FORGET ACADEMIA…
Well, yeah, Wittgenstein had a scene with a motorcycle mechanic at Cambridge, I think that’s what it was I can’t remember all the details now but… I certainly never discussed the issue of class with Derek, actually it never came up as such but I think he was… he didn’t have the class snobbery that so many people, and which has driven lots of people out of this country, gifted people… I mean Derek didn’t come from a working class background, I know a number of very brilliant television film directors who did and just found themselves stymied and went either to the States, or some even went to Scandinavia and did really well there and are incredibly happy, but Derek didn’t suffer from that at all of being discriminated against, or that. But I never got the impression from him of even the slightest degree of class snobbery and I think that came partially from his sexuality as well that the gay clubs in London, Newcastle, elsewhere, wherever he went were totally multi-class places… those were the places he went to.
I remember once I asked him I said ‘when do you think you got this wretched illness – can you work out who it was you had sex with?’ And he said ‘I have a horrible feeling it was a one night – a one hour business on Hampstead Heath with a working class guy’. He said ‘I don’t know who it was, it was just cottaging’, but it was not said in a particular way, it could have been anyone you know… it’s not something which meant much to him, I don’t think. He ignored it.
I ASKED BECAUSE WE DON’T REALLY HEAR MUCH ABOUT DEREK AND CLASS…
Well, no, no, no… it’s an interesting question. I’ve not thought about it to tell you the truth… could one interpret these films of these - either the Royals or middle classes, upper middle class people having affairs with working class kids as one class screwing the other? I don’t know, I don’t think that’s how he intended it. But it’s interesting and could be read as such and I’m sure someone will sooner or later do a PhD thesis on the class struggle in Derek Jarman’s films and best of luck to them.
I LIKE TO THINK MORE THAT IT’S A DESIRE TO BRIDGE CLASSESS THAN THE OPPOSITE…
Yeah, I think Derek was like that, it didn’t mean much to him and he used to laugh and laugh at when he was growing up at all the air force parties and tennis on the lawn and cucumber sandwiches and all that stuff I mean it used to make him giggle, and he said it was a total liberation to break away from that world and what enabled him to make the break was his sexuality.
IN YOUR OBSERVER 2000 ARTICLE YOU QUOTE DEREK AS SAYING, “IF YOU WANT FOR NOTHING, HOPE FOR NOTHING AND FEAR FOR NOTHING, YOU CAN NEVER BE AN ARTIST”. WHAT DID HE MEAN BY THIS?
It means that you have to have deep strong passions inside you on some level or the other if you’re going to be a successful artist but if… if there is no struggle inside you, whatever the struggle may be for your sexuality, for your class, for politics, against poverty to get your paints and paint… unless you have that burning desire it’s difficult to be an artist. I think that’s what he meant. I remember scribbling it down at the time. It’s very profound and I think there is a lot of truth in that. There is a strong element of truth in that.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF HIS FILMS?
I liked Caravaggio. I liked Edward a lot, I thought that worked really well, those were my two favourite films – I didn’t care much for Sebastiane.
I don’t know, it didn’t do it for me you know… it was sort of nice images… I said to him afterwards ‘why did you make that film?’ and he said ‘you want to know the truth?’ and I said ‘yup’ he said ‘because I wanted to be the first person to show a hard-on on the big screen’ (laughs) I said ‘OK now I understand the film’.
IT WAS PROVOCATIVE THOUGH AND I LIKE FILM-MAKERS WHO ARE PROVOCATIVE…
Of course, he was human, that was Derek… it’s just I didn’t particularly care for it, but, you know, it was part and parcel of him and his film-making.
I THINK AT THE TIME ALAN PARKER FOUND IT INCREDIBLE THAT THE BRITISH FILM INDUSTRY COULD COME UP WITH A FILM IN LATIN AND NAKED MEN CAVORTING IN THE SEA AND I THINK ‘IT MUST BE GOOD IF IT’S GETTING UP ALAN PARKER’S NOSE…’
I know, well, you know I mean if one wants to compare Derek Jarman and Alan Parker, I mean there’s no comparison. One guy basically went to Hollywood, that’s how he developed his career, which is fair enough and you know of course people have every right to do that, but then coming back and being made by this wretched philistine New Labour Government, put in charge of the British Film Industry and the British Film Institute and wrecking that, that’s unacceptable because basically that’s what these guys did… I mean if Derek were alive now he would probably not get money from the BFI to make a film. He really wouldn’t, because that’s not what they’re interested in. All this talk of diversity – it’s basically bullshit, the British Film Industry under Parker and others wanted to mimic Hollywood, you know, make English Heritage films, Four Weddings and a Funeral – why is it a big success because lots of people go and see it – that becomes the criteria for success – financial gain, profit, that determines the critical success of the movie and that’s what’s happened to the culture… and the British Film Institute did lots of stupid things in the past, but for God’s sake they allowed people the right to fail. And if a culture stops allowing people the right to fail, that culture will die, because without failure you can’t have real creative artistic successes either.
THERE IS A WOEFUL LACK OF DEREK JARMANS AROUND TODAY IN BRITAIN, WHY’S THAT?
