Andy Kimpton-Nye: WHEN AND WHERE DID YOU FIRST MEET DEREK JARMAN?
Ron Peck: I'm almost certain it would have been in kind of gay dive bar in Earl's Court called the Catacombs. That's where I certainly remember meeting him and seeing him regularly, this is back in the 70s, the mid 70s. And you know, it’s hard to imagine it now, but in so far as there was a gay world as it were, it was concentrated in four or five places, pretty much in the Earls Court area, so it tended to be quite an intensive gathering and meeting of people. But what was interesting, and I can't remember how on earth this came up, but very soon we both knew we were trying to make films and I think when I first met him he was actually designing The Devils. He hadn't made… he'd made some of the very early super 8 films, but I certainly remember we were, he was trying to make and raise the finance for Sebastian and I was trying to make and raise the finance for Nighthawks, so it was a similar period for both of us, so in fact when we would meet there, it was a strange place because it didn't sell alcohol, it was kind of coffee and juices, 11 till 2 in the morning. It was actually quite a social place, I mean it was a place where you caught up and talked. And so from there on really we kind of followed each other's efforts with those two films and then thereafter and we were both lucky in getting those two things made. And then we went through all the trials and tribulations of trying to make other things afterwards... it was probably 74 or something like that, I can't remember exactly. I think 74,75 around then.
WHAT WAS DEREK LIKE AS A PERSON?
As he always was really - kind of irrepressible, very enthusiastic, very passionate about things, I don't know that he was initially as angry as he became. I think later there was a real anger in him, in a way that was a part of his passion as well, but I think especially around the period when the Caravaggio project stalled and stalled and stalled. He'd made I think the three features up till then, he'd made his mark and this was a small scale project and was just not getting financed and I think it went on for 3 or 4, maybe even longer, years, but I think that seems to me to have been an incredibly important time because the Super 8 films came to the fore and I think that's probably when his association with James Mackay kind of got going in a major way. And it produced another kind of stream of work and that stream then influenced the, for want of a better word, more mainstream, it never was mainstream, but the Super 8 was more underground than his underground in a way. For me he produced I think his strongest work then, I think that came out of that period of frustration.
WHAT WAS THE IMPORTANCE OF SUPER 8 TO DEREK?
I can't remember exactly when he first talked about it, or when he first showed material, although I was aware of it, but it was certainly as I said in the period of trying to… or the period of waiting and waiting and waiting on Caravaggio that it became not merely a way of making a film, but a kind of polemic: if I can't get the money for a 35 mm or 16 mm film, sort of fuck you, I'll go my own way with a Super 8 camera. And the amazing thing is he made feature film work with a Super 8, feature film length material and it stood up and it kind of deepened the sense of what he was able to do as film-maker and I think he was so much freer and was obviously behind such films as The Last of England. There was all that early material he shot in his Southbank studio, but I think it was much more in earnest, it really… it had to count and as I said I think his anger with things fed in at this time. And although if I recall Angelic Conversation was maybe the first of those films that got wide exposure, I think it was The Last of England to me that had the real anger in it and I don't know, it just went so beyond his normal concerns and it was so much about England at that time and just wasn't even to do necessarily with what people were saying on the screen or doing, it was just the landscape in which everything happened. The soundtrack that Simon (Fisher Turner) did which was terrific. As I said, I felt it was without question the strongest film I saw that year from anywhere.
YOUR FILM NIGHTHAWKS IS ABOUT A LIFESTYLE NOT SEEN BEFORE ON FILM – THE EVERDAY LIFESTYLE OF A GAY TEACHER. HOW IMPORTANT WAS A FILM LIKE SEBASTIANE TO THE GAY COMMUNITY?
