Andy Kimpton-Nye: CAN YOU RECALL WHEN AND WHERE YOU FIRST MET DEREK?
Chris Hobbs: Well I met Derek in 19 – it must have been late 1969 in fact and somebody said ‘oh I’m going over to this wonderful place on the South Bank to a friend of mine, come along, you’ll like it’, you know and we went over to – it must have been Upper Ground I suppose anyway a very beautiful place with this wooden beamed top – it was a great attic. And Derek was in the bath. It was rather odd because we came up a warehouse staircase and Derek’s bath was above the entrance so you came up underneath his bath if I remember rightly and then he turned around and there he is grinning and hairy and covered in soap. And we sort of hung around and then – Derek’s background was very similar to mine and somehow we were exactly the same age so we got on quite well I think and kind of went on from there really I suppose.
WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF HIM?
Oooh, a long time ago – he was a very nice chap and very interesting, you know, somehow living in this extraordinary place and he had this little greenhouse that he lived in and (laughs) the sort of person that I’d like to hang around with and he had lots of interesting friends so…
WHAT SORT OF REPUTATION DID HE HAVE – AS AN ARTIST? AS A PARTY GIVER?
I hadn’t heard of him, I didn’t know about him. I mean – no, I don’t think – I mean maybe – maybe there was a bit, but I didn’t know anything about him at all he was just sort of somebody who was a friend of a friend actually and I was up for any sort of exciting goings on and of course he did have this very electric character and made people want to be around because something was always happening around him and he made things happen and that was one of his great talents I think he was like a – a vortex around which things whizzed.
YOU WORKED WITH HIM ON THE KEN RUSSELL FILMS (THE DEVILS, SAVAGE MESSIAH) – TELL ME ABOUT THAT.
That was kind of coincidence in a sense, I’d actually worked with Ken Russell for along time before that - I’d been making props for Ken Russell way back into the television period as it were and I think it was Luciana Arrighi who’s now a very, very fine designer and she was helping produce The Devils as far as I remember. Anyway and she got hold of me and said would I sculpt for it, would I do all the sculpted pieces of which there were actually quite a lot and some of the special effects like sort of burning Oliver Reed to a crisp. And so I did that, but Derek was designing it as well - and it was the best British design this century I should think – amazing stuff (laughs).
ON SAVAGE MESSIAH YOU WORKED TOGETHER ON THE DESIGN – DIDN’T YOU?
Well not precisely, on The Devils I didn’t have any input on the design of the sets at all I was entirely sculpting, I sculpted these enormous crucifix – crucifixes and things like that and various figures and as I say, special effects, so that kept me quite busy anyway and obviously to do that I had to talk to Derek and anyway having just met him already we were, you know, we got on well so that all worked very well. But I’d be working away from the set, I was hardly ever on the set, you know, I went and saw it from time to time and stood aghast and all the old folks at Pinewood would say “aarr the biggest set since the 1930’s” you know. But on the Savage Messiah again I had no real input into the set, but I was sculptor on that and Ken Russell said that he needed all Gaudier Brzeska pieces cut but he wouldn’t let – let us do them in fibreglass or polystyrene, he wanted them all in real stone and I didn’t know – I’d never actually cut stone before, I’d never been a stone sculptor, I was a painter and I sculpted in plaster, clay, things like that – polystyrene, so I had to actually learn to be a stone sculptor to produce all Gaudier Brzeska stuff – we had to do this marble piece, a neo-classical figure I think it was originally called and Gaudier Brzeska was supposed to have done it in 48 hours or something or 12 hours or something and we had to do the same because Ken again wanted it in real marble, he wouldn’t – he woulnd’t go for anything else, so we asked the marble chap who did monumental mason stuff, you know, for tombstones it was embarrassingly awful and getting terribly expensive and then we asked a professional sculptor and it was going to take a year, then we asked a student and he hadn’t the faintest idea and it went on like this. In the end, Derek and I said – well, I think actually Ken said ‘look you do it yourself, get it together’. So Derek and I took it in turns working literally overnight – hammering this ancient piece of marble, you know, marble gets harder and harder and harder as it gets older and we were smashing away at this beastly thing that had been lying out in a field for years or some marble graveyard place, you know, and produced the thing and it looked not bad at all considering all things, certainly better than what we would have got from anyone else. But the trouble was it was too heavy so the actor couldn’t lift it, so in the end I had to make a plaster one. (laughs)
DID THE EXPERIENCE OF WORKING WITH KEN RUSSELL HELP FORM THE YOUNG FILM-MAKER IN DEREK JARMAN?
Well, I think you know, because he’d never designed a film before he did The Devils, so certainly it was a baptism of fire because he really had to learn a lot of the techniques right there and then I can’t remember who his art director was he was jolly good and helped him obviously a great deal with the technicalities and things, but I think it must have had quite an – I mean he rather tends to say that he didn’t get influenced by this – by Ken, but I think he did actually. I mean he’s always admired Ken, I mean Ken Russell is a very interesting film-maker let’s face it, not one of these boring types at all, so I think inevitably Derek was influenced by him and he got on very well with Ken Russell he was on quite a lot of other films that Ken Russell wanted to make and in fact never managed to apart from the Gaudier Brzeska film.
IN WHAT WAY DO YOU THINK HE WAS INFLUENCED BY KEN RUSSELL?
I don’t know I mean I think it’s really hard to pin down, but one – one of the things probably helped although it was part of Derek’s make-up anyway was that he – he said that he came to believe that nothing was impossible, you know, that’s Ken Russell’s thing in a way, just ‘we’ll do it’, you know, and that was Derek’s great thing, his great strengths and what made students so excited when they talked to Derek because everyone always believes to make a film you have to do a lot of pre-production and money and all those sorts of things and Derek just said ‘oh make it’. And in a way Ken Russell did the same - not quite in the same way but he had that sort of feeling about it. So, I think he did actually influence Derek a bit, he certainly strengthened Derek’s feelings let’s put it that way.
DID THE PEOPLE WORKING ON THE DEVILS EXPERIENCE THE CONTROVERSY CONNECTED WITH IT? DID IT AFFECT THEM?
I don’t know that it actually – the controversy didn’t really occur until of course the film was out, so while we were making it of course it didn’t affect us at all. Although there was a certain amount of, yes, there was a bit of a stuff because there was nearly a strike at one point when Ken was getting the nuns to have a kind of orgy and the nuns and the monks were going at it and Ken was saying ‘more, go on, go on, get it’ all that sort of thing and they nearly came out on strike because they thought it wasn’t proper. So there were one or two little things like that and again I think Derek rather like that it was probably a nuisance, but it was quite funny. I did ask Ken afterwards when I was working on – on another film for him, I did ask him about the whole thing about the violence in the film and so on because it was – at that time it was an extraordinarily violent and scary film for people, nobody had seen that sort of thing on the screen really in fact not from a British director and he said ‘it was horrible and what happened at Loudan was beastly and I want people to realise that, this man was tortured for a belief in a nasty, nasty way and burned to death, you know, and I want people to understand that and not do it all sort of nicely discreetly behind walls and offstage and such.’ So it was not a gratuitous sort of violence thing at all. People have said that Derek was influenced by the violence of Ken’s films I think that’s a load of rubbish actually. I don’t think he was in the slightest (laughs).
