Andy Kimpton-Nye: WHEN AND WHERE DID YOU FIRST MEET DEREK JARMAN?
Simon Fisher Turner: I first met Derek Jarman in Campden Hill Sq at Meglavision, where they had just finished shooting Jubilee and I was a friend of Guy who was one of the producers of Jubilee and an old friend of Derek's. And I met him there and I'd never heard of him and he gave me a job making lunch primarily – making salad... And then he found out I had a driving licence and that was it really.And I found out he was a painter and he was just having his exhibition at World's End, so it must have been 1978 I think or something like that....Anyway I first met him there and discovered… He was still living at Tower Bridge, put it that way. I'm not very good at dates, but he was still living at Tower Bridge.
WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF HIM?
Compared to most people I knew in the film business, I used to be an actor when I was a kid, he was absolutely wonderful and a good man, a fantastic man. I had no money, he gave me a job and Howard and James (producer and director)of Jubilee) gave me a job.And it was like, hey, I'm in a collective, it was like there's a painter, there's people who do things, they know people and they're doing things and I could drive, so it was fantastic.So my life was illuminated from then onwards, it was great, it was wonderful. I'd been through all sorts of bit and bobs and all sorts of stages in my life and then suddenly I come across this man who's just, he wouldn't like me for saying it, but a father figure-ish, very vibrant, full of ideas, made me terribly envious.I mean, you know.... just incredible and then I saw his films.My goodness, the super 8 films were just shocking... wonderful… I'd never seen anything like it. It was like seeing Jackson Pollock, it was like new art. To me it was… I thought film was… you had a wide shot and a close up and people talked normally and things like that.Derek's films were like tch-tch tch-tch tch (mimes fast cutting), like pop art to me really and it was like a breath of fresh air. In cinema it was shocking, it was like new cinema for me, that's what really sold me and he was an awfully nice man and you could learn from him.
HAD YOU SEEN ANY OF HIS FILMS BEFORE YOU MET HIM?
No! Good heavens no! I still haven't actually seen Sebastian.I've seen bits of it, but not seen the whole thing. Jubilee I went to see (because I helped out) when they first showed it at the cinema in Notting Hill Gate, so I went along on the opening night.I didn't have anything to do with it really whatsoever.I came in afterwards with The Tempest when I just happened to be in Don Boyd's office - with Sarah Radcliffe, and Don at the time they got the money and the phone went ring ring, we've got the money – great! Simon do you want to go to the East End and buy some candles? Great. So, it's get a hire a car, go and get the candles, so I got the candles. Pretty much that was it.It's like I was in the right place at the right time. I was told – well you drive to start with… that's what you must do. You must drive, go and pick up costumes, go and meet people, collect candles, props and everything like that. And gradually you meet people and then it was sort of turned into a proper job... When we were filming at Stoneleigh Abbey, we all moved into the abbey when we were shooting, so I think there were probably quite a few trips up and down to Coventry with vans, loads of stuff, getting the rooms ready for everybody. It was extraordinary.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE AT STONELEIGH ABBEY? WAS IT LIKE ONE BIG FAMILY OUTING?
It was a big fun working party because you worked in the daytime and partied
at night. but it was extraordinary because actually living on location, sort of in the undercroft, as it were, in the great hall, the house was completely a wreck, so they filmed in the house and they may have filmed a little bit in the gardens, but Lord Leigh was completely bonkers really and he had no money whatsoever and we were living in sort of outhouses that barely had bathrooms. I mean there was running water, but it was pretty chaotic. There was a kitchen that everybody helped out in. I think there must have been a caterer, but I can't remember who it was.Everybody sort of helped in and people could chose to either stay in the hotel nearby which the actors tended to do, some of them and some of the crew did, but otherwise you could stay on location in one of these rooms and there were, I don't know how many rooms there were… 20, 15 outhouses, and so people were in and out of each others rooms… whatever. But it was wonderful and you'd get up each morning and it was a.... it was a… You were there... You had a call sheet and you know everyday ... And you had to make a film, but in the evening you'd all have a meal and I'd go and buy cider and whatever and we'd do little shows and Derek would say oh Jack you do something and Jack Birkett would do a piece. And then Heathcote (Williams) would do something and I'd help out or whatever. I had equipment up there. I had a tape recorder and a guitar and keyboard and whatever, bits and bobs.
