Andy Kimpton-Nye: WHAT WAS DEREK LIKE AS A CHILD?
Tony Peake: I think he was a very curious, lively, polite child, I think, not a particularly mischievous one, but a very lively and interested one and a slightly unusual one too, I think, in that he had quite a rich internal life and was quite reflective for a child. There was a story that he always told of watching the flowers grow in his grandmother's garden in North London, I can't remember the suburb… Northwood, I think, where he would stand and watch… and he would literally watch the flowers grow. It's always very difficult because his accounts of his childhood are as he wrote them and remembered them and he was a great myth-maker. So he was a wonderful storyteller and an embellisher of truths, too. But I think there's a kind of... I mean, from all my research into him and what I knew of him it feels to me that there was a real truth there and… as he grew up and became a film maker his ability to look at things and to see things and his interest in the texture and shape and feel of the world around him, I think was something that was there from a very early age - an interest in colour and shape and texture.
YOU MENTION COLOUR, WHAT OTHER THINGS INTERESTED HIM AS A CHILD?
Maybe he was a slightly unusual child in that… not the usual boyhood things. I mean, I don't think he was interested in sport at all. He went to... he went to various boarding schools as a young child and at his first prep school, Hordle House, he ...they used to collect butterflies and he was very interested...and again this links with the flowers, I mean, he was very interested in nature and the natural world. And, in reading and in history. I think those were his major areas of interest.
GARDENING AND FLOWERS? DID IT SET HIM ASIDE FROM OTHER CHILDREN?
Yes, I think it did, I think it certainly did when he was younger as a child and, I mean, it's going back to flowers again, but I think it was his third or fourth birthday and his parents bought him a book called Beautiful Flowers and How To Grow Them, I think that was the title and it was a fairly serious horticultural book with these plates of flowers and descriptions of the flowers and he absolutely loved this book, he loved this book, so I think he was quite set apart at that point. I think when he got slightly older, when in his sort of early teens and his adolescence, although there was a degree to which he was very set apart again there, because his sexuality was coming into play and that made him feel I think very other and it was a difficult thing for him to cope with and to deal with and to come to terms with at that time, but he was... because he was so lively and so interested in the world around him, he was great company and he was a sort of natural leader and I think he... in his teens he gathered around him a group of people and he was their natural leader and he had some very good friends who remained actually friends through a lot of his life and he was a very vivid presence in amongst that group of friends.
DEREK LIKED TO HOLD COURT. WHERE DID THIS NEED COME FROM?
I don't , I mean....other than it was there, he was a performer, he was a performer and he was a natural holder of court, he very much liked to hold court. I think it was just, it was simply... as far as I could see it was simply there. I mean it's possible, but I'm wary of too much kind of you know pop psychology. I mean his father was a very strict authoritarian and for Derek I think very often a difficult figure. But I think he shared with his father, and maybe his mother, both of whom I think were very... in their own right, very vivid and in his mother's case particularly sociable, so he had a knack, he had a kind of natural ability or a lean towards that, towards that sort of thing. But I think he was to an extent… he was in competition with his father and indeed as an adult did go on to carve a very clear path of his own through life, just as his father, who was in the RAF, carved a very different, but clear path through his life. And there's... although Derek had quite a lot of difficulty with his father and they weren't particularly close, because they clashed often, there are huge similarities between them, there's a kind of, he found his father… he was very authoritarian and quite a strict and rigid figure in many ways and interestingly, I think, there's a great steeliness… there was a great steeliness in Derek, where he knew where he wanted to go and he went with great determination and great focus after the things that he wanted to do.
WHAT’S THE STORY OF HIS FIRST LOVE?
Because his father was in the RAF and he had a tremendously unsettled childhood, Derek and Gaye (Derek’s sister) and the family were moving around a lot from RAF patch to RAF patch and his father was sent out immediately after the war to Italy and they were quartered on the shore of Lake Maggiore or one of the lakes in a rather splendid old house and indeed there was this young man, Davide… one assumes in his late teens, early twenties, who was the nephew of the housekeeper, who would take Derek riding on the bars of his bike and would row out onto the lake with him and he writes very.... I mean in the way that he reacts to the flowers almost, he writes that this is another part of the world about him at the time. The beauty of this young man imprinted himself very, very forcibly and vividly on Derek and although....well, it's so hard with him to know what the exact truth of any story might be. I think clearly, clearly Davide existed and that his beauty and his youth imprinted itself very vividly on him and there's maybe a template for a lot of the men in Derek's life after that possibly.