HOW DID THE SUPER 8 FILM-MAKING COME ABOUT?
Well Derek was given a camera, I can’t quite remember the circumstances, but he was given a camera, a Super 8 camera, and it was artwork that he was interested in, he was interested in images and of course in a way the place he had, the studio, was magical to look at and he looked out over the Thames and so he just started taking pictures basically, almost like still pictures, they were hardly moving at all in a sense, and he discovered ways of being really cheap by using a small amount of film to go a long way, which created some of the characteristic appearances of Derek’s films. And he got his friends to sit on sofas and move around and wear bits of Derek’s artwork or generally fool about actually and he followed it. But having an artist’s eye it always – it looked beautiful – Derek always had an absolutely exquisite eye, it was all beautifully composed and lighting was done, but it wasn’t lit artificially at all it was just by daylight or whatever happened to be around you know.
WHAT WERE THE IDEAS IN THE SUPER 8 FILMS?
I’m not sure that there really were any particularly, there were little ghosts of ideas. I remember when we went to Butlers Wharf, because Derek had a place in Butler’s Wharf, and I had I can’t remember if it was below or above, it must have been below, a couple of floors below and there was this empty – car park or empty space right next-door to where we were on the river and it was ideal because you could go out there and Derek would sort of make patterns and people would dress up as ghosts, well me actually, dress up as the figure of death and come sweeping towards people wearing purple bags on their heads. I’m not really sure that there was a great deal of deep philosophical thought behind them. They could be – like a lot of interesting conceptual art, it was, it was very much out from the sixties and seventies this sort of conceptual, multiple, communal art idea and then you could put a title on afterwards and sort of justify what you’d done by calling it something, but it didn’t actually start out, I think, very much with a very strong idea. And there was a lot of experimenting with the material, you know, and the thing about flashing – flashing a mirror into the camera, it was just – I can’t remember how it first happened but he realised it did wonderful things with the contrast… with the exposure and so he played games with that and he played games with almost anything that came up through the camera, through the light, or through his friends just bouncing about.
HOW IMPORTANT WERE THE SUPER 8 FILMS TO HIS CAREER?
I think they were very, very important because they were, in the first place of course, they were his training ground in a sense, but they were as he went on, I think, he was able to explore his own psychology almost, they were a sort of sub-conscious diary, he wrote his actual diaries as it were, the books, the endless books that he wrote about himself and wonderfully written it has to be said, but the sub-conscious was not so much in the books as in the films and he’d explore sort of fragments of memory and full glimpses of ideas and he tried things out that he, you know - Jordan when she did a little dance dressed in the ballet dress. Well that was because Jordan did actually train as a young girl as a ballet dancer and Derek thought that was wonderful. He liked to use what his actors could do, so if somebody came with very long hair the obvious thing was ‘ooh let’s chop it off for a shot’ and things like that and so a lot was – was created on the spot like that out of – out of ideas that were floating around in a sense.
WHY WERE PEOPLE SO PREPARED TO DO THESE THINGS FOR DEREK?
Because it was fun. Because he made it fun. I mean he made it enormous fun, really exciting, it was like he was somebody who was doing very interesting stuff. He wasn’t kind of dead and boring and serious about it all, you know, he – he was jolly, jolly - we all felt we were doing something, we felt sort of not really important, but it had definite significance, but not sort of Tate Modern significance it was just – it was worth doing, you know - why do you do art? why does anyone even sit down and paint on a canvas? Just because they want to and I think a lot of it was to do that. It wasn’t to do great art, I don’t think Derek aimed at great art in that sense at all.
HOW DID HE MAKE THE TRANSITION FROM SUPER 8 TO HIS FIRST FEATURE ‘SEBASTIANE’?
Well I wasn’t really party to the creation of that, you know, the beginning of that, but I think it was to do largely with James Whaley and Howard Malin and they wanted I – I can’t precisely remember how it all came together but they were interested in making the movie and kind of cajoled Derek into it. And I think to be honest James wanted to make a porno movie of sorts and then because Derek wasn’t a director in that sense, you know, they got in I can’t remember his name now a BBC – an ex BBC chap who didn’t really approve of that and wanted to make a serious film about St Sebastian. And then Dom Sylvester Houedard a mad monk who was wonderful – England’s only Concrete poet at that of time provided all the background and obviously made it more, for Derek, made it more interesting because he was very interested in the historical side of it. I don’t think Derek quite knew what he was going to be making and I think he winged it up to a point and I don’t – the pornography part was, I know Derek actually did several times say ‘oh I must make a porno movie’ but he never quite could bring himself to do it and so what was in the script sometimes was outrageous, but it never actually appeared on the screen and probably Sebastian was the nearest to it. Although it was a misery to make for him - I know, I wasn’t actually out in Sardinia, I think it comes across because of its youthfulness and because it was so totally original, a very exciting and extraordinary film, and for me it’s one of the best evocations of a period, I mean to me it actually does feel like ancient Rome in a way that you know Cleopatra or something has no conception of. It was very, very simple - they used just what was on the ground and the few scraps of rather – rather good quality costume which I think came from Cine Citta I think they managed to raid the costume thing in Cine Citta.
WHY DID THEY DO IT IN LATIN? WAS THAT TO BE PROVOCATIVE?
No, I think Derek felt that you couldn’t very well do it in English, it would sound silly and it would be great if they did it in Latin, so they did it in Latin and it was wonderful, it worked very well and it meant that they could make all sorts of rude jokes about Mary Whitehouse without anyone understanding, things like that.
HOW DID DEREK RESPOND TO THE EXTREME REACTION TO THE FILM?
I think he was a bit pissed off that – I mean I don’t know quite what he expected to happen with it, but I think he hoped that it was a proper film that people would treat it as such and I think he was a bit sort of upset actually that people sort of harped on it a bit and sort of pushed it down a bit, but on the other hand a lot of people said it was wonderful. Derek could be quite pessimistic at times, you know, he’d sometimes rather tend to ignore the good side, the good notices and dwell a bit on the bad – bad ones. But I think people, you know, actors often do that, they read the good notices and are horrified by the bad notices and remember the bad notices rather than the good ones. I think Derek sometimes did that a bit.
I HAVE AN IMAGE OF HIM BEING CONSTANTLY MISCHIEVOUS AND HE KNEW THAT IT WAS GOING TO BE PROVOCATIVE.
I think there was an element of that, but I think he was an odd sort of character in that sense. In some ways he was very, very traditional and quite old fashioned actually. The other side of him wanted to rebel against all that and both people sort of existed side by side and so at one time he was rubbing his hands and saying ‘great ha ha’ but underneath quite often he was actually rather knocked down by the fact that people weren’t accepting this. Not so much I think because of the gay side of it, but you know he wanted it to be accepted as a work of art in its own right and the gay thing came out I think rather later really.