THAT WAS HIS THIRD FILM, WHAT WAS HE LIKE AS A DIRECTOR? WAS HE IN CONTROL?
Yes very much so. But I think he was quite… It’s odd, it’s what you remember him as... I thought he actually directed rather well, but I think he was quite unsure about directing actors. I don't think he was really used to directing actors because they were actually more experienced than he was in the sort of whole genre of making these pieces. So I think he probably let people do all sorts of things, but he certainly knew what he wanted to look at, I'm sure, but again he had the help, you know, with people doing the set and design and everything like that. So again it's one of those situations, where he'd say something, for instance the candles for Elizabeth Welch, the candles..? Did we have candles for Elizabeth? No, we had all the flakes for Elizabeth, and we had candles for Karl (Johnson) in a room… with thousands of candles in a room on the floor, which took us an afternoon to set up. I don't know who thought of that, but immediately he went Tempest, candles boom boom... sssshhhhkk! But I think the house gave an overall effect actually, the house was like a set. But your question was, was he good at directing actors… I think at that stage he was probably rather shy of directing actors. I was going to be in The Tempest, he had this idea, I mean you know how he is, always thought after thought after thought, incredibly speedy thought person. I was going to play… there was one stage where I was going to play Ariel, no I wasn't, I was going to play a reporter who went to Ibiza to see Terry Thomas who was Ariel in a previous incarnation. And so actually, when we finished filming, I did actually go to Mallorca and meet Terry Thomas, take him and his wife some wine, present the idea to him and it was all going to go and Derek changed his mind and decided not to do it. And then there was another idea, I was going to be on Concorde with Terry Thomas flying across the Atlantic and I'd be interviewing him because I'd, I’d, I’d… tracked him down. Bizarre! These ideas never happened. Never short of an idea.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER ASPECTS OF DIRECTING SUCH AS WORKING WITH THE CREW?
I can't remember who the camera people were on it.... Pete Middleton?? Well Peter really knew his job and so did the focus puller, I mean everybody did. Yeah, he… I don't really know... I was more back behind the scenes. I wasn't watching them shoot all the time, or anything like that, so I tended to go along either after it was set up, or before it was set up, or in the middle and take them teas... I was basically a runner...But he seemed pretty much in control and knew what he was doing and of course the new ideas would come up… if he'd walk around and see a room with no floor, he'd go that's fantastic, there's a room with no floor, we can shoot from the ceiling and put the camera there.... you know what I mean, one door opens, another closes.He goes, ah, there's a problem, we can't do that, so let's do this. But I reckon he must have had a pretty good idea of how he wanted it to look… with everybody else's help, because it's the same thing before as afterwards. Derek always… he's like the sun and we're all just planets and we just whizz around him. He is the centre and he makes you think of things and he draws them out of you and you give them back to him and they're for him.
SO HOW DID THAT WORK WITH MUSIC FOR CARAVAGGIO? HOW MUCH FREE REIGN DID HE GIVE YOU?
Free rein? (big laugh) The agreement was that we'd use real instruments, period instruments if possible which was very interesting because I knew absolutely nothing about instruments of 1610. I knew nothing of Caravaggio until he said he was doing a film about Caravaggio. I'd never even heard of Caravaggio Derek tended to say, let's do something about something, and I learned a long time ago the best thing to say was oh I don't understand, what's that, what are you talking about? as opposed to, oh great idea. I'd go who's that? Caravaggio? Paintings? Oh great, I'll go and look in the National Gallery… He said, go to the National Gallery and have a look, so I went along. And he'd buy a book, and he'd say look at the paintings and I'd go my, my...htmlredible! So, we discussed it.