TELL ME ABOUT THE FIRST FILM HE SAW AS A CHILD?
The film was Wizard of Oz, which he saw again and again, in fact, when he was in Italy, and it was the first time he went to the cinema and he found it a completely overwhelming experience and crawled under the seat I think at one point and wanted to kind of run from the cinema and had to be kind of hauled back to his seat, but he was just completely taken, taken over and caught by the film and to an extent terrified. But it made a very, very big impact on him and I think continued to. It's there really throughout… throughout his life, and was a film that he looked at, he watched a lot. He came back to time and time again, he talked about and its sense of.... the whole idea of Dorothy travelling as she does over the rainbow to this magical colourful place had a lot of echoes in Derek's life of that, I think, cos he created an over the rainbow place to live in very often. I mean when he was living in a warehouse along the Thames in the 70s and he created this kind of wonderful vivid colourful milieu for himself and his friends to be in and the sense of home was very important to him. There is a lovely double sense, I think, in the term home movies, which is how he started being a film-maker, which was picking up his super 8 camera and filming his friends by the Thames… in those Riverside Studios...
YOU MENTION THE IMPORTANCE OF HOME MOVIES AND HOME…
The fact that home movies are called home movies had a sort of particular ring for him, I think, because it was very important for him to create a sense, almost an alternative sense for home in his life, of the people, lovers, friends whatever, that he could create a sense of home with and feel comfortable at home with. I think partly because as a child, and a child of very conventional family, and with a rather strict and rigid father, he didn't always feel comfortable and at home in terms of his artistic interests, although, I mean, in fact his father was to an extent more supportive of him than Derek often made out. But he had very different interests to his father and in terms of his sexuality which was not acceptable in terms of the kind of conventional family model, so he needed to find this other model.
WASN’T HIS GRANDFATHER ALSO A HOME MOVIE MAKER?
He was and it's very fascinating, because at a time, I mean this was in the sort of 20s and 30s, at a time when, I think, it was very unusual for people to have home… to make home movies and to have cameras… and indeed and this is Derek's maternal grandfather and, yes, they kept a very comprehensive and vivid record of their lives. And his father was… his father had a camera and made home movies.
WHAT DID HIS FATHER'S HOME MOVIES MEAN TO DEREK?
I think a sense of Eden maybe, a lost Eden but… I think he had a very complicated and double edged relationship with England, his country and his family, growing up as an English boy, an Englishman and within this kind of quiet, conventional… and it was conventional family which he chaffed against to an extent, but which he absolutely loved and which represented the best of everything and security and the country... He so loved the English countryside and I think he is the most English of people, of film-makers, and somewhere there is a kind of, with a small c, there is a conservatism in Derek that sits alongside his iconoclasm and his subversiveness and his wanting to kind of break the mould and I think his father's home movies represent both those things, a kind of ideal world, and a world of innocence and childhood and order and serenity. There is lovely footage in the Last of England, I think, with him and Gaye, his sister, as children running around the garden and the flowers in bloom - in fact it was colour, very early colour and that was kind of Eden, I think. But one tinged maybe with a sort of sadness and regret because it's a world that maybe had to pass, or a world in which he didn't always have a place, or always want to have a place, so I think there's a sort of double edge about it all.
WHAT DID HIS FATHER DO IN WWII?
He was an RAF pilot and in the Second World War he eventually became an Air Commodore, he was a bomber pilot and ultimately a path-finder, which is something he put himself forward for and that's the pilot who flies ahead and lays down the flares and the paths for the bombers to follow which is a very, very dangerous thing to do. He was a determined enough and courageous man. He'd come as a youngster from New Zealand, the family, the Jarman family, come originally from the West country, but they'd emigrated to New Zealand in the latter part of the 19th century… the 1800s. Lance, Derek's father, came back to the UK to join the RAF in the early part of the 20th century, which I think is also a kind of factor in… certainly in Lance's make up, in Derek's father's make up, and had quite an effect, I think, on the family, because he was a colonial, he was a New Zealander, a colonial and he had come to this country to fit into this country and he became, as people quite often do, more English than the English and I think that's an important factor in the family story.
WHAT WERE DEREK'S THOUGHTS OF HIS FATHER'S ROLE AS A BOMBER PILOT?