It came out before Nighthawks, at least one, maybe two years before. I think it was. I think the two films are quite interesting in relation to each other and I think when they were both bought by Channel 4 and we saw that furore in the Sun about both of them, it was to do with the subject, but I think that the thing about Sebastian is it was upfront homo-erotic, which Nighthawks wasn't. I think Nighthawks was more about a rhythm, as you say about a lifestyle and I don't know that it's un-erotic, but I think Sebastian goes full tilt with the naked bodies and the sunlight and the slow motion and all the rest of it, it's a kind of celebration of it and I think that was quite shocking at the time, there wasn't anything like it on a cinema screen and it played, they both played at the Gate, Notting Hill, which had quite some prominence as a cinema at the time. And it was just so different to the films that had preceded it which were films like Victim, Sunday Bloody Sunday, where most of this was off screen, where you know you had other scenes, but the actual scenes between men were always talked about and off screen. And he put homo-eroticism right up on the screen, I suppose that was the strongest achievement of the film and then you know did it within this kind of fantasy of a Roman outpost. And it did seem to me it had connections as well with the film The Satyricon, the Fellini film, actually I can't remember if that came before or after, I think it came out before and I know that Derek liked Fellini's work very much, so I think it made some kind of connection with that and was so different to anything in British film. Maybe it's a connection also to kind of Michael Powell work, just a celebration of colour, sound, image, let that speak for itself.
YOU SAID THESE FILMS UPSET THE SUN NEWSPAPER, CAN YOU RECALL WHAT UPSET THEM?
Very well, yes, cos I have a bit of an anecdote. I remember him, Derek Jarman, calling me and he said, had I seen the Sun newspaper today, and I said no, and he said I should go out and buy it, because we were both front page headlines.... the headline was ‘Channel 4 Shockers.’ And it was a protest that Channel 4 was buying these two films, I think it included Jubilee as well. You know, with public money, these films shouldn't be shown on television. That kind of climate was always there, but I mean it's the first time, the only time I think I've ever made the front page of the Sun in a major headline, I've made page 3 on another occasion but...
DO YOU THINK THE HOMOSEXUALITY IN DEREK'S FILMS IS QUITE ROMANTIC, OR POSSIBLY QUITE TRAGIC?
Well, I think he was a romantic, generally… You feel this in relation to other elements, the weather, the landscape, as I said his impassioned view of life. A tragic view of homosexuality? I don't know, I don't think I respond to it in that way, no. I think he celebrates it and he's angry at all the obstacles around its expression, that's what I think I feel very strongly. And I think when the films, most obviously… well, they open out, they're not only films about homosexuality, they're about so many things informed by, if you like, for want of a better word, gay and homosexual sensibility. Then I don't know, I just think that his anger is what I feel most strongly.... I don't think I'd use the word tragic at all. No, it hadn't occurred to me. I mean it's interesting he went back all the time, historically and he went back also to literary beginnings as jumping off points for things. I mean when he tackled the contemporary world, it was either kind of projected futuristically, somewhat in Jubilee or it became, well again, futuristically in Last of England, so he didn't really, he kind of.... moved into these worlds that he created himself. Again as to whether they're informed tragically, I just don't really associate that with him at all, either from his writing or his reading... or his film-making.
MANY OF THE OTHER PEOPLE I’VE INTERVIEWED HAVE SEEN HIM AS THE EQUIVALENT OF 20TH CENTURY ROMANTIC...
I feel there's a kind of active discomfort with the contemporary world he was in and the desire to go back into the past, the desire to create a fantastic world as he did in The Tempest or Caravaggio, he just created these... or Sebastiane which is a kind of beach and a bit of fortress. There seems to be a desire to get away from the contemporary world, or to get even into a future which he then projects as nightmarish. I suppose Jubilee is in one sense the most interesting film because he does both, you go back to a past that seems to be a most golden and you're projecting a future which is in a sense frightening.
HE WAS A GLORIFIED EXTRA IN YOUR FILM NIGHTHAWKS, SO WHAT WAS HE LIKE TO WORK WITH?