It was odd that I got the job because I did the extra casting on it to start with. Again, I was in the right place at the right time. I was at home, I'd fallen off my bicycle, somebody said can you come and answer the phone because Jules is off for 3 days because she's ill, so I went and answered the phones and at the end of the week, Sarah the producer, said do you want to be in it or on it? And I went on it. So I looked after the extras, which of course I had no idea how to get whatsoever and Derek said I'll show you, wait a moment, we'll go out this evening, I'll show you how to pick up extras, easy. And then I was in it playing Fra Filipo. And at the end he went off to Italy with Budge to record lots of sounds, real sounds. He wanted the sounds from Italy. He wanted the sounds to be authentic. And I think he wanted a holiday but it was good that he went. I've still got all of the sounds here. I think he wanted that (authenticity) because the whole film was shot on a set so he wanted to bring in, that's my take on it, he wanted to bring a modern authenticity to the film which was great… Because you had that in the film anyway… you had motorbikes and bars and telephones in the film anyway. Sort of crossing , criss-crossing of time all the time.But by bringing in realistic modern Italian sound was great, it's a quirky idea but it's a nice, very typical Derek moment and movement to be able to pull off.
But it was great for me because it meant that I could use all sorts of kinds of sounds as well. I was quite happy to use out of tune insides of pianos for instance… Hey, why does it needs to be in tune? Let's just have it out of tune, who cares?Because actually it will sound more authentic because I'm sure in those days, tuning instruments was pretty horrendous. But I mean we discussed the music, once I'd got the job, which was difficult enough anyway because I think everybody was fairly horrified that I was doing the music, having never done a film beforeand really having no idea how to do it. So I was shoved in at the deep end, but Richard Preston who recorded it, he and I went through the film with Derek and talked about it and we went off and I made lots of phone calls and got hold of musicians who were playing period instruments and talked to them andwrote some strings that were then arranged by this girl Mary and just sort of pulled it together in the 5 days it took to record and mix.But it was accidental you know, I was just meeting musicians, I didn't know what I was doing… straight in at the deep end. And also because it was modern /old criss-cross, I was able to use sort of modern sounds as well, little bits and bobs of whatever, whatever came up.
AND YOU WERE ALSO ACTING IN IT…?
Not really acting... sweating, yes. Nervously, not really acting. I used to be a kid actor, but this was one of those jobs, I didn't mind really, as I said earlier. I did have lines, which were cut thankfully... I'm glad I didn't have to say them, I can't remember what it was…
SO FROM YOU’RE DIRECT EXPERIENCE OF HIM, WHAT WAS DEREK LIKE AS A DIRECTOR?
He was really good, I really liked him as a director because by then he was really directing the actors quite accurately and in quite a lot of detail, I think.I think particularly with Tilda. he learned a lot from watching Tilda, but he was definitely directing me and definitely Spencer. I think maybe by then he was directing the unprofessional actors more than he was directing the actors.But he definitely looked for performances, I mean, I was on the set all the time on Caravaggio and I'd watch him directing and he was definitely directing people... Robbie Coltrane, Tilda whoever... He saw, he understood performance from actors and he understood a performance which maybe he thought could go another way, or change, or be better and so he'd go with that a lot. I mean he'd use that, he was very good with actors.And by the end, I thought, with Edward, absolutely fantastic, tremendous, good directing... very good, good with everything. He always had an eye for everybody.In the morning he'd go round and say good morning, hello, to everybody and make sure everybody was happy... Charge around, you know, arms behind his back.Right (mimics Derek)!Interested.
NOW IT TOOK A VERY LONG TIME TO GET ROUND TO MAKING CARAVAGGIO, HOW DID THAT EFFECT HIM?
Well I think he found it pretty difficult Well as you know, funding was always pretty difficult for any of his films, even the sort of non narrative films, The Garden, Last of England. Blue was pretty difficult to get funded, so it was a strain for him. I don't know... I don't understand film funding, but I do understand that it was very difficult then, but I think what happened was if an idea was stopped for financial reasons, he'd move on to something else. He was always developing other ideas. He’d have the Neutron script, or the that script… He'd always have lots of things to work on, writing, painting, you know, but I think he found it unbelievably frustrating, but on the other hand, if things had worked out differently, who knows what the films would have been like. I mean if we had been given £6m to do Edward II with, it wouldn't actually be the film it was, which was good… The one thing that was good, the less money you gave Derek the more he made with it and that less is more phrase sort of goes arm in arm with his work. Someone asked me the other day, what would I do technologically different now to how I did things then, I wouldn't do anything different really because you could use computers and this and that, but… I mean I don't know what it would have been like, it would have been just completely different.