I think the culture we live in at the moment is not a culture that encourages innovation and creativity. I think it’s a culture which not to put too fine a point on it is dead… We live in a dead culture. Especially in this country, I have to tell you that. I mean there’s more going on in the United States, which this country’s leaders are desperate to mimic, but because the American’s know what their State is like and what it’s capable of, they ignore it - I mean creative Americans - and carry on with it… their innovation.
Here there was a lot of help given by the Arts Council which used to fund films… documentaries by the British Film Industry that’s all gone now and now there’s lottery money if you can raise the equivalent again, so it’s, you know, that has gone and doesn’t encourage film-makers, but I hope that with the big advances in technology which have arrived, you… you know cameras like that (points at mini DV camera used for interview) for instance that young film-makers will ignore the cultural establishment and its needs and just start making movies on their own.
A lot depends on what’s happening in society and I think once again there is ferment and turbulence in this country and other countries in the West and this will produce over the next five to ten years I think all kinds of films again. Not just fiction films but also documentaries. I mean it’s very interesting that the other thing that’s happened actually, just to finish answering your question, is that television used to allow experimentation, both Channel Four and the BBC. Channel Four decided to become a complete brothel I mean virtually literally that the only thing they would encourage you to make were films about naked bodies and male and female organs and usually these films were made by people who themselves were male or female organs, so that creativity in Channel Four, which Jeremy Isaacs had really promoted came to a complete end, in my opinion… With Michael Grade it had begun to die down, but Grade was enough of a showman to keep something on. With his successor, Michael Jackson, who is the sort of classic example of the equivalent of New Labour in the cultural domain it died. And in the BBC it died and in the BBC it was killed off by you know time servers like Yentob who used to pretend to be very keen on the arts and the fact that this guy finally ends up making a dud art show, one of the worst art shows I’ve ever seen is typical of our culture, absolutely typical of it. So, young film-makers no longer have the support of the television networks.
I mean just look at a previous generation of film-makers, very different from Derek, and some who went into the mainstream, they were given their first breaks inside the BBC, Parker himself, Stephen Frears, Ken Loach – they all made documentaries.
A SIGHT & SOUND ARTICLE SAID THAT DEREK’S STATE OF HIOMOSEXUALITY IS OFTEN A ROMATIC AND TRAGIC ONE – IS THERE A ROMANTIC/TRAGIC REPRESENTATION OF HOMOSEXULAITY IN DEREK’S FILMS?
I don’t think it’s romantic. I mean, I think there is a romantic side to it, and there is a tragic side to it, but I think it’s more than that. There are these elements there, but I think it’s also a celebration. That’s how I saw them, you know, that they celebrate homosexuality… and that’s certainly how they were seen by large audiences, that this was a film-maker who was very bold and prepared to say what he wanted and not making any compromises, either politically in his depiction of sexuality, or in the way he shot the film… I mean he did what he wanted. So I think that’s also something that has to be put into the equation.
COLIN McCABE SAID OF THE ISABELLA CHARACTER IN EDWARD II THAT IT PROVES THERE’S A MISOGYNISTIC STREAK IN DEREK’S WORK, IS THAT TRUE?
Well, people have said that to me, but you know… I didn’t see it like that actually, I didn’t think Derek was a misogynist… He really wasn’t on a personal level and I don’t think it’s in his films and if you look at the roles Tilda Swinton plays for him in the films she’s been in, including the last one Wittgenstein, whereby that time Tilda was married and Derek was constantly saying… he said ‘oh I’m in semi-mourning – Tild’s gone and got married otherwise she’d have been on the set non-stop with us’. But and he often used to say to me ‘you know if I was straight I really would have been madly in love with Tilda’. So I never got that… you know the women he worked with on his films would I’m sure bear me out on that, I don’t think it was misogyny… it might have been misinterpretation… certainly was not misogyny.
IT’S AN OBSERVATION BY COLIN McCABE…
Colin saw it differently… Derek might think that Colin was a misogynist… Actually, no, he was very fond of Colin and vice versa, and Colin was very helpful on Wittgenstein.
YOU KNEW HIM WHEN HE WAS VERY ILL, HOW DID HE APPROACH THE END?
Well, look he didn’t, you know… it was all the side-effects of the disease which upset him, and he knew he was dying, that we talked about quite openly, and it was a question of how many films could he make before he died. He didn’t want to give up work and he didn’t want to go into a hospice, he always wanted to be working and there was the line in Wittgenstein we put in about a parcel arriving from Fortnum and Masons... And I remember once Derek was feeling very low and he rang me up and said ‘I’m totally on my own’… And he rang me up, it was six months I think before he died, and said ‘hello dear, I’m just starving, I haven’t eaten for two days’ and I said ‘what?’ I said ‘oh well look here hang on don’t panic’. So I rang up Fortnum and Masons and ordered a big hamper and I told them when you ring the bell I gave them the line from the film – I can’t remember it myself now and I said ‘when you press the bell could you make sure that your guy says that’. So, within an hour and a half I got a phone call from Derek saying ‘I can’t believe you did this – its’ just fantastic.’ And he said ‘I’m going to be eating this for days’ but he said ‘how did you get them to do that?’ I said ‘I just told them’. He said ‘at first I thought it was someone playing the fool it was a joke and the guy said ‘no I really am from Fortnum and Masons’.