SEBASTIANE WAS QUITE A BEAUTIFUL FILM – HE THEN GOES AND MAKES QUITE AN ANGRY FILM – JUBILEE – HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?
I think one – one of the things about Derek is that he was actually a terrific romantic in the sort of the tradition of the 19th Century romantics and his idea of England was an idea of England that perhaps hadn’t existed, this wonderful, beautiful countryside unspoiled with good clean nice people and the royalty that was pure and you know, Queen Elizabeth and things and it - Jubilee was a sort of angry comment, more than a comment, it was a grand big growl or shout against the England as he saw it, or what it had become of England. The betrayal of the England that his father believed in, I think there’s a lot of his father that came through in this. Because his father obviously was a Pathfinder in the RAF and things, and fought for an England that he thought he believed in and I know a lot of people who did that who were actually in the war were horribly disappointed afterwards because the England they’d fought for was actually torn to pieces almost immediately after World War II and I think Derek actually reflects that curiously enough. I think he was actually quite conservative in that sense, he longed for an England that was the England he believed in which as I say probably had never existed in that sense. Because I do remember that the Elizabethan element of it - I wanted to do Queen Elizabeth because I did the costumes in part – certainly in that part of it. I wanted to do Queen Elizabeth as she was with her extraordinary painted face and the bosoms with the blue veins painted on and things like that and Derek said ‘no no no I want her wonderful and romantic and magical’ so that was, you know, it - not the sort of Idi Amin of Northern Europe which she probably was (laughs).
SO DESPITE BEING CONSERVATIVE WITH A SMALL C HE WAS OVERTURNING THE ESTABLISHMENT?
Well, I think there were two sides of it obviously because one side of it was him being angry about what had happened to England, how it was destroyed and how these people were destroying it. The other side was that he was absolutely fascinated by all these young kids and punk and these bizarre goings on. And it wasn’t a punk movie, that was the bizarre thing, it’s actually an anti-punk movie when you think about it, because they were in a sense the villains, they were the people who were tearing this wonderful country to pieces and revelling on it and stamping on it. And at the same time sort of creating another England, but wasn’t the one he much liked except that of course he did like the vibrancy and excitement, so he was very split on it I think. I think also it’s worth – I think it’s slightly this thing that Derek picked up on the vibrations of the people who he was working with and I think a lot of that came through and of course people like Jordan, who are extremely intelligent, Jordan, extraordinary woman – rather forgotten now which is rather shameful. He was influenced by people like that who – who lay their causes open to his eyes through their actions and he – he approved of that. He was young himself he was rebelling and he was rebelling against himself as much as anything else so it got quite confusing - quite confused. And I always wondered - there was one very odd thing about Jubilee which nobody as far as I know has pointed out is that all the pop icons were murdered horribly. If you think about it Adam is murdered .. who are the other people who are pop idols.
Wayne County, yeah .. I can’t remember the names of them now but if you look at the film you realise that everybody who was a pop star in that film comes to a really nasty end (laughs) I don’t know why that is.
DID HE LIKE POP MUSIC?
He liked going to clubs. I don’t think he was a pop music fan I would say. He didn’t listen to pop music particularly, you know.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH JUBILEE?
Well I was the production designer as such although the main part of the production design that I did was the Elizabethan period, because that was, you know, up my street and the rest of it was kind of a mixture because all the interiors and things I put together with Lee Drysdale who was my assistant who was only just – he was a sixteen year old kid who came – wandered onto the set – mad on movies, and he painted floors black for me and things like that. And then quite a lot of other people worked on it as well and Johnny Maybury for instance did all the graffiti in the main scene, you know, the headquarters so you know everyone put in bits as it were.
WERE YOU WORKING CLOSELY WITH DEREK ON JUBILEE?
No, we were pretty close together, you know close on it. It wasn’t quite like that really I mean there was no real tradition, there was general discussion and we talked about it and a lot of it was dictated by what we had. A lot was dictated by what was available and we’d kind of got his warehouse floor which we weren’t really supposed to be in there I think – I think Lee Drysdale I think it was who taught us how to sort of break in and things like that.
WERE THERE A LOT OF INFLUENCES COMING TOGETHER TO GET THIS FILM STARTED AND HOW IT TOOK SHAPE – WAS IT COLLABORATIVE?
It was, I think Derek in that case was much more at the head of the – he gained confidence, he knew what he was doing much more and I think he, you know, he wrote the scripts up and was much more in charge of the whole way it went, so he was kind of developing much more as a director who, an author and director and knowing what he wanted. But he was pretty good with me as a designer because he – he himself is an extremely good designer let’s face it with The Devils and so on and his stage work, but he never kind of tried to impose that on me he’d sort of say ‘well, you know, give me some drawings and we’ll see where we go’. (laughs).
YOU WEREN’T INVOLVED WITH THE TEMPEST
Not really no
I’LL MOVE ONTO THE ANGELIC CONVERSATION - YOU WERE IN THE CAST OF THAT WEREN’T YOU?
The Angelic Conversation? The trouble is with Derek’s what I call compilation movies where he used sort of found footage, his own found footage, I get a bit lost amongst which ones are which and what I was in and what I wasn’t because they were, as I say, they were bits and pieces. I was certainly in – he made a little film called the Sorcerer or the Wizard I think in which I was in my little flat in Islington wearing a long sort of Boris Godunov velvet robe in gold and things and I have a feeling that might be in Angelic Conversations possibly. I was certainly in one of those films and I did like to get in behind the camera – I mean in front of the camera from time to time just for fun. I mean most of us did so we were sort of – we’d done that right from the very beginning and it’s nice to see it from the other side and if you’re going to be a designer or whatever it actually helps a great deal because you can start seeing the actors point of view apart from anything else, you know. So, yes it was all communal film-making still in that sense.
WHAT WAS HE LIKE WITH ACTORS?
Derek was very good with actors. I mean Derek was an actor’s director in many ways in that he … he didn’t bully them he coaxed them and cajoled them but he didn’t try and force anything very much on them and he often followed what they could do I mean, as I said, if an actor could spin plates on his nose he’d say ‘well that would be a good scene to have’, you know, I don’t think he did that in any one that I can remember, but that sort of – those sort of things appear quite often in his films, odd little things like in Jubilee one of the actor – actresses walks a tightrope when she was doing the laundry just because she could do it – Derek thought ‘brilliant idea’ you know – so weird.
WHEN ACTORS HAD A PROBLEM, DID HE TAKE THEM TO ONE SIDE, OR DID HE LET THEM FIND THE ANSWER THEMSELVES?
I think he obviously - I wasn’t actually there most of the time that he was actually private with the actors, but yes he talked to them privately to see with them which way they would go.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR INVOLVEMENT ON CARAVAGGIO.