YOU DID SOUND DESIGN ON THE LAST OF ENGLAND, HOW DID HE WORK? WHAT CAME FIRST IMAGE OR SOUND?
All came at the same time really. I was actually finishing off another film, getting extras again, but I was sort of collecting sounds and I was just fanatically collecting sounds because there were these tape recorders which were very good quality. And then you could sample them and make sounds out of real, everyday sounds and I started doing that really. But sound design's a funny thing. I don't really agree... I'm not a sound designer… I'm a whatever… It's a funny world.
Well really I was looking after the music on The Last of England and Derek decided to give certain pieces to certain musicians, but I was the sort of overall ‘look after them’, because I did quite a lot of music myself as well, with my sort of lot of friends and then other bits of the film he'd give to differentpeople. Diamanda at the end and Barry Adamson did a very good piece, Mary Thomson , Andy Gill from the Gang of Four, lots of different people. And actually in that respect, it was quite difficult, because I was sort of supervising as well. Not that it says I was music supervising, but my role was to look after the audio element. And it was up and down, but it was good because I could do anything, I could do the bits I wanted and leave the other bits to other people who could do what they wanted.
IT WAS A VERY ANGRY, BLEAK FILM, WHAT WAS INFLUENCING DEREK AT THE TIME?
Thatcher… looking outside his front window I think and seeing crumby old England down the Charing Cross Rd. He comes from a generation of.... you know his father, his mother, very English, middle class, whatever… Well educated man Derek, he saw the country going down the pan with this insane woman, crazy woman Thatcher. I liked Dennis though, but Margaret had just turned into a nightmare really.And it was a good political stance, I certainly picked up on what Derek was thinking politically.... I suppose I had always been a liberal, but it certainly made me angry some of the things Derek was noticing. I’D THINK, God he's right!!!
WAS HE A PARTY POLITICAL ANIMAL, OR WAS HE MORE A POLITICAL ANINMAL TO DO WITH GAY RIGHTS?
I think the gay rights thing came later. I think he was just a sort of good... The Last of England is a good sort of.... Well it was going to be called Victorian Values at one stage, so it was more like a party political broadcast from the Derek Jarman party of angry young men possibly. I saw it the other day for the first time and I thought it's great, but it's so strong, it's wicked.But it's like a political broadcast. I think it's great, my new concept on what the Last of England is is a party political broadcast on behalf of Jarman Inc. It’s tremendous! And it's a feisty, nasty little film, it's great. It's very punk, it's very anti… You know, jump on the Caravaggio… WOWWW!!!!.
WHAT DID DEREK THINK OF PUNKS BECAUSE JUBILEE APPEARS TO BE A CRITICISM OF PUNKS AS MUCH A CRITICISM OF THE STATE OF ENGLAND AT THE TIME?
I think he quite enjoyed them, liked the way they looked. There were punks who looked after themselves and punks who weren't. Some punks were clean and tidy, but if you look at most punks... All it took to be a punk was cut your hair badly, cut a few holes in your Marks And Spencer sweater and look at everybody's shoes and they're sort of old gym shoes. I mean punks looked pretty rubbish until it became commercialised really and then it became this sort of look which didn't really exist for very long. People like Jordan, I mean Jordan never went out without sort of looking glorious and Adam, they went to great care, so they were all like... peacocks more than punks really. But I think he enjoyed the ... Musically lots of great people came out of it, vitality, life, rebels, it was good. The Pistols were great… I mean for me they were the only punk band really. The Adverts were pretty good, X-Ray Specs were ok, but The Pistols they were just like IT… and then they were gone. They made one album, and then goodbye and they were thoroughly obnoxious and very brilliant and I think he liked them. But the characters, all sorts of characters around, Gene October, lots of people you know. There were some interesting people, interesting musicians came out of it.
He was the most passive person you could.... I only saw him get angry once, he got angry on the set of The Garden once which was astonishing and he shouted at someone and he was almost taken aback himself... but I'd just never seen him get angry, that was the only time. He just wasn't an angry person, so maybe he was… maybe he did like that anger in Punks. I'm not very good at anecdotes.