He was always great to work with, he... after that I assisted him on a couple of music videos like part of his extended family, you know when he got some finance in, he spread it around, we all needed work to keep going, so as I recall, I production managed a couple, or assisted on a couple. He was amazing to work with really. I mean, he just wanted to share the good experience of making something with other people so they were a bit like home movies. On Nighthawks, we reconstructed this dive bar I mentioned affectionately, so the layout of the set was the layout to some extent of the actual place. Derek re-enacted our familiar routine, let's put it that way. But no, there are one or two bits in Strip Jack Naked, which were outtakes, when he 's actually in a dialogue with someone as well. He really entered into the spirit of it, I mean he supported the film, he knew what we were trying to do, perhaps it wasn't the way he would have gone, in the way I wouldn't have gone in the direction of Sebastiane, just our temperaments took us in these two directions. But he also just supported the effort of anyone trying to make an independent film - there was an attempt to make an honest picture of a world that wasn't on screen at all, as I said, it was part of the off screen world of the films before. I remember there's a scene in Sunday, Bloody Sunday when somebody approaches Peter Finch from his past and that past is clearly the world that Nighthawks is all about, but that's all you see of it. So I think we felt the time was right to try and represent this on the screen and remember the film was made with loads and loads of people who were non professional actors who lived the life to some extent of the film so everyone was re-enacting, not re-enacting necessarily themselves, but each was stepping aside and making a representation of something that they knew and Derek was very good actually.
HOW MANY TAKES DID HIS SCENE NEED?
Well we could have done it with one, I can't remember how many we did, probably two, or three of that particular one, because it was a very long shot. No, we never had to do anything again because of him for sure, it might have been a technical reason, a camera or something...
WHAT WAS A DEREK JARMAN'S SET LIKE?
As I said really, they we very relaxed… if I can remember one of the bands was not the easiest of groups to deal with, again it's like the movies, he created, he created a world, he had to create an atmosphere, he had to create an environment in which some good things could happen and he was extremely inventive. Christopher Hobbs was working with him and that was a lifelong association, a lifelong collaboration, they worked incredibly well together. So... he was enjoying being imaginative and sharing it and he had a good team of people around him. He liked to have people who he worked with regularly or who he knew and .... you know it didn't take undue time, he got what he wanted and then he also became very inventive with the editing, with some of the new computer editing technology which I think even then was coming in, so he was able to do things with the material and see what was happening rather than wait for the laboratory processing. And if I remember rightly, he shot some of these on Super 8 as well so you know, there wasn't a large crew, there was a fairly small group. I think it was the free rein of his imagination that I'm sure is one reason why he did them, you know, that and pay the bills.
COULD THERE HAVE BEEN A BIG BUDGET DEREK JARMAN FILM?
Interesting that you say that. I only wonder if that, at the very, very beginning, if he had gone down another path altogether, you know, after The Devils, after working on the Ken Russell film, perhaps he'd have made Sebastian less confrontational in a way and played the game and been a good boy in the industry, even an enfant terrible, I think perhaps he could have built up to bigger scale projects and I remember speculating, in the past, would he in other, in better circumstances, have become a kind of Fellini of the British Film Industry, you know, could he have made a Casanova or a Satyricon or something. But I think you know it was so difficult so quickly that I find it very hard to divorce him now from working much more minimally and I think that he works so personally, it so seemed to suit him. He didn't need the 20,30,40,50 crew. He could operate the camera sometimes himself. He could work with 3 or 4 friends and I think that's where he was most comfortable and from where his best work comes. I think they're more personal these films than the larger scale films. That's not to say I think there's anything wrong or missing as such with Caravaggio, but in a sense there's more distance perhaps there's more, he has to be more objective, but I think somehow I associate his work with being right in there and having no-one saying, ‘no’… no constraints, nobody saying you can do this, you can't do that. I think with films like Last of England and The Garden, Angelic Conversation, Imagining October, I mean if he wanted to do it, it was just a question of getting the people together and doing it on the smallest budget, or no budget. Whereas even on a film costing £80,000 which I think was the cost of Sebastiane, you've got constraints coming in and you've got a distribution deal you have to secure, and so there are people there to tell you, this has got to go, this is too long... I think the struggle is then much more between him and his material on the level of the Super 8. I think it was a medium he loved, he loved the medium, he loved the camera.... it was so personal.
IT STRIKES ME HE JUST LOVED TO BE OUT THERE ON SET FILMING...