Well Caravaggio came not from Derek originally it came from Nicholas Ward-Jackson who is an antique dealer basically and a fine arts dealer and he was interested in Caravaggio. I think he always rather hoped he’d find a lost Caravaggio, as far as I know he never did, but he talked Derek – he didn’t talk him into it, he suggested to Derek it would be a rather wonderful idea and Derek was of course rather intrigued because Caravaggio was a very extraordinary painter in his own period and lived a wild life and as Derek saw him was a gay icon up to a point, you know. And this got sort of mulled over but it went on and on and on and on because Derek, although he wanted to do it, he liked to get things done, he didn’t like to hang around and this went on for seven years and then what would happen was Nicholas would go off to Italy and do wonderful deals with the Italians and we’d be doing it in all the great palaces in Italy and so on and he would come back and it would all fall through because the Italians are great masters at wangling money out of people, so that this great budget would sort of disappear and you think well where is it going to go to and where’s it coming from apart from - anything else. Over this period I was designing the film – for seven years in a sense, drawing storyboard after storyboard after storyboard and idea after idea and it’s wonderful in fact because I was able to refine it and refine it and when we finally get the tiny amount of money we actually did have we were kind of ready for it, we knew what we were going to do and it just needed ingenuity and an awful lot of hard work to do it in this damp warehouse, very damp warehouse in – it was meant to be sort of high summer in Italy it was leaking through the roof it’s the streets of Italy and then the streets of Rome, but it kind of works I think.
WHAT WAS THE IDEA BEHIND THE ANACHRONISMS? TYPEWRITERS, ETC?
Well the anachronisms are really – Derek hated period movies and he hated period costumes, but he kept on doing it, you know he kept on not being quite able to escape it for some reason and he was going to do it all in black dinner jackets. What he always started on - in all his movies he’d say ‘well we’re going to do it – all the men will be wearing dinner jackets’ and then I pointed out to him that we’re going to have a problem because the paintings show quite clearly that the people who are in front of the artist, being painted, are not wearing dinner jackets, they’re wearing sixteenth century costume so then there was kind of an um, um you know and we decided we’d do Italy of the mind, really, Italy of the memory, so we’d been down to Italy several times in fact to have a look around, get ideas and so on and you come back with memories of Italy like everybody does and you remember certain textures and light and things like that. Very exciting stuff. And you cut out all the stuff you don’t really want to remember. And then you remember The Bicycle Thieves and all those sort of wonderful films and so we decided what we’d do is do an Italy of memory up to the Bicycle Thieves and no later because we decided after that Italy becomes rather too sort of communal and inter-European and less Italian. So that gave us a very free range. But then there were points that needed to be made for instance when Giustiniani is sitting at the table being a banker, we need to know that he’s a banker without somebody telling us this and so he could have been playing with an abacus well an abacus means nothing to most people but a little calculator, a gold calculator, particularly then when they weren’t so common immediately says rich, rich, rich, money, money, money, so it made the point just right there. But then I had to be quite strict because they were sitting at a sixteenth century table with sixteenth century paintings behind them, but the waiters looked as though they’d come from an Italian restaurant because again this was part of the memory but the strawberries on the table were sixteenth century strawberries – if they wanted to go down the road and buy strawberries from a local market I said ‘no these have got to be wood strawberries, the sort of strawberries they would have eaten at that time’, because otherwise the intentional lapses of period you might say lose their impetus so we were very, very pointed, we were very careful and the typewriter in the bath - actually the typewriter was my idea because we were going to use a plume and quill and a quill pen and inkwell and in the first place that’s actually rather awkward and looks a bit awkward on a bath stand and the other thing I said ‘well an old fashioned typewriter is sort of black square thing which makes a really nasty (makes noise) - vicious’ so that worked, so we had that. And they were all the way through, and then in the party scene we go completely into the sixteenth century and Derek justified that to himself, I don’t think anyone else even thought of this he said ‘well it was a fancy dress party’ and of course to everyone else this is a sixteenth century party.
THE TYPEWRITER WAS GIVEN TO THE ART CRITIC.
DEREK DIDN’T LIKE FILM CRITICS?
He’d had some fairly sort of nasty crits and he didn’t like it (laughs) but film critics, I mean it’s perfectly fair that film critics are natural targets, you know.
WAS HE GETTING BACK AT ANYONE?
I don’t think he was getting back at any specific attack - it was just a general jolly sort of whack.
WAS GAY ICON A JUSTIFIABLE INTERPRETATION OF CARAVAGGIO?
Well it was in that Caravaggio was Derek, I mean Derek had spent a lot of his childhood in Italy and a great deal of Derek’s private memories got into Caravaggio and we actually read all the correspondence that’s available – mainly in Friedlander’s wonderful book – about Caravaggio’s life which includes direct quotes from him in court, so you actually hear his voice in a sense and letters about him and by him and to him. And the person in that correspondence is not Derek’s Caravaggio – Derek’s Caravaggio is a nice respectable public school boy really with a strong dressing of Italian on top and I think Caravaggio himself would have been extremely surprised to see this. So I think that anything personal in the film in the first place makes it a much more interesting film and in the second place I think it’s totally justified because of that.
THE LOVE AFFAIR SEEMS TO BE NOT SO MUCH WITH CARAVAGGIO, BUT WITH TILDA SWINTON?
I don’t think Tilda was shot in an obviously sort of Tilda – Tilda- oriented mode, but I think for the first time Derek found in front of his camera a natural – a natural film star, you would say, someone who the camera absolutely adored and she was very poised, she came from a rather grand background, so she knew how to be poised in the first place and she knew what she was about, she’s actually quite ambitious and also for the first time, she was able to dress up. She’s spent a lot of time fighting her background which was Scottish grand country house actually and she didn’t, you know, she was bored with being a deb and so she did all these parts on stage where she dressed with a moustache and with rags and all the exact opposite… She joked with me – I think there was a touch of truth lurking afterwards and I said ‘how did you like getting into all these grand costumes after all?’ and she said ‘oh I shall always have my own dresser with me now’.
WHAT WAS SPECIAL ABOUT TILDA FOR DEREK?
I think she was kind of all things – because she was – she is extremely intelligent, very good actress, obviously very glamorous, but she was also kind of rather wild and rather adventurous and she’d done some really frightening things, I mean she was no coward, she went out on a limb and Derek really liked all these elements and I think in a curious sort of way he rather liked having a woman of that sort around in a sense, you know, who kind of complemented him in a sense. And he just – he just thought she was a great great chum and also very glamorous and also work wonderfully in front of camera – a good combination really (laughs).
CARAVAGGIO WAS A LONG, PAINFUL PROCESS, HIS FATHER DIED AND AT THE END OF THE YEAR HE’S DIAGNOSED AS HIV+. HOW WAS HIS FILM-MAKING AFFECTED AFTER THAT?