YOU SOCIALISED WITH DEREK AS WELL AS WORKED WITH HIM…
A bit yes not a huge amount, there wasn't sort of in the gang. I tended to sort of socialise by accident, socialise accidentally, but I knew quite a lot of his friends, people like Lucciano I suppose and Kevin Whitney and Andrew (Logan) and that sort of lot who you tended to see at art galleries, or round their houses for tea in the afternoon, or something like that. But I didn't sort of hang out… went to Heaven a few times, but mainly to see bands, or club nights … But... I don't know if Derek had a gang. I don't think he did, maybe he did. If it was a gang it was a big gang, yeah.
HOW DID HE REACT TO HIS HIV DIAGNOSIS?
He just told us one afternoon... Yvonne was there and he just told us in the flat one day because he'd always said to me that he'd never get tested and I remember... because he said to me, have you had a test? And I said, no. And then I did and I told him I'd had a test and he went, oh.And he told us at Christmas, just before Christmas. And I think I just cried, you know, brave face… but it was awful because then Aids was going to kill you, and it does to a certain extent these days, but then it was just like the Grim Reaper (does gesture of Reaper’s scythe).... so it was pretty devastating - as a friend. Forget work because work wasn't really like work anyway, but just as a friend, as a mate, as somebody who you could pop in and have tea with, or take some biscuits to, or a cup of tea, go down and see in the country… Just as a mate, the idea of Derek not being around was pretty horrible. But I had friends who died of Aids and it’s…. ohhhhhhh.... What can you say? Horrible.
HOW MUCH DID DEREK DISCUSS WHAT HE WANTED OUT OF THE GARDEN?
With me, absolutely nothing...A lot of it was filmed in his own time, super 8 stuff. It was all filmed like with Tilda and stuff like that. I'd be down there sometimes and of course when I was down there at Dungeness, I'd always be taping things because… I'm still always taping things all the time, and then one day he said, Simon we’ve got a lot of this super 8 stuff together, can you just make us a piece of music about 10 mins long, just as a test to see if it goes with the film. So I went into this funny little studio in Hackney, I suppose one day, maybe two days, one day probably. I'd just bought a new guitar and did a piece of music, sent it to Derek and it's in the film… You know, it's just silly, he said it's great it's beautiful, it goes, it all works and that was that really.
We discussed… we must have discussed it because
once...because once all the super 8 stuff was done, then he did the days of
filming in the studio in London and once that was all being knocked into shape,
we must have discussed it but I can't really remember. I think he probably
said, oh Simon you do it all this time, pretty much, because it was quite
aggravating doing The Last of England with lots of other people, and so it was
like a relief, oh Simon, you just take care of that, great, I love you.... So
it was get on the phone again, get on the phone, do you want to be involved
with The Garden? Some people said yes, some people said no, same with Blue, do
you want to get involved...? some people said yes, some people said
no. But the Garden was great… I'm not sure I knew what it was all about,
but I was glad I was there with the microphone taping it. Again I was
there all the time, actually with the Garden I pretty much was there all the
time. I've got tapes of us running around... we were all in the garden (at
Propect Cottage), so a lot of the big shoot days down at Dungeness I'd be
there with a tape recorder anyway running with the camera as it were with microphones trailing everywhere and always talking to people and throwing pebbles
and hitting things and getting people to sing and taping Jodie the kid in the
bath… you know, waaaahhaaahhh, talking
to Dracko about S&M clubs up the road, whatever, madness! Tape, tape, tape,
tape, tape, collage, get it all together.It's going to be useful one
day, that's what it was like, like a big collage. And then of course when
it was all zapped together, it just turned into this extraordinary film which I
had no idea what it was about.It turns out it was faintly religious-
ish, isn't it? I mean it is, it's Derek's religious film, one of his
religious films, it's great and it 's not very pc, it's wonderful.Again
wonderful images and just room to be just destructive and make beautiful music
and horrible music... the tar and feathering, you know, scene, that was one
take, that was… Set it up, get it ready. Are you ready guys? Everybody ready?
Got a microphone Simon? Get out of the shot. Everybody ready? Right, go. And then when one gets a scene like that and it's cut together and you can actually think, and you're in a studio and you're looking at it and you've got time code and you're thinking, what am I going to do with this? And you've got tests from home... I do a lot of pre-production at home before going to the studio… But it was a big recording schedule on the Garden. We recorded for about a month, we recorded literally, we recorded for something like 4 weeks, 5 or 6 days a week, there was a lot of work.And we built a garden in the studio as well, underneath the mixing desk.