Complicated. I think, finally he did look up to him, or in someway he looked up to him and admired him for his... I think as a boy he didn't particularly look up to his father, in fact as a boy and a child he was much closer to his mother and her... what she stood for and I mean it's a bit simplistic this, but her femininity, her softness as opposed to maybe to his father's hardness was something that he related to much more. And he was always somebody, I mean he was very, very suspicious of things militaristic and things nationalistic and to the extent that his father was part of that. It wasn't something that he looked up to or respected, but alongside that I think he did, and certainly as he grew older he did hugely respect his father and admire his father for the strength of character that he had although his father had chosen and lived his life in a way that Derek never would have. But I think he admired him too.
WHAT WAS THE RELATIONSHIP LIKE BETWEEN MOTHER AND SON?
Very, very close, I think… very close and warm. She was a great… always a great support to him, a great admirer of him and just a great support. I mean, I think, she didn't question… it seems to me from everything I could find out that she never... she very wholeheartedly supported him in what he wanted to do. And as he grew up and his interest in nature and then drawing developed, he started to draw and he started to paint, wanted to be a painter, she was completely supportive of that, whereas his father was less supportive, I mean not unsupportive… and Derek would later say that his father didn't support him and he really had to fight to establish himself as a painter without his father's support. In fact, I think, his father was more supportive than that. But maybe he wanted him to pursue a more conventional and more secure career than that of a painter. As his mother was a very sociable, I mean the sense I have from the family is that Derek's father was quite a reserved person not necessarily the easiest of people socially. Whereas his mother, I think, was enormously warm and charming and easy with people and Derek was one of the most charming people one could possibly hope to meet and I think they were very alike in that way maybe.
WHAT WAS THE BOARDING SCHOOL EXPERIENCE LIKE FOR DEREK?
Gruesome, I think, certainly to begin with... his prep school… I mean he went very young and he suffered from that trauma of being withdrawn from the home, which was to do with his parents moving around and so on. The school was quite sporty, quite outdoors, I mean the ethos of the school wasn't something that he felt particularly comfortable with and the same at Canford, which was his next school. But at Canford, I mean, he was very lucky in that two teachers, Robin Noscoe and his English teacher, Davis… Andrew Davis, I think… Anyway, he was very lucky in that he had two teachers, his art teacher and his English teacher who were immensely supportive and important mentoring figures and through them and with them he was able to explore his interest in art and indeed his interest in English and so he found at school outlets for his interests and areas where he could flourish and blossom and he did. And, in fact at Hordle, his prep school, there used to be a school garden and he used to have a plot there and he used to garden and that was a very important outlet for him. So, I think there were pockets of happiness at school and school friends, some school friends that he was close to. But, the overriding ethos… I mean this was boarding school in the early 50s, which was another world, another time, a very strict hierarchical one and I mean, I think, it's interesting as an adult he was very anti-establishment, anti any kind of hierarchical structures and I think this kind of mistrust and hatred and distaste for things hierarchical, probably grew up from him being at school, his time there and his experiences there.
IMPRISONMENT SEEMS A THEME IN DEREK'S WORK AS AN ARTIST. DO YOU THINK HE GOT THAT FROM THE CONFINES OF BOARDING SCHOOL?
He could have, I mean he could have got it from the confines of growing up on RAF patches too, which were behind fences cut off from the surrounding , the surrounding world. I mean, not that you couldn't get out of them, but he did grow up, grow up in a lot of confined spaces and Canford, his secondary school, was quite an isolated school and away from... there's a neighbouring village, but it's set on its own grounds and it's quite separate from anything else so that could well be, yes… And it's also interesting, I think, that I mean one of his happiest times as a child was… they were briefly posted to an old manor house which… I think he was about 10,11 or 12 at the time and it had a huge impact on him and I think on his aesthetic because that whole Elizabethan period, it was an Elizabethan manor house, and the Elizabethan period is hugely important to him and crops up again and again in his work and I think after an earlier childhood of quite austere RAF bungalows, which had their regulation furniture, he never... he and his sister didn't have many toys as children and there tended not to be gardens in the RAF camps, you know they weren't that well established, so they were quite austere and they grew up in quite austere and bleak surroundings with a couple of interesting and very significant exceptions: the time they spent in Italy on the lake where there was a kind of explosion of colour for him I think and the manor house. And you can see that in the films I think… he goes from… there's a very austere thread running through a lot of the films and a great love of colour and profusion and vibrancy as well and the two sides contrast and sit alongside each other and that's very much his childhood I think.