ON VARIOUS OCCASIONS, HE HAS HIS FILMS AS IF SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF A CHILD – CARAVAGGIO, WITTGENSTEIN – WHY’S THAT?
I think that it’s innocence really looking back, that when you die it’s… your innocent part… you may have done horrible things, who knows what, but it’s innocence finally taking over when you’re coming to die. It’s all a slightly mystical approach, not mine, but that’s how he saw it and I think that was the… it was childhood was something very innocent for him and the way he saw it, not the way people see it now, but about ten, fifteen years ago that was how he tried to see it. Also, probably, because he rather liked having pretty boys on the set. (Laughs)
WAS THERE A SENSE OF CHILDLIKE WONDER IN HIM, WHICH MOST OF US LOSE…?
Yeah, well, there was that, but it wasn’t particularly child-like, but sometimes he used to put on a good act… I remember once we discussed Peter Pan (laughs) it’s true now it comes back to me and he said ‘Barrie was gay’ and I said ‘were you never tempted?’ and he said ‘by what?’ I said ‘to make a naughty version of Peter Pan?’ He said ‘often I’ve thought about that’ I said ‘you know you could have done a pantomime, but incredibly funny and camp and gay’ and he said ‘yes’ but you know he did have… He did have a certain… He was permanently curious, but I don’t look on that as necessarily a child-like quality, I think we live in a culture where we think, you know, because we sort of specialise we know everything on this, but no-one knows everything… adult, child, anyone, and I think it’s a good quality to be curious about things you know… I’m a bit like that, I’m very curious about things I know nothing about and want to delve deeper and deeper if I can.
He had this of course in a tremendous way and it’s true that he… he had a brain like a computer, which had different things and if you came in and he suddenly knew what your interests were he would have a story for you, you know, he did have that… he had very few political stories, I mean he had gossip about politicians, which we used to giggle about you know. But he knew all the sort of gossip about which politicians were reported in which gay club - these were happily married guys, supposedly… the gossip was brought back to him either by Peter Tatchell or someone – we used to talk about that a lot.
DID YOU EVER HAVE CAUSE TO FALL-OUT IN YOUR PRODUCER-DIRECTOR RELATIONSHIP – WHAT WAS THAT RELATIONSHIP LIKE?
It was very warm, I mean, I’m not really a hands on producer. If I have total confidence in the director I basically leave the technicians to get on with it and chat to the director every day. I mean I have had some pretty rough directors and came very close to sacking one in the middle of the filming… very close to it… not once, more than one occasion, but didn’t do it.
But, with Derek there were really no problems at all, I was in total agreement aesthetically given what the script was, what he made of the script, how he shot that film, I couldn’t think of a better way it could have been done. What I did… at one point he wanted me to be in the film (laughs) and I said… at that I baulked, and said I think I’d better stay out.
WHAT WERE YOU GOING TO BE?
I don’t know I can’t even remember what we… what we discussed one evening when he had thought up some improvisation… but we really got on very well and it was a fun movie to make, there was laughter every day on that set you know, and people were very touched by him and everyone knew he was ill, so people went out of their way, out of their way to help and it’s a pity… he used classical music throughout that film, so no music was specially written for Wittgenstein, but we had a session where the music was played and recorded which he… which he put in. It was a very wonderful experience and I would really liked to have worked with him again… so his death robbed us. And the tragedy is I’ve often thought that if he’d lived another few years, they’ve now got drugs that can actually keep people alive. I have friends with AIDS who’ve been alive now for ages and can be kept alive indefinitely. So you know they were still experimenting at that time and I think we lost a very great artist that’s how I see it, a really cool artist and there’s no-one else quite like him around, and that’s the tragedy, but I think people will come up, young people will come up, learn from him, learn from other film-makers, develop their own way of doing things… we mustn’t be pessimistic like that because there is, as long as humanity exists, there are people within it who will come up.
WHAT DROVE HIM? WHAT MADE HIM TICK?
Art. The desire to produce, the desire to paint… and that was the way he expressed himself through his art. I remember we were sitting in my office and I’d seen a very funny… I mean the Sun was not a newspaper that we read, but there was a very funny headline that day coming into work and I just laughed and bought it for Derek and it was the day after what was it Black Friday, or whenever the British economy went into a tailspin and the price of the pound came tumbling down, and Norman Lamont the conservative chancellor had to resign, more or less in public view, and we came out of the ERM, and the next day the Sun had this headline, there’s been a number of scandals about Tory cabinet ministers screwing A, B or C and the Sun had the headline ‘now we’ve all been screwed by the cabinet’.
And I brought this in and gave it to Derek and he looked at it and we laughed and laughed and he took it away from me and that same week he went into a studio, I think, it was before we started filming and pasted the Sun onto a canvas and did a painting on it, you know, and it was in an exhibition subsequently, so that’s what drove him… lots of different things moved him, but it’s the thought of his art and that he could express himself that kept him going.
400Blows Productions, July 2003.