HOW IMPORTANT IS SOUND TO DEREK’S WORK?
Fantastically important! He's incredibly knowledgeable musically.... Before we were doing Blue, he said, Simon, you're giving me no fucking ideas, that's another time he got annoyed actually. What the fuck are you going to do with the music? What's the music going to be like for this film? I said, I don't know… I've got no idea. He said listen to this and he played me some Messiaen, who's a French composer. Oh, Messiaen… Never heard of him (laughs)... He was fantastically knowledgeable, he really knewabout music. He knew classical music, he knew New Order, Pet Shop Boys, you know, a bit of disco, he knew about punk bands.
IT WAS LIKE THIS FILM WORK COULD EXIST AS A SOUND TRACK IN IT’S OWN RIGHT…
The soundtrack CDs were made to exist In their own.Because the soundtrack CDs were made after the film was made, so we could pull in all the elements in a different sort of way and put them together differently, but for the film we worked with a very good sound editor, Nigel Holland, who I've worked with a few times and he was great, so we were both working hand in hand, but I must admit when it came to the… yeah, there was a lot of detailed work from him and a lot of detailed work from us. Lots of options, lots of things broken down so you could use them in different ways.It was very complicated the Garden in one way or another. And yes, so for the soundtrack albums I'd always like to think that when you finish a film, the film is there and the soundtrack album is there and the book is there and that's what we tried to do generally all the time. You know, there'd be Blue, then there'd be a soundtrack album, then there'd be.... I mean I still want to put out the music of Blue just as the music for Blue - which no one's ever heard because it's all underneath everything, but the whole full 24 track masters are wonderful, if you like that sort of thing.
I THINK EDWARD II IS DEREK’S MOST ACCOMPLISHED WORK, DID HE MAKE IT ANY DIFFERENTLY TO THE OTHERS?
Not really. No different to Caravaggio. I don't think so. No differently, apart from the fact everybody knew a little bit more, but funnily enough, Sandy Powell was doing consumes again, I was doing music. Different cameraman, Ian Wilson shot it. Tilda again. Everybody again. Nigel again. Same old crew. It was good, it was good fun… cold. Why did he make these films in the winter, or the spring? Blimey, cold sometimes. But again, wonderful moments... But it's hard work, hard work making these movies, whatever... we were getting up at 5 in the morning and getting to bed at 11 or half past 10, you know for 6 weeks in a row. It's like... exhausting.
BUT WAS HE A MORE POLISHED DIRECTOR AT THAT STAGE?
Very much so, yeah. He was also an absent director from time to time on Edward,
because he wasn't well sometimes and Ken Butler took over, but he was only away
for a few days. But he was very... It really was like a gang. I mean
Christopher Hobbs was working there, Tilda… and we were like, we didn't really
have to talk terribly much to each other which was good. A lot of things
were very instinctive by then.Tilda would come up with ideas and she
knew about cameras and her and Derek would go off to a corner and talk and come
back and they'd just do something. Derek was always open for ideas. It was
pretty smooth as clockwork, Edward, as far as I remember. I had a little
set up next to the production office by then with a keyboard, again actually on
site as it were, so that as... it was all being edited also at Bray studios by
Budge and so as the rushes came through they could be edited together and I
could do rough sounds just from the sets and give them straight to the editor
and he could lay them up against the pictures and see if anything worked, just
as a sort of rough frame work of sound.Again, Derek just said do it
yourself, but try and make it
more mechanical, I suppose, less musicians, get rid of the musicians, but we did use some musicians, but you know he just wanted it mechanical I think and darker. But it was good again to be on set, it's something we really got into doing, being on set with a keyboard, a sampling keyboard, a pair of speakers, an amplifier, a guitar and a tape recorder, so I could tape, put into the keyboard, immediately change it, try it to picture. And it became how I sort of worked for a long time. Still do, sometimes, but you try getting a producer to do that… Can I come on location please for 12 weeks? What are you going to do? Well, I don't know…
YOU MENTIONED HE WAS VERY ILL THEN, BUT DID HE STILL HAVE THE SAME DEREK JARMAN VIM AND VIGOUR ON SET?