And with other people, it was a very social thing. We were talking earlier you know about his flat in Phoenix House in Charing Cross Rd. It was a constant traffic of people and although I think there must have been times when he needed some time alone, and maybe the move to Dungeness partly reflected that, certainly for a long period he just seemed to have open house and he liked an audience... Well, he was very opinionated. I think you know, he would.... I think this was the pattern of things, he would have a meeting set, as we all would have, other film-makers, he would have a meeting set up for funding, the meeting might be delayed, you'd then get to the meeting, the meeting doesn't advance the project and so he comes back to the apartment, the one room apartment and rages. He might rage in writing in the diary or whoever comes through the door gets an account of the meeting at Channel 4 or the meeting at the BFI or the meeting with the film union. But remember, he was also... the people who were coming in were, were in a way part of the same world, so we shared… I'm sure we were all raging in our own way, so there was a kind of sense of a group of like minded people all kind of fighting in their own ways to get things made or if they were actors to appear in things they wanted to appear in. That was one of the achievements of his projects I think, so he could create a kind of constellation of people all committed to doing something well. I mean they believed in it and I think cynicism in film-making is so widespread - people who don't think highly of the work they're doing and might think highly of their own skills, but you know, they have a kind of low view of what they're doing. And occasionally something comes through and they want to give it their all. And I think Derek attracted that.... he was so genuine, there was nothing fake about him. You might not go all the way with some of the views he had or some of the ways he wanted to express them, but I think you just trusted him, you trusted his sincerity. And he took you so far with his enthusiasm. I think stronger than his anger was his enthusiasm… It was really when his enthusiasm was blocked and blocked especially by bureaucracy .... I think in Dancing Ledge, he describes even the architecture of going through the building that Channel 4 had at the time, the old Scala, you know as something itself that so working against people trying to work imaginatively or creatively and he would have said the same about the Film Council, it would have been marvellous to see what he would have said about the Film Council building.
THE ACTOR KARL JOHNSON SAID THAT DEREK WOULD FOREVER RUN IDEAS BY YOU – PLAYING MUSIC WITH STUPER 8 FOOTAGE, ETC – AND THAT HE WAS HIS OWN BEST SALESMAN. WAS THAT TRUE?
Yes, I think he was... I think that process didn't stop, as you say, he'd put a piece of music on to play to give you an idea... He'd share the process with you and I'm sure probably when he went along to meetings, he would have tried to share that enthusiasm at every level. The problem was dealing with bureaucratic levels. I mean he wasn't a producer, interestingly, he never, to my knowledge… he never had any role in producing the films, or wanting to, There's a difference we had. I couldn't see myself how you could get control of the production without having some role in the producing as well. But he was lucky in that he worked regularly with James Mackay. I think he also worked on several films with Sarah Radcliffe. I think these were happy relationships. I mean, I'm sure they had their moments as they always do, but he could kind of trust that relationship, so he could then become the person who talks about the film, and the films were always developing and changing, and I think the other thing is that he welcomed the contributions of people like Peter Cartwright who was editor on at least The Last of England and the Garden, I think. He didn't kind of impose himself, he kind of invited in contributions. I don't think of him as an imposing film maker. I think he had his visual imagination, but I think within that he probably allowed, certainly for example the people in the film who would be a mixture of actors and friends, I think he allowed them a lot of free rein and once he'd made his decision to go with whoever it was, there was a lot of trust that they 'd get it right. I never think of performers stamped with Derek Jarman's personality. Whereas film makers who are associated very strongly with actors like Kazin... I've hardly ever seen Kazin interviewed, but you look at the performances from film to film and you feel this man has stamped something of himself on all the performers male or female..... or Kubrick, in a different way. I think Derek endlessly drew people in, I think part of the experience of the gay world at that time was endlessly encountering people you wanted to draw in, you spoke to... I did the same myself, you invited people into the experience. It was a way of having a further dialogue with someone.
DEREK SAID, IF I HADN'T HAD TO STRUGGLE FOR MY SEXUALITY AND RESPECT, I WOULDN'T BE THE FILM-MAKER I WAS. HOW TRUE WAS THIS?