I think it go angrier. Quite a lot angrier and got angrier and angrier actually, because I think he knew what was happening, I think he felt it extremely unfair as one would, he felt I think that he wanted to do a lot of things and he wasn’t going to be allowed to. And he also believed, as it turned out completely unjustifiably, that nobody would touch him with a bargepole, nobody would produce his films, nobody would help him – in fact that wasn’t true – he had no more and no less difficulty I think getting his films put together than he did before to be honest. But it was always a struggle because he was always doing such edgy stuff, but he did get angrier, he got more difficult to deal with in some ways because of course he was in a hurry which he’d never been before.
DID HIS FILMS GET DARKER?
I think they did, they became sort of more intense. They became – I think he became more aware of wanting to make films that were very specific about things that he really needed to say as opposed to before when perhaps when something like Caravaggio was made to somebody else’s idea and although he put a lot of his own ideas into it, it wasn’t quite so message orientated, it wasn’t saying ‘I believe this’ – that came into it all – there wasn’t quite so much there, but later on I think it was.
AND DID HE BECOME MORE POLITICAL?
Yes, I think he was given the chance to be more political too, because I think that people picked up on him quite a lot as a sort of – a gay protester. I don’t think he particularly initiated that himself, I think it more or less happened but then he discovered he had a voice. And again it was two Derek’s – the Derek who really didn’t like publicity and really wanted to live a quiet life and have a little sort of farm somewhere or a pretty garden and Dungeness you know, and the other side was the one who liked to have a voice and actually was rather flattered that he could go on television and say things about gay life and people would listen to him. And also it meant that he met lots and lots of people who were nice and interesting and interested in him and you know he wasn’t devoid of vanity any more than anybody else was, so I think there was all that, so although he was going through misery in some senses he was helped out of it a lot because he was given this new voice, but it made his films definitely more pointed and more angry – Edward II was a much angrier film.
WHAT DID YOU DO ON LAST OF ENGLAND?
I threw sort of props together. It was almost going back to the beginning apart from anything else of course we used quite a lot of found footage anyway which dated way back, but in the new bits it was a matter of going out and finding old prams and sort of tweaking rubbish and things as we had on Jubilee in a sense it was going back to clearing the skips and putting them on the set kind of affair and everything was done via special effects, alas, done by us because I set fire to myself at one point and what really annoyed me about that, although it was painful, but um the camera wasn’t turning on me because we could have put it in the film it would have been great – alas we couldn’t.
YOU MENTIONED EDWARD II, DO YOU THINK IT’S HIS STRONGEST FILM?
I think it is. I think – I think in a way it became a little, there are parts of it where the gay message takes over too much and it just becomes a gay demo and I think what slightly happened I think Peter Tatchell came in on – on things and he actually I think he rather used Derek to be honest, I think he used Derek as a means of putting over his ideas and urged Derek on and Derek was not un-urgable. I mean this was – radical gay and all that sort of thing which Derek sort of quite liked to go in for, but I think he was allowed to be pushed too far, so parts of the story, not a lot I’m glad to say, but there are parts that start to look like a gay lib thing and it gets in the way of the actual story of – that Marlowe wrote which was an extremely good and strong one particularly as interpreted by Derek.
WHAT WERE THE DISCUSSIONS ABOUT SET DESIGN FOR EDWARD II? OFTEN IT SUGGESTS IMPRISONMENT.
I think the was an element of that,.but a lot of it’s to do with money to start off with as it always is, I mean that’s true of almost any movie and Derek’s first ideas were very, very glamorous. I mean we were going to have sort of great thrones encrusted with jewels and gilding and all sorts of stuff all over the place and we realised ‘ha-ha we can’t afford all that’ and I said ‘we could do it all on wheels so that we could make all these different spaces and build – can we do an abstract movie, please, can we actually go abstract?’ Because I saw that’s the way to do it – but also I’ve always wanted to do abstract movie design and it’s not allowed, I mean producers do not allow it, and Derek said ‘yes’ to my joy because apart from anything else I’m quite sure he rather liked the idea as well I mean The Devils let’s face it it’s only abstract. So I went for this thing and we had these sixteen foot high walls on wheels and we had no windows, no doors, no lighting sconces, no staircases, just a couple of ramps an outside wall and I think five huge sixteen foot high blocks which we trundled around which meant we could do anything we wanted because the King’s library became – you know, you put a library table in and you sat behind it and there he was, the bedroom you just put a bed in it and there it was, the great courtyard they just pushed them all to the side and Mortimer and the Queen could wander through it - and a nice wide lens you know and it worked. So it gave us a very very flexible set, beautifully lit so, yeah it worked.
YOU WANTED IT ABSTRACT FOR WHAT REASON?
I think the important thing, I must say I’ve always believed this anyway myself and I’m sure with Derek - the actors are the story, it’s not the set that’s the story and it meant that we could clear – we could clear all that out of the way, we could say exactly what we needed to say exactly as sort of Shakespeare might with a sort of little sign put up saying ‘a woodland’ or something like that, so we were kind of going back to that. But at the same time by having a very abstract set we could suggest very – very strongly actually various spaces and have wonderful shapes behind that would not in any way intrude on the actors, you got texture, it’s all texture really – lots and lots of texture against which the actors show really, really nicely - um and it made it once Ian, the lighting Cameraman, had got the hang of what we were trying to do – and it was hardly conventional – he could light anyway he wanted, he could light the mood rather than to – oh there’s a window over there we’ve got to have light from it, he put the windows where – wherever he liked, he just sort of brought the force off-camera and of course there was a prison effect, as you say, it was sort of enclosed. The most enclosed set was the actual prison which was solid iron and all tilted inward so it squeezed it was very Caligari I must say, I was influenced by that, it was a mixture of Caligari I suppose, if one can quote influences, and the – the boiler room in ‘The Ship Sails On’ by Fellini, so it was an interesting mixture and of course our own thoughts.
DOES IT GIVE THE FILM A TIMELESS ELEMENT?
Well I think so - But I mean the thing is it was a stage play and was treated like a stage play in a sense, but completely three dimensional way which you can’t possibly do on stage and it was very fluid because of that, but it meant that – you could do a – there’s a long, long tradition of modern dress Shakespeare let’s face it, or any other play for that matter, a period play. But that has never really crossed over much into film, I mean it has a bit, but not very much, but film was very, very conservative, even nowadays I mean most modern films are extremely conservative in many ways. So, I think that, you know, theatre was the real influence on that play.
IS THERE ANY CONNECTION BETWEEN BEING ON RAF BASES AS A CHILD FOR DEREK WITH ALL THE BARBED-WIRE FENCES AND IMAGES OF BEING TRAPPED IN HIS FILMS?