AND WHERE DOES HE END UP? SUCH A DESOLATE, BLEAK PLACE…
Dunguness, yes it could not be more desolate, could not be more Derek. Absolutely. I think the seeds for that were sown very early on. And I think he's makes a garden where nobody else would really think to make a garden. There's a huge part of him that… somewhere he did feel, I mean he did seek out bleak and transitional places, places on the edge and isolated places and he felt someway comfortable there. And he would then transform them… he would set about transforming them.
IN THE 60S, HOW EASY/DIFFICULT WAS IT FOR DEREK TO COME OUT?
Very difficult. I think the first thing is that the early 60s were more part of the 50s than they were the late 60s… so he was a student, he was at Kings (London University) reading English and history and then he went to the Slade to study fine art. But for his first degree… his time at Kings, which was in the early 60s, it was quite a conventional, buttoned down world that he was in and he had enormous difficulty. He didn't know who... he knew that he was gay, I mean he was becoming increasingly aware of his sexuality and he just sat on it, I think, he just buttoned it… he buttoned it down, he did not acknowledge it, he didn't know how to, what to do with it, until eventually it kind of erupted. And it was very traumatic and very distressing for him. He had some very good friends and once he had started to talk about it and come to terms with it, I mean by the late 60s, early 70s he embraced his sexuality with complete determination and great pride and celebrated it, but it was very difficult in the early days. I mean, there are various stories he tells - he was hitching as a student through Europe and he got picked up, he got given a lift by a man who then made a pass at him and he was completely traumatised by this and ended up getting out of the car and being left on the side of the road. And he found that very difficult, he found the attraction he was feeling towards other men very difficult to express and to talk about. And he did eventually meet his Mr Right a Canadian called Ron Wright and when they first slept together, I think the initiator was Ron Wright getting into bed with him, and he went sort of berserk, it was like a great release. So, I think it was very hard for him, as it was for many people as it can still be difficult for people depending on where you live, but I think at that time it was hard for many, many people. It was still… it was illegal. There wasn't much support at large in society.
WHAT SORT OF ART WAS HE TURNING OUT AT THIS TIME,? WHAT WERE HIS INFLUENCES?
He painted some figurative work… but he was painting more abstract work… and tending towards the conceptual. But the course… he did fine art, but you had to do a subsidiary subject at the Slade and he took theatre design, and I think that's the area he became most interested in and most involved with although I think he still saw himself as an artist and that was what he was going to do. But in fact it so happens that when he left the Slade, his first work, his professional work was as a set designer and I think he liked that… because he was so sociable, work that involved other people and working with other people was much more congenial to him than being a painter and being alone in your studio. Although he did paint and he painted through his whole life. And the influences were various, I think, many contemporary and many American, I think… Warhol and...
IT STRIKES ME THAT DEREK NEEDED TO BE ALONE AS MUCH AS HE NEEDED COMPANY, IS THAT FAIR TO SAY?
To an extent, but more in his later years, after he bought Dunguness. And, yes, he did spend long periods of time there and he needed to be alone. And, I think, he was always somebody who... he kept a journal through quite a lot of his life and he reflected on things and he liked to reflect on things in private. But my sense is that as a younger man he was much more social and much preferred to have people around him and the company of people and working with other people, sort of working collaboratively. And throwing ideas around, I think, he was somebody who was not a perfectionist in the sense... he liked to work quickly and he liked the kind of happenstance of working with a group of people and somebody saying let's try that, yes, let's try that, and the excitement of putting things together in a quick, sometimes haphazard fashion and moving on. I don't think he was somebody who wanted to have a perfectly finished object, it was much more important to do something, to try a particular combination of things, or whatever, and then to try them in another combination and then to try something else and to keep moving. He had quite a butterfly mind, I think…
He flittered I think, he liked to move from idea to idea from possibility to possibility, to try as many… to kind of play around with things, rather than staying kind of solidly and steadily with one you know project. Although having said that, and I talked earlier about him having a steeliness, he was immensely determined and if one looks at something like Caravaggio, a film which took 7 years in the making, many another film maker would have given up, and he wasn't going to and he didn't. So, he could be incredibly dogged and determined and stick at something...
KEN RUSSELL: HOW IMPORTANT WAS THEIR WORKING RELATIONSHIP?