Well, I think he always had to fight for himself, fight for his work, and I think if you're fighting for your work on the kind of level that he was, the kind of ground he was standing on, that would include his sexuality. But I think he was standing up for so much more than that. I mean, apart from anything else, a way of making films, a way of putting a narrative together on the screen, or working against narrative on the screen, and to me these are all inseparable, but perhaps you know being part of the same generation that he was part of, I think, you had that struggle to go through before anything else anyway, just in your daily life, and your daily relations with the family and friends you'd known over a long period. It is I think a lot less true now certainly, but I think the victim scenario of the double life was so common at that time and has slowly kind of broken away as images and notions of sexuality, in every sense, broadened out for everybody. But I think at that time it became something you had to make a decision on, you either kept quiet about it and regarded it as a very private thing, or you... it became part of what you had to stand up for and I think, it was quite interesting, that at that same period that I think of as the early 70s really, especially the mid 70s, there was so much discussion about film making as well, about cinema and it all seemed to mesh together, it all seemed to me to be one struggle for something different, for a kind of new way of looking at life, a new way of expressing things in life and there was a lot of passion in that. It was quite interesting also a lot of film-making at that time was very overtly political and often very tied to specific political interests and Derek was quite ignored by all the discussion around cinema at that time for a very long time, you know, he was regarded as far too anarchic, so when there would be seasons of counter cinema, or alternative cinema, he was not included. There was almost nothing written about him for a very long time.
HOW WAS HIS CINEMA SEEN, OR PIGEONHOLED, AT THAT TIME?
I think it was probably seen primarily as gay cinema actually.... I suppose it reflects also the kind of struggle between left politics at that time and taking on sexuality in any serious way. They were kept well apart and to be honest I felt quite relieved for a long time that Derek wasn't the beast in the jungle that had been captured, so there weren't any special issues of magazines breaking down and analysing his movies… He was left to roam. But ultimately he did get captured and all the books and everything else came out, the analysis of his work.
HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT THAT DEREK CAME OUT - ABOUT BEING HIV +?
I'm sure very important. Again because, if you like..... the first earlier levels of coming out were simply to talk about homosexuality on any level, when it was your own experience, your own life. So I think with HIV, that's when he became fairly heroic, I think, he became, with all the stigma, the prejudice associated with that, the ignorance around it… he put himself forward as a kind of example... “I'm someone in this condition” and I'm sure he helped an enormous number of people, an enormous number of people, especially people who also had HIV.
HOW MUCH DID THE DIAGNOSIS FEED INTO THE SHAPING OF LAST OF ENGLAND AND THE GARDEN....?
Perhaps, the anger actually. If you like, his anger found new directions and he was angry on behalf of people, a lot of people so it wasn't only personal. I think there was a sense of mission actually. I think that 's in his writing as well and.... you know he wrote and filmed himself out. He just kept going and even at the very end he makes this film Blue, which also gets beyond anger I think. I mean he was very ill by that time and apart from giving you this extraordinary image of Blue to contemplate, he gave you a space to contemplate, I think there was... the humour survived, the anger is there, but he's going kind of beyond that and again the… I wanted to stress earlier, he was always preoccupied with cinema as well, the form of films and I think that there's a phrase in his commentary in Blue where he talks about the pandemonium of images and I always remember (apart from seeing it in a preview theatre) a screening, when it was shown on channel 4, I watched it again, out of respect for him, I think he had died by then. I think it was part of a tribute evening to him, they showed the film without a commercial break. It's not imaginable, you can't think of that film with a commercial break, but because they didn't have any in the course of the film, they seemed to have a commercial break four or five times as long afterwards, so you had this pandemonium of images after this contemplative 70 or 80 minutes, whatever it was… You were then just overwhelmed with car ads, Weetabix ads...
It's great that Channel 4 showed it and they showed it in that way, and I think they did make an effort to bring his work to attention. I think they recognised his loss. I think his loss is very real and there hasn't been another film-maker like him since. He was able to get profile, he was able to attract attention, but I think that was also because film-making, video making wasn't as extant. There are now thousands more film- makers who have made short pieces… so many people hustling to be film-makers perhaps rather than to make films.The status of being a film-maker seems to be part of the attraction today. Derek always wanted to make films for quite deeply felt reasons... or they came out of deeply felt passions. So the films had to express themselves. I think that was why the frustration of a delay in something like Caravaggio, or when a film like Bob up a Down, or Neutron simply weren't made, that kind of blockage meant he felt “I'm going full tilt now it's got to come out somehow” and so the super 8 films, they just gave him a way of going from an immediate idea to expressing it in some form. He wasn't held back by a budget, he wasn't stopped from making something. So I think he would have used this new technology which has all come through since his death. He would have been an innovator with this technology as well. I'm sure he wouldn't have bothered going to Channel 4 or Film Council, he just would have gone on and done it.