Oh yes, absolutely, totally, completely. He only got really ill sort of towards the end… I mean he didn't really seem ill to me. I mean he obviously was from time to time, but he didn't look ill to me. I think it's odd, there were only a couple of times when I was out with Derek and I'd think he looked ill. I think it's one of those things when you're with someone who is ill and they obviously do look ill, you just don't see it. You can't see the woods for the trees. you know, with Derek, I'd look at him and say, gosh you look great, or you look well, or something and you mean that. And so you see that, but in fact he probably would look terrible. I mean walking through Soho and he couldn't really see very well, and you’ve got him by the arm and he's walking slowly, blind as a bat…
But he didn't miss a thing really. It's ridiculous, we went to see John Maybury, one of John Maybury's films together, which he didn't like, but he probably couldn't see it, that's why. He would like to eat, chitty chat, gossip, inspire ideas, extraordinary. Like the Amaretti papers at the end of The Garden, he went, oh go and get some biscuits from the Italian down the road. So I went and got some biscuits and we started doing the papers, lighting up the papers with a cup of tea at tea time and he went, of course! That's how we can do it at the end of the film. And that's what it took, he just went, oh great, I've had a cup of tea, these papers, I used to do that when I was young, hang on a moment, I can finish the film with this. Another sequence to shoot. Apparently he used to have this idea if you got 32 sequences together, then that would make a feature. I don't know whether that's true or not, but that's what he used to think, apparently. I'd never heard of this before, I heard of it through James Mackay, chinese whispers. I'm sure it's true, very Derek, but what 32 relates to I've no idea.
WHAT STAGE WAS BLUE AT WHEN YOU BECAME INVOLVED? HOW MUCH HAD IT BEEN DISCUSSED?
A lot. The first time... Well the first time I really remember it very clearly was the Edinburgh Festival and Derek was walking down the hill and he said I have this great idea, I had this fantastic idea last night, we're going to do this 35 mm Dolby stereo film, completely blue, Yves Klein blue with no pictures… I went, fantastic, brilliant idea! Who's Yves Klein?Again, bong, ee-orr!(mimics own stupidity) Great concept, superb, appealed to my sensibilities utterly and of course it evolved. Of course he'd been doing it, he'd been having the idea in his head for ages and it went through lots of stages with Derek. And we started doing Blue concerts, trying to get people aware, so it was 4 or 5 years definitely while I was involved. I've got scripts upstairs... It started off originally from an idea he wrote while he as at university actually, about Saint somebody, I've got all the books, papers upstairs, I've got reams of print-outs of whatever it was.So it started out as sort of… actually rather a political thing, a sort of political fairy tale, then I did some tests. Again, I did some tests because it was going to be about a man who met a woman in a café. It was all going to take place at the side of a cafe because there was a cafe on the way down to Dungeness which he used to stop at and have a cup of tea and a muffin, on the side of the road. So I did a sort of demo, with this girl, a woman who was an East end villain's wife... it was rather nice. And we got some heartbeat and he wanted to get Matt Dillon involved, and it all became sort of heartbeat based, very strange. But it was called Bliss then and it just went through all these changes and changes and it didn't happen, and it didn't happen, and it didn't happen for years, and then Brian Eno, I think, called him up and said can I help you? What would you like? How can I help you? You keep on talking about this project, how can I help you? And I think Derek probably very kindly said, Simon needs somewhere to record for a while and he gave us his house in Woodbridge. So I came to London and met Marcus, his engineer, and then we decamped to Woodbridge for 5 weeks.
AGAIN HOW MUCH FREE REIN DID YOU HAVE WITH YOUR INPUT?
Well we'd done concerts by then. There were people I wanted to get involved, and the people we did want to get involved, and we wanted to talk to… Again, we had a money problem. And it was decided that everybody would get the same amount of money whatever they did from a musical point of view and some people I talked to didn't think that was a very good idea, so we... .just talked about it a lot.