I think it was a very important experience because Ken Russell's flamboyance was something that was, well, Derek liked enormously, and was something that he did in his own way, so I think Ken Russell's subversiveness and his outrageousness were all things that Derek really related to... so I think he was a very important influence indeed… The Devils which was the first film (Jarman worked on with Russell) was a big budget film and, I think, the set was the biggest set since Cleopatra, or as big as, or whatever. And it was an immensely exciting and wonderful thing for a young designer to work on as their first film, but at the same time, interestingly, I think, Derek found it very... the restrictions that you find when you work on a big budget films, he found very, very irksome and was not entirely comfortable with that and Savage Messiah (Jarman’s second film with Russell,) which was really done on a shoestring, and in a much more hand to mouth way, was something that he… it was a way of working that he liked, and this is something else that I think he maybe learnt from Ken Russell and was a kind of way of working that he took into his own films and into his own film making.
HOW DID DEREK DISCOVER SUPER 8 IN THE 70S?
An American architectural student, called Marc Balet, who was a friend of Derek's, they met when Derek had one of his studios on the Thames, and Marc Balet had a home movie camera , a super 8 camera, which he showed to Derek, and Derek picked up as a toy, was fascinated by it, started to play around with it and the movie making started with that. I think, what one has to remember is that he saw himself as a... I would say as a painter and maybe as a painter/set stage designer, but principally as an artist. Film had not been something… I mean, it was not something that he was aiming towards. In fact he wasn't a career minded person. I think he was… serendipity features very largely in his work and his way of working, kind of grabbing whatever happens to be at hand, working with whatever happens to be at hand and I think his career developed, and he wouldn't have called it a career, from whatever happened to be around, whatever influence happened to be around. And I think he simply found with the (Super 8) camera that he could do, you know it was fun to play with, and he could, he could look through it, and he liked to look in a way that actually fitted in… well with his level of looking at things. And it was a way, he could play games with his friends, because the early home movies are phoning up his friends and saying what are you doing on Sunday, come round, let's get dressed up in some outrageous clothes, or let's take all our clothes off, and let's make a movie and they would either develop a scenario, or it would be simply kind of fooling around and having fun.
HOW SKILLED DID DEREK GET WITH THE SUPER 8 CAMERA?
I think he got quite skilled and he got… I don't entirely know the answer to that question, but what did strike me, when researching the biography, was that although he always spoke about playing around, having fun, getting friends, in among his notebooks there are endless notes towards some of these films and kind of break- downs of scenes and I think what he would do is he would capture whatever he could on film and that would just be whatever was to hand, whichever friends were around, or whatever, he would film just what happened out of that moment, but then I think he would endlessly think around and play around with the ordering of that material.
HOW MUCH DID THE DEATH OF HIS MOTHER AFFECT HIM?
Very strongly and powerfully, because she had been such a warm, close, loving supportive figure in his life, so I think he was very....he was very deeply affected by it, by her death, yes.
WAS HE PROUD HIS MOTHER HAD SEEN HIS ACHIEVEMENTS AS FILM-MAKER BEFORE SHE DIED?
Very. And she was always very.... in fact both his parents were very… in their own way very proud of him. And his mother was… I mean she saw Jubilee, she was in a wheelchair, it was back towards the end of her life and it meant a lot to him I think that she could be there and see the film and that she accepted… that she accepted it. I mean, there's this strange subversive anarchic film, which a the middle aged, middle class person might not like, or accept , or understand, but she did and that meant a huge amount, that meant a huge amount to him. And I think the fact of her presence and her memory is there in The Tempest which was his next film.
CARAVAGGIO WAS A LONG DRAWN OUT PROCESS DURING PRE-PRODUCTION, HOW DID THAT EFFECT DEREK?