IN THE 80S DEREK HAD SOME PUBLIC SPATS WITH BRITISH FILM INDUSTRY FIGURES, CAN YOU RECALL ANY OF THESE ISSUES?
Well, I think he often talked about there being two cinemas in a way, a kind of official British cinema, the cinema of BAFTA, the Evening Standard Film Awards, that kind of thing, a kind of public, part-public relations cinema, and a cinema of very independent minds that were invariably not being made inside the industry. There's always, for everyone who cares about film in Britain, there's always this extraordinary exception of Michael Powell, because obviously he did work inside the industry, but seemed to have such an independent spirit and in a way was able to make things, at least until Peeping Tom. I think you got sick to death of hearing about the great British film industry and you know there were invariably films that were modelled on, I don't know, fairly conventional approaches to cinema, some of them won Oscars. There's always that embarrassing moment of Colin Welland waving the Oscar in Hollywood and the point is, none of that mattered to any of us. Nobody gave a damn about Hollywood Oscars or BAFTA awards and it all seemed besides the point. The point was to make films because you couldn't contain them... you had to express the films. I think that's what I miss now is the cinema, coming from that kind of direction. In a particular way perhaps you get it from Ken Loach who just goes on and on. He's an absolute foot soldier who will never lie down and he has perhaps a more specific political agenda or analysis. He's not the anarchic personality that Derek was, but it's that lack of… I keep coming back to the same word, passion... that's what I'm missing more than anything in British film and he did seem to rally it... he was a very good speaker. When he did get chances to appear on television or in public, he was very able to speak. It's funny because in one sense he was very gentlemanly, but he often said very ungentlemanly things. He was able to play the game, but then undermine the game. He was a very attractive speaker, he drew people in all the time, he didn't really confront, he had confrontational views but his personality tended to draw people in, he could persuade you...
DID DEREK ENTHUSE ABOUT ANY OTHER DIRECTORS?
I know over here he admired work by Terence Davies and Sally Potter particularly. I seem to remember him enthusing about Joseph von Sternberg, I think he'd just seen Scarlet Empress, or Blue Angel, or something, but again the artificiality of creating a world perhaps was a part of that. Powell, he always talked about, Michael Powell. Pasolini of course - Italian cinema. I think it was that the cinema that excited him was usually to be found outside of Britain, or underground in Britain, or in the past, and you were always dealing with the deadly present. I mean there's one occasion I remember when there was a screening of Peter Greenaway's Z and Two Noughts, and I can't remember why, but for some reasons we were both at a preview screening, probably something to do with the British Film Institute and neither of us liked the film, but as the screening of the film went on and on, I was sitting next to Derek, and he was getting more and more restless.... I knew something was building up and Peter Greenaway was present to take questions, or give a few comments at the end of the film to the audience which I think included some of the actors and the film finished and Peter Greenaway came under the spotlight to field questions and Derek just stood up and said, but it's dead, dead, dead. I'll never forget that, he was shaking with anger about the film.... I can't think of two more opposite film-makers in a way, the more cerebral and the more instinctual perhaps approaches. I mean, it was a particular moment, but I think nothing could contain him sometimes, but I just remember sitting next to him and knowing sooner or later possibly when the film was finished, possibly before, there's going to be some kind of outburst.
WHAT WERE HIS MAIN STRENGTHS AS A FILM-MAKER?