I think you have to be very, very careful about that sort of thing because you can say that, but then you remember that you know, they were done on low budget, they had to be done in whatever was available which was almost invariably a sort of square box of some sort, because when you look at his Super 8s they’re not – they’re of wild – wide open country and the sea and – and open fields so exactly the opposite in fact. So, I don’t really see – it’s very, very dangerous thing to make that – that connection I think. I mean it’s perfectly true that he spent a lot of time on RAF camps but then so did I, I mean my life was almost identical in many ways, my father was in the air force, you know, he lived in – in India at the same time I was living in Egypt, he probably went past where I lived you know, few hundred yards away, literally when we were kids in a boat going back to England. The first thing that he ever designed, I think, was – the Crucible and I think on stage - and that was the first thing I ever designed, you know. So our lives ran in an odd parallel, as I say we were born within a month or two of each other, you know. So I feel I can actually answer for some of these – some of these influences because I had the same influences.
HOW MUCH DID HE TELL YOU ABOUT HIS FAMILY?
Well quite a lot because I met both his mother and his father who – who were very nice, his mother was charming and sweet and his father seemed perfectly nice actually although I know he was a fairly difficult man in - in actual fact. But he seemed very nice to me. And I met, you know, Gaye (Derek’s sister) and so on. I also – he put bits of it on display in a sense because he showed his father home movies and they were rather extraordinary because they were in colour from the war which is actually pretty rare and so you get this extraordinary sense of immediacy and black and white cinema is old, it’s the past, but these were not, these were in colour and suddenly the past was, you know, yesterday and you realised who wrong the sort of filmic reconstructions of those periods are and how completely they miss it because there was the real thing in colour exactly as if somebody had filmed it today – and it didn’t look the same at all. And it was very interesting and there was also you could see Derek as a little kid running around and his Mum smiling, you know, and this – I think this was all part of the England dream. His mother was Queen Elizabeth, you know, smiling, mother nature, you know, all these things, so I think it was a big, big mix from there but he – he wasn’t sort of backwards about showing his family background at all.
THE ESTABLISHMENT IS QUITE OFTEN CHALLENGED IN HIS FILMS AND YET HIS FATHER WAS A MEMBER OF THE ESTABLISHMENT. IS THERE ANY CONNECTION?
I don’t know I mean it’s difficult to say I mean I’m sure there was, I mean Derek… he had a difficult situation with his father anyway. He didn’t have a particularly happy relationship with him and he also was rebelling against his family which most people do as a teenager, you know, he’d found this wonderful new exciting world outside the family and rejected the family, you know. So of course all that comes into it - I think but then like most people he was also a product of his family, so he was as I say, in some ways very conservative, that – that idea of honour and good behaviour and politeness and all those things were very, very strongly ingrained in him and those – those all came from his father and mother.
WHAT WERE HIS POLITICS?
It’s an area I’m a bit dodgy about going into because I’m not – I always felt, you know, he – he was very apparently left wing, but in fact as I say I think he was almost a monarchist. He hated the Royal Family and he hated them for not being the Royal Family he wanted them to be, not because they were the Royal Family, see what I mean – it’s a very odd confused world that he lived in. He could be quite politically naïve too, I mean he went to Russia and said ‘how wonderful it is’ you know under – he saw Eisenstein’s books scribbled all over and cutting out the name of Lenin and things like that and still came back saying how liberal it was with the arts and that sort of thing, so he could be quite naïve in a sense in those ways. You know and I’ve been to Russia and - and I said ‘nonsense it’s a misery I bet you wouldn’t like to live like that’, you know.
WHAT WAS THE SORT OF MONARCHY HE WANTED?
I don’t know I think he wanted a romantic monarchy. I don’t think he wanted a specific monarchy, I don’t – I don’t know how political he was in an ordinary sense – I don’t think he was the person who voted politically in a very specific way because I don’t think he - that he ever really got - what he wanted was a dream and a lot of his life I think was actually spent trying to recall or recreate or explore this quite complicated and sophisticated and dream-like state.
DID HE DISCUSS HOW DIFFICULT IT WAS FOR HIM TO COME OUT?
I think it was fairly difficult for – for him in that he was a bit of a late developer I think. He was fairly inhibited I think at first and I think it was difficult for anybody really. You know, it was illegal, let’s face it (laughs) and the idea of coming out wasn’t really around I mean in that sense, you know, it wasn’t kind of – until later really and I think he was a member of, I’m not sure if he was a member of Gay Lib, I think he probably was for a time, I was too, and I found it was sort of a good place to go and pick up people to be honest. And I think that he felt that.
HE SAID THAT IF I HADN’T HAD TO STRUGGLE FOR MY SEXUALITY I WOULDN’T BE HALF THE FILM-MAKER I AM – HOW TRUE IS THAT?
To be honest I don’t think it is entirely true I think there’s an element of truth in it, but Derek was a great myth-maker of his own, he would back design his life, so I don’t think initially the gayness was nearly such an issue, he was much more interested in just doing things and you know he was gay and made gay movies in a sense in that he liked to have nice young men around doing – working with him in front of the camera and so on like that and it worked well and it was relaxed and jolly. But I think that the whole sort of quite heavy political side of it was actually imposed on his life from later when he really – particularly after of course when he got HIV and became extremely politicised by that. So he would say that if it weren’t for that I wouldn’t have been a great film-maker. I think he would have been a great film-maker, or a great artist I think probably rather than film-maker, because I think that it’s not quite right to say that he was a film-maker, I think he was actually a conceptual artist, actually, with a camera.
YOU THINK HE WAS MORE OF AN ARTIST THAN A FILM-MAKER THEN?
I think so, I think the film-making came as a result of the type of art he was creating, because as I said in the beginning when he got his super 8 camera he didn’t – I’m sure he didn’t think of himself as a film-maker he thought of himself as somebody working with a new kind of brush, you know, the Super 8 camera and one that could do wonderful – you know, he could move with it and do all sorts of fun stuff that he couldn’t possibly do with a brush and he was a bit sneery about brushing on canvas and things although he always went back to it. And this developed not entirely through him into practical films, practical feature films, but then he’d go back again to the brush painting as it were, the camera painting, so I think that that was very important to him and even, you know, towards the end, in fact more towards the end he started experimenting again you know with Wittgenstein which had no sets which was a film entirely about ideas and Blue which was the ultimate ‘un-film’, you know, it’s not a film, it’s a blue world into which wonderful sound is woven and it’s the best design film ever made, you know, you can sit and the pictures are there.
IF HE WERE AROUND TODAY WOULD HE BE MAKING FILMS?
I – I think he probably would because he found – it’s a material – it’s a very, very flexible material as it were, you know, to do things with and whether he’d have made more straightforward features I don’t know. He probably would because of his literary background his sort of theatrical interests, I think he would have found himself drawn towards various subjects which could have been treated in very, very little way – but I think he would probably still want to go on experimenting – very hard to tell.
WHY AREN’T THERE ANY DEREK JARMANS, OR THOSE FOLLOWING IN DEREK’S FOOTSTEPS MAKING THESE FILMS TODAY?