It didn't dent his aspirations, but I think it refocused them. He found… it was seven years and seven punishing years of… the film started small scale, the budget grew, everything grew with the budget, then it had to all be kind of paired back again. So it almost came, in an odd way, it kind of came full circle and the film that was finally made was actually remarkably close to the original concept, with this kind of Hollywood blockbuster that sort of happened notionally in between, but wasn't what ended on the screen. And he didn't like, I mean, he found it immensely frustrating, because he was a quick person, I think, an impatient person. He liked to get ahead and do things and I think its major effect was that he just was determined never to put himself through the same experience again and he went straight from that to making The Last of England, which is a hand held camera as much as anything else and he just picked up the super 8 camera and started again filming his friends and sort of making a much more personal kind of film. Edward II is another studio film, he did make funded films, but he regarded… he regarded the process… I mean, he often talked about the process of funding and scripting as a kind of censorship where, because you have to go to the money people and they have to… or they put their stamp on things, they say no you can't do this, you can do the next thing, and he didn't like that, and I think one of his great, one of his strengths as a film maker, and his kind of gift to other film makers, is the way in which he said pick up the camera, film, just film what's there. You don't have to put yourself through the mill of the whole funding process. I mean, of course, that's a bit simplistic, and you do, and he did, and even something like The Last of England needed post production and needed funding and without James Mackay as producer and without the other producers he worked with, he couldn't have made his films, so he had to be part of that whole process. But he didn't like it.
AND DID THE CRITICISMS OF HIS WORK AND HIS LIFESTYLE AFFECT HIM?
Yes, I think they did get to him. I think they got to him much more deeply than he really let on, or liked to let on, because although he was a very independently minded and kind of clear sighted person, who wanted, I mean, on one level was happy to stand outside the establishment, and certainly chafed at too much authority, he liked to belong, I think, too. And he liked to be taken seriously and he liked to be valued and I think to the extent to which criticism devalued him, or misunderstood him, he was… he could be quite hurt by it. He wouldn't admit to that, but I think it could hurt. And he hit back too, I mean, when it was about his lifestyle and his sexuality and the way in which he chose to live his life, I mean, he would he would respond very angrily.
CAN YOU RECALL, WHAT WAS THE NATURE OF THE RUN-INS WITH THE LIKES OF ALAN PARKER AND DAVID PUTTNAM?
I can't remember the details well enough to answer that question. I'll attempt an answer...... It was around the British Film year and the particular way in which… I mean, as Derek saw Alan Parker and Puttnam as being the figureheads, or amongst the figureheads of a particular view of English film, British film making, which he felt was too exclusive, too narrowly focused to not take account of a film maker like himself, and he saw it as being too narrow, almost too nationalistic a view of film making. It was a row… and it was a row about that. And, I think when Revolution came out, and which cost as much money as it did, and lost as much money as it did, I mean that really angered and horrified him.
WHY WAS TILDA SO SPECIAL TO DEREK?
In some of the shots there is an incredible similarity to his mother, or her image. I think she was, just as his mother had been, a very, very important figure, I think, and something of a muse. I think Tilda was likewise, a female figure/muse that he could focus his camera on and they shared, they shared, I'm speaking from the outside, because I didn't observe this myself, but they shared an ability to play and an ability to laugh and to throw ideas between themselves, which he really liked, and also I think because Tilda was a young actress at the beginning of her career, he could be a mentor and he could be a very, very powerful guiding figure and he liked to do that. So I think that's all part of it.
HOW DOES HE CHANGE AS A RESULT OF THE HIV DIAGNOSIS?
I think sometimes, to an extent, he got more angry, and I don't know if impatient is the right word, but he knew that he didn't… he would only have a limited amount, a finite amount of time in which to do the things that he wanted to do, so another 7 years making a film wasn't an option, and I think that was part, too, of why he went on to work in the way in which he did. He just did not have that amount of time. It is a strange thing with Derek, I found when writing the biography, that I'd often talk to people who had only ever seen, the warmth, the charm, the fun, because he was someone who was such an immensely vivid personality and if you spent any time with him, I'm sure everybody would say this, he was a great enabler, it's a horrid word, but to give you a sense of endless possibility, and he'd be talking about this and that and all these possibilities and I always came away, whenever I saw him, thinking well there's so much one could do, the world is full of possibilities. He was an immensely exciting, uplifting person to be with and to an extent that was a mask and there was a... an angry, lonely, sometimes… disturbed is the wrong word, it's too strong, somebody who was not as… well, he wasn't actually maybe easy in his skin… But if one just saw the energy and the fun, you'd think only warmth and positive things and there was a brooding darker side which he kept very, very private ... and you see it in his journals and sometimes he even says in his journals… I mean, he doesn't even like revealing to himself, I think, how upset he could be and he faced, I mean with great courage and fortitude his disease and put a very, very brave face and front on it, which was a very real and genuine one, but behind that there was anger and hurt and uncertainty.
DID HE BECOME MORE POLITICAL AS A RESULT OF THE DIAGNOSIS?