Endlessly inventive… there was always a reason for making them… there was always cause behind the films. He was never making films just for the sake of films. I think he lived his… his life was cinema. There was no… I think, it's almost the best way sometimes, there was no distinction between life and film, it was all one, one was part and parcel of the other. I think that he was very loyal to the people he worked with, so I think he had loyalty back from people as well, so there was, in a way… quite soon you didn't really only talk of Derek, you were talking of a group of people around him, so that it was that group that he was trying to assemble all the time to continue making films. He always wanted to challenge an audience. I don't think he repeated himself. And, yeah, I think he wanted to excite an audience, sometimes have a polemic against the audience. But above all, I think excite them, excite them with cinema, excite them with life being on cinema, and share things.
TODAY THERE DOESN’T SEEM TO BE THE EQUIVALENT OF DEREK JARMAN MAKING FILMS, OR THEIR VOICES AREN’T BEING HEARD, WHY’S THAT?
There is certainly no encouragement anywhere I think in the bodies that finance films, the organisations that finance films. At the time of Derek making films, there was always someone somewhere who would be supporting the kind of film-making that he believed so strongly in and I'm not sure now those people are around. I'm not aware of them, they seem to have left the stage. I think there's not the same commitment to a belief in things, there's a kind of belief in audience numbers, in box office... the larger concerns of cinema, of art even, just don't seem to dominate, maybe in a way they never did, but Derek, he was a big personality, you couldn't shut him up. I think that came partly from the kind of background he had as well… He wasn't used to being shut up. He was resilient and the more people tried to push him down the harder he would come back up and he had a lot of people around him he could also draw some strength from. He wanted to challenge notions of cinema and I'm not sure those ambitions are around now in the same way. There seems to be… I get the sense that a lot of people want to be film-makers because it's cool to be a film maker. That might be unfair, but I think that there's so much really poor work around, you don't know where it's coming from, why it was made and nothing seems to be behind it to push it into existence and I think with everyone of Derek's films even where it might be argued, they failed, there was always something behind the films pushing them into existence, one way or another, and as I said if they couldn't come through as a 35 mm film, they'd come through in a different shape in Super 8 film, or they would have been a digital mini DV film. It's a hard question but I think there is an absence, and I think the absence is partly down to the climate. It's this ghastly new Labour world we're living in.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE MOMENT FROM HIS FILMS?
I think that the moment that just took my breath away the first time I saw it, and it's still there when I look at it again, is the wedding and aftermath scene in The Last of England when Tilda Swinton seems to turn, turns into a kind of whirling, dancing dervish, which the entire landscape seems to be involved in. It's so well done. It's so well orchestrated, it's so well edited. It all comes together and it draws so much anger that had built up in the film... I think that's part of the dynamic of Derek's life and work is that things build up and they explode, and that was a kind of sequence within the film that exploded, and it wasn't an exaggeration to say when I saw it in the cinema, I really felt the hairs on the back of my head stand on end. It just scared the hell out of me in a way. Scared the hell out of me, because it was such amazing film- making, and when you asked earlier whether it would have been any different if he had worked more in the mainstream industry, or had bigger budgets, he didn't need anything other than what he had. It was transferred I believe to 35 or to super 16 afterwards, but that was a distribution platform if you like. He made the film on Super 8 and he didn't need anything else and that, one likes to believe, should be true today of the digital technology. It's all.... it's what's here, isn't it really? I think certainly apart from the support James gave him for these projects all the way through… I think James has a very strong technical knowledge and he would know from the beginning, he would conduct tests, that if you shoot this on Super 8, this is what it's going to look like on 35, it's got to have this Dolby stereo and.... so everyone kind of knew from the beginning that that was the end they hoped to achieve, but it did become I think more of a distribution expense. The production could be made initially just with the Super 8 cameras… He never did have enough money to make the films, I think he… I'm sure he was always stressed financially at that level, but, if you like, it didn't get in the way of his imagination at all.
WHAT’S YOUR ABIDING MEMORY OF DEREK JARMAN THE PERSON?
I suppose it would be him in his room in Phoenix House raging against the world, or storming with new ideas. This was a very small room, but you know in that room he kind of held court, but he let his imagination roar and drew you in. And he was a very generous man as well. He always gave his support and in a way some of his enthusiasm spilled over and helped you keep going to be honest. He was incredibly loyal to not only the people he worked with, but friends and people he wanted to also see make films.
400Blows Productions, August 2003.