Well there may be – we haven’t heard of them yet perhaps. It’s very hard to tell. I mean things do tend to go in cycles a bit and when he first started it was sort of quite a good time because there was as I say that whole sixties and seventies conceptual art thing where you can suddenly stop using brushes and use any material you like and that’s – everyone thinks about now – you’d hardly think of using brushes. But then it was interesting, exciting and new and also there was still a sort of skeletal British film distribution system. There were a lot of art houses that were sort of British owned and privately owned so you could actually show, with not too much difficulty, here and there all over the country - it’s very, very difficult now there are almost none left. But he – I mean for Caravaggio he actually went all over the country himself and sold things to the people in the cinemas and said ‘look you know this is a great, why don’t you show it one day on a Saturday afternoon or something’ you know. And they – they sort of, I think they were so… oh no, I’m talking about Sebastiane, I think – I beg your pardon. I think they were taken back a bit and thought well why not, it’s British, it’s weird, we’ll see maybe we’ll get an audience and so people took a chance which they can’t now with the sort of big American chains.
IT HAS BEEN SAID THAT THE STATE OF HOMOSEXUALITY IN DEREK’S FILMS IS A ROMANTIC ONE – DO YOU THINK THAT’S TRUE?
Actually I think that’s not unfair, yes I think it’s – it’s quite true in many ways, because as I said Derek was a romantic, he was a good 19th Century romantic in many ways and high romance and high tragedy sort of walk hand in hand, let’s face it. Because I mean he was so steeped in English literature I think it was almost inevitable that it should come true and Blake, you see, was a terrific influence. He always mmm he was a great realist and a great romantic of course, great fantasist…
THE RELATIONSHIPS IN HIS FILMS USUALLY HAVE AN UNEQUAL DYNAMIC BETWEEN LOVERS FROM DIFFERENT CLASSES – WAS THIS SOMETHING HE WANTED TO EXPLORE, WAS INTERESTED IN?
Well .. it’s difficult but he – I think he was drawn to people who were a little on the tough side in the first place. He also had this avuncular side, he liked – he liked to bring on young people, he liked to help young people, so he often cast himself in this mode of sort of kindly uncle – lecherous, kindly uncle who helped young people along. He did - I mean there are people who he kind of saved from fates worse than – worse than death – I mean you only have to look at people like Andy Marshall who – who was a nightmare in many ways, but an extremely talented one as it turned out and Derek saved him from prison and probably you know, complete loss and he still survives and still makes wonderful furniture, you know. So he had great successes and Gerald Incandela who is a very distinguished photographer, largely through Derek’s help and giving him the camera and things. I – I think there was that side of it and I think he felt – I think he felt there was a duty too, in a sort of sense I’m not quite sure how it all worked in a sense, I don’t think it was guilt exactly, but I think he did, you know, he felt there was a duty to young people to help them out, move them on and that’s what was so good about him, there are people like that, I’ve met other people who like Derek who just nudge people on, you know, he helped me, not that I was younger, I was the same age and things, but he put things my way to – to move me on.
IN A SIGHT & SOUND ARTICLE IT CLAIMED DEREK WAS A MISOGYNIST IN HIS TREATMENT OF FEMALE CHARACTERS – WAS HE?
Not that I ever noticed (laughs) No I don’t think so to be honest. I think he worked with a lot of women and he never seemed to have any difficulty in doing so and seemed to enjoy doing so. You know, Jordan, Toyah, you know, I mean you can read anything into Derek – any good work of art you can read anything you like into it, but I don’t think there was much misogyny in Derek at all.
DEREK DESCRIBED HIMSELF AS A NAÏVE FILM-MAKER – JUST SHOOTING A WIDE-SHOT A MEDIUM SHOT AND A CLOSE-UP– IS THAT A FAIR WAY TO DESCRIBE HIM?
I don’t know if I’ve ever analysed that. He wasn’t always only his own cameraman by any means let’s face it and cameramen do things, you know, in that way. So I think he let himself be led by the cameraman a good deal and Derek would say, you know, we’d like such and such and the cameraman would say ‘wide shot’ and all that sort of thing, so I think a lot of that… I don’t think – I think he, you know, it’s true he was a naïve cameraman, or a naïve film-maker in a sense, because he wasn’t himself particularly interested in technique in fact he was rather against it if anything…but he went to Slade which is bizarre - I didn’t actually realise this I always thought Slade, when he was there, had already sort of lost its classical side but I hadn’t – it’s not quite true, it was still teaching classical painting I think. And he turned his back on it, he actually refused it, basically, because it was technique-based, he couldn’t be bothered with it, and I think that’s true of his own – I mean he invented his own technique, there’s no doubt that his films were made with a technique, but a Derek technique and therefore to him it didn’t – the man’s technique was the way Derek made his movies.
IT’S QUITE STANDARD CINEMA IN SOME WAYS – IT’S STRAIGHT CUT, CUT, CUT TO TELL THE STORY…
No, I don’t think that that he was even interested in it terribly, in that side of it, I don’t think he was a technician in any sense of that sort, I don’t ever remember him saying, you know, let’s do some wonderful thingumy shot, or super long track, or any of that sort of thing, most of that came from the cameraman who he – he always let people do the job that they were good at, you know, so his cameraman he trusted and you know he did the same with me, it was great, you know, he didn’t – although he was a great designer, he didn’t impose his designs on me in Caravaggio, he just wanted me to produce Rome being like this and I produced Rome being like that and he was perfectly happy with it apparently, he didn’t grumble much (laughs). And so – and the same with the actors, you know, he expected them to be able to do their job and he jollied everybody along and his job was to make everyone happy really and the end results worked. And he did – he did say, you know, the end result doesn’t matter, it’s making the film that matters that everybody’s actually enjoying themselves. Whether he actually believed that entirely is another question of course. I think there’s a lot – a lot of truth in it because he remembers, you know, the early days in the warehouses where that was exactly true, the end result didn’t matter a hoot, because as far as he was aware nobody would ever see it except his friends.
WHAT WAS A DEREK JARMAN SET LIKE – WAS IT A HAPPY SET?
Oh yes, yes you know there were always sort of upsets, because there isn’t any film that doesn’t have upsets, but yes and people – we all felt that we were doing something very much together. You know, the Caravaggio set was not really like a film set, because you know I’ve worked on big sort of feature films since and they can be very nice, but they never have that sort of family feeling and Sandy Powell the costume designer, very distinguished, and I remember her sort of sitting in a disused loo making the costumes for Caravaggio and that’s not the kind of the way you work unless you’re really rather happy doing it and everyone is having a really good time and we did. And we were making it up as we went along, you know, it was ‘ooh look that looks good, we’ll grab it and turn it into part of the set’ or you know we had to have the floor was a really, really rough concrete floor and it had to look like the Vatican or a great palace and we couldn’t sort of – we couldn’t lay beautiful floors over it, we didn’t have any money, so I just flooded it because I thought well you know what do you see in your minds eye – you see shiny reflections – so that’s what we did and the poor actors had to sit with their feet in the water but it looked great, you know. And that’s what we were doing all the time, we were just inventing. Towards the end I remember sitting on part of the set emptying buckets and buckets and buckets of earth over the set because I thought that would give the sort of dusty atmosphere it didn’t – I mean it worked, but it wasn’t probably a very good idea. Looked all right.