Yes, I think without a doubt. Although, I think his politics had been growing, and his politicisation was something that happened over a long period of time. If you go back to Jubilee, an intensely political film, and his sense of how British society, English society functions, and how people do, or don't fit into it, and how much space is allowed, or made for people, was something that he thought about a lot and felt very strongly about. And so I think that it was there through the 70s and into the 80s, but it was certainly sharpened by his diagnosis and by the whole way in which the Aids epidemic was treated and handled.
HOW DID DEREK MEET KEITH COLLINS THE LAST GREAT LOVE OF HIS LIFE?
They met at a film festival in Newcastle, which was where Keith Collins comes from, and for Derek it was love at first sight. I mean he met Keith there and was instantly attracted and drawn to him, invited him down to London, and Keith came down, and within a very short period of time indeed had moved in. I mean it wasn't a conventional relationship in any sense of the word, but it was, I mean for Derek, and I think for Keith too, it was a real, real love and a relationship that sustained him hugely in the last years of his life.
SO EXACTLY HOW IMPORTANT WAS THIS RELATIONSHIP IN THE LAST YEARS OF DEREK’S LIFE?
Hugely important and hugely central. I mean, it was not without its difficulties. Keith was much, much younger, he was a young man in his very early 20s and considerably younger than Derek, a newcomer into his circle, and I know there was quite a degree of friction between Keith and some of Derek's older circle of friends, because to certain people he was a newcomer, he was an interloper, maybe, and they were both strong, both Keith and Derek were strong. He is a strong personality and there was a degree of compromise and coming to terms with each other that had to happen, but he was , Keith was absolutely there in really every aspect of Derek's life in the final years and as he became ill, was an incredible solid, secure, ever present carer and an organiser. Derek was always so busy, full of ideas and so on, and needed someone to help run things, and Keith provided that.
WAS HE HAPPY TO LET GO AT THE END?
I don't think he was entirely… He was so desperately, desperately ill at the end of his life, I think his body must have wanted to, and he must have wanted to... and I think what's very easy to forget is, again, because he was so courageous, and so vivid a person, I mean, right towards the end there was talk of new feature films, Narrow Rooms, and people believing that he could make these films and he couldn't have, he was simply too, he was too ill. But you could still be in his presence and not realise that, but he was blind at the end... the ravages of the disease on his body were quite, quite appalling. He couldn't have wanted to continue that kind of agony. But he was a young… he was in his early 50s, he had a lot of things he wanted to do, so I think he felt pulled away from life, not of his choosing, a time not of his choosing and he also had a degree of acceptance and enormous grace about it. I think all those things were present…
WHY DID HE HAVE SUCH A STRONG DESIRE TO MAKE HIS PRIVATE LIFE SO PUBLIC?
He liked to be inclusive and I think that comes out of the degrees of exclusion that he experienced as a child and the kind of milieu that he grew up in, the boarding school, the 50s milieu, the relationship with his father, which could be an exclusive one… He grew up in a family where there were a lot of things you didn't talk about, in common with many middle class English families of that time, and I think he found that difficult and he found it destructive and self destructive and he wanted to live his life in a different way, and kind of close the circle, and pull together all the things that did make him up, and not have divisions that could be so damaging. And he was indeed somebody who… he made no distinctions that I ever saw, or was ever aware of between the professional and the personal. If you worked with him you became a friend and business wasn't business and it was friendship... I think, in reaction to his upbringing.
WHAT WERE HIS MAIN QUALITIES AS A DIRECTOR?
I would say pre-eminently calmness. He was able to create a great sense of… kind of calm on set and with whoever he was working with, which would allow you to be… to kind of explore, or arrive at whatever it is that you were going to arrive at. And a very light touch. I mean I think he had a very kind of clear sense of what he wanted and he gave a sense of allowing people to be themselves, to express themselves, and he would capture whatever that might be, but not that I've been on many film sets, but I've been on some and his are the calmest that I've ever been on.
ULTIMATELY, WHAT WAS DEREK JARMAN SEARCHING FOR?
Inclusion, maybe. To pull all the different parts of his life and the world that he inhabited together, so that they made a harmonious whole. And he was very interested in alchemy and the whole idea of turning the stone, the ore into gold, and I think a sense of transformation too, of finding the gold, or the magic, or the wonder in people, in flowers, in landscape in the world about him.
400Blows Productions, August 2003.