DID HE EVER BLOW A FUSE OR HAVE ROWS WITH PEOPLE?
Oh yes. Much of them well it’s more later, because he did become much more acerbic as he got iller, because as I say he thought he was running out of time, he couldn’t have his time wasted, he shouted at me, I can’t remember what it was now, something he gave me a good old shouting at and I went away feeling very upset, because he hadn’t done that before and then I sort of thought ‘well I know why he’s doing this, I can see, he’s not well, he’s really unhappy, he wants everything to go smooth, smooth, smooth, smooth because he hasn’t got time’ you know he can’t do with problems with anything except sort of getting things finished. And he – I think he did get the thing that he had so much that he wanted to do and he wanted to cram it all in into a shorter and shorter and shorter space and he didn’t know how long, or short that space might be. So of course he got angry (laughs).
BEING SO EASY GOING SO MUCH OF THE TIME, WAS HE CAPABLE OF HATING?
He was certainly capable of disliking severely people (laughs) - there were some people he really couldn’t, you know, stick people like David Puttnam and things he – I don’t think he hated them so much as despise them. I think he thought people like Puttnam had just let down everybody and they should not be forgiven for that and there were one or two sort of pet hates like that.
WHEN YOU SAY LET DOWN – WHAT DO YOU MEAN?
Well he just felt that he was an opportunist who trampled over younger film makers – film directors to get his way through and push his idea of what the film was like. Er – to get his way in what his image of the film – British film industry was and he hadn’t actually come up with the goodies, you know, he hadn’t actually delivered except for sort of three movies and Derek really never forgave him at all for that sort of behaviour. And there were one or two people, as I say, like that and he’d get sort of pet hates he sort of, you know, Channel Four, who let’s face it actually financed a lot of his stuff, he could be quite nasty about Channel Four, because he hated bureaucracy and he felt it was like squeezing money out of a – a stone. But in fact they were very generous, they were very understanding and good, but Derek wasn’t too happy about – about the difficulties. And he’d get, he did, he got very annoyed by just having to fight and fight and fight to get everything done, but if you’re in the film business that’s what you do I’m afraid I mean it’s always been… I think that’s part of it, he didn’t really see that he was part of the film industry, he was painting, and he didn’t really feel that he should be fighting and fighting to paint and I think that was part of the difficulty that he never really thought of himself as a member of the film industry in that sense.
HE SAID ‘LIFE’S ALWAYS MORE IMPORTANT THAN CELLULOID’ IS THAT TRUE, DO YOU THINK?
Oh yes, I’m sure, I’m quite sure about that, as I say, he had this thing about making film being more fu - to make rather than to watch, you know - not quite true, but his films were about life, let’s face it and if he said I’m sure that life was much more important to him than celluloid – well, he did live a very full life outside celluloid.
HE ALSO SAID ‘I HAVE MY BEST IDEAS AT FOUR IN THE MORNING BEING BLOWN BY SOME CUTE FLUFFER’. WOULD THAT BE TRUE OF HOW HE WORKED?
I think that was one of his romances (laughs) – No, I mean Derek – Derek was very good on the sort of quick - quick good line, you know and as I say he built his own life into a sort of romance as well and so you had to take things like that with a definite pinch of salt - it was a great line, you know.
WHY DO YOU THINK HE NEEDED TO MAKE THE PRIVATE PART OF HIS LIFE SO PUBLIC IN HIS BOOKS, ETC?
Don’t know, I think it – he wanted to be understood I think and when he first – his first book of poetry ‘ Finger in the Fishes mouth’ - I don’t think it was particularly successful and it was in the good old tradition of a slim volume of verse brought out privately kind of thing, but I think he got a bit of a taste for it, and he was a very literary person, you know, he liked words very much and he could actually, you can’t do that in film, you know, films are sometimes quite verbose, even Caravaggio, there’s an awful lot of voice over going on there, but of course on paper he could do – do that all the way and he was a very good writer, you know, he had a very nice way with words, but I think that it started out probably almost like a form of diary, privately in a sense and then he discovered that he could actually speak more clearly in some ways because he’d stop and explain and use the words in the magical way one can in the way that is completely private. Because on a film whatever you do is interpreted by a dozen other people, so you can never say precisely what you want, you’ve always got to say what the cameraman, the lighting man, the designer, the scriptwriter, all these sort of things can get in the way, so you create something but it’s not the thing – not – not the pure thing – it’s not like a painting and it’s not like a book which is completely private and you can say whatever you like as long as you don’t get sued.
WHY WAS HE SO KEEN TO BE UNDERSTOOD?
Well, I think any artist, if you’re an artist, expecting anyone to see your work no matter what your medium is, it’s a - like any artist (clears throat) art is a form of communication and unless you’re going to be completely sort of hidden away in a corner and you know every artist wants to be understood in that sense, they want to be communicate their inner ideas and their view of the world and I think Derek was no different from anybody else or any good artist in that sense, I mean he wanted to be understood on that level. He wanted to be able to - it was sort of an apologia in a sense as well, he wanted to explain and say ‘well I did this because’ - so that people would understand better and perhaps then like his other work more and that’s pretty much sums it up I suppose.
YOU WERE AT THE CANONISATION OF DEREK, DOWN AT DUNGENESS – TELL ME ABOUT IT.
Oh God yes….
WHY WAS HE CANONISED AND WHAT DID IT MEAN?
That was the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence I think, is that what they’re called? I think they are, yes and I just happened to be down in Dungeness, I think he asked me to go down and they decided that he was a gay icon and Derek was a little embarrassed, you know, being a good respectable English lad, middle-class lad, he was a bit embarrassed, but then of course he was immensely flattered in a funny sort of way and he was a bit bashful about it, but they got him to put on a big gold robe and everything, the big gold robe that he was buried in - er they bounced about on the beach and um that was it – the funny thing about it was that there were actually more press there than there was audience as it were. And it was just sort of totally surreal afternoon, or morning, I can’t remember which, and he sat on his throne in Dungeness with the cottage behind him and the flowers and the garden and they bounced about and did their various sort of rather eccentric rituals and a good time was really kind of had by all. But again it was under the eye of the camera, so it was rather odd. Derek did find it – I think he did find it a teeny bit embarrassing.
WHAT MADE DEREK TICK – WHAT MOTIVATED HIM?
Oh dear (laughs) that’s the most difficult of all questions, because I mean the only person who could answer that is Derek it’s – he was a great communicator, you know, he had ideas and he wanted to share them and he enjoyed sharing them, he loved to have lots of people round him, I think that’s part of it, he was very social in that sense, loved to have talented and interesting, exciting people around him, he loved doing things with them and it was a playground, you know, the world’s a playground and it can be a nasty place with monsters in it, but in the end it was a playground.
400Blows Productions, July 2003.