But the whole thing was very mysteriously put together because first the words had to be recorded and then the words had to be placed.And so we had 75 minutes of blank blue footage with time code on it and Marcus and I spent a day placing 22 minutes worth of dialogue in order - randomly. We knew the order, we just put them in order.We'd go, so the beginning goes there. Ok, so let's talk that through and so we'd go, blue, into the blue, bla bla bla. Ok, silence, one, two... is that long enough? No, longer. Ok, carry on. Ok, let's make it 45 seconds and then we'll bring in a new poem.And we just did it like that and occasionally we'd move a bit of dialogue and Derek came up the next day and we played him the placements of the dialogue and we then set about doing the music for the words, the prose and then the silences between the words as well.So really we were scoring words and we were scoring silence as well.It was wonderful, so we started in the middle.We started… The first piece of music we did was the ‘pill poem’ where he talks about all the drugs he takes. And there was this great big beautiful drum on the wall… and it was just like a boom boom, band-drum, Irish drum... So Derek went, I took this pill, boom, and this pill, boom boom, and this pill, boom boom boom. And we just built up a track and that's how it was done.We went all the way through the film from the middle to the end. And the beginning to the middle again. And we started at the beginning and went from the beginning to the middle to the end again. We did that three times. And the very last thing we recorded funnily enough was the cup-gongs which were at the beginning of the film and the end of the film and those were the very last things we recorded because we only found them the day we were leaving the studio... All these beautiful cup-gongs, Chinese cup-gongs and I just sat out in the corridor, in the hallway, and just let the tapes roll and just bonged and binged and bonged away and it was like... beautiful, extraordinary. But it was wonderful… people came to the studio during the week, musicians came up, Momus, Miranda Sex Garden, my singers, the girls. We talked about singing a lot on Blue and it was great getting the girls to sing. I always liked that, because Derek was always going on about boys and big choirs, so he'd get just one singer to sing and Melanie Pappenheim was great, who sings on Edward and the Garden… just one voice. We could never afford to do what he wanted to do musically, so... he had these great ideas and I would soon-ish learn that you'd have to pare down what he says and possibly ignore him altogether, take it on board and then sort of try and weave around his idea to some extent. That's what you had to do.Because he thought big, so you had to think, how can we do this? Because it's like his films had no money, the same with the music, not much money so pare it down.
WHAT IN YOUR OPINION MADE DEREK JARMAN TICK?
His heart. Tremendous vitality... What made him tick?Interest, he was interested, he always questioned things, didn't he?Insatiable appetite for people and knowledge.He didn't want knowledge, he just liked giving, he was a great giver. What made him tick, I've no idea, I haven't got a clue. I've no idea, but I'm glad he ticked, that's for sure. I wouldn't be the man I am today if it wasn't for him. He was incredible, he taught us all so much about everything, life, music art... anything. I mean, honestly it's ridiculous…. But he certainly couldn't make a birthday cake, I can tell you that.He and Tilda made a birthday cake for me once, it was the most miserable looking cake, it was covered in Smarties and it was really delicious but it was lopsided, the strangest sponge you could imagine.
WHY AREN'T THERE ANY DEREK JARMAN'S MAKING FILMS IN BRITISH CINEMA TODAY?
I think it's impossible… I think that…When he died I thought, oh we must carry on the spirit of him which we probably have done, but he's unique that's why, an incredible man. Tilda called him a genius which I think is probably about right. There's nobody now as generous, there's nobody like him, you know. He was well educated in music, art, philosophy, sciences, gardening everything. He was an unbelievably wise person, but I've no idea why there aren't... the nearest people I can think of, I mean... Mr… the man who runs around with the camera doing his sort of terrorist films… he's closer to Derek… Lars von Trier! He's the nearest, I think.But it's semi-documentary, you know... He'd always… You'd think, oh these are home movies. And he'd turn the home movies… actually they'd be movies about Christ, or whatever. So he could find serious meaning in the every day which I think to do that you have to have a fair amount of intellect I think. To be able to say, ok, he is one of Christ's apostles when in fact he's actually just Peter walking down the road. But Derek would actually say that's one of the apostles or whatever.There are three Mary's whatever, those girls… But you'd go, huh? He’d go, no but they are. And you'd go, oh gosh so they are....So no… I wish… I'm glad there's not, he's unique, but those times when I think about them, they were probably of a period and came out of a period and went into a period. I mean imagine now what he 'd be doing with digital cameras. It's frightening. He'd be running around, woooooooooo! Having lots more fun. It's a shame, isn't it? A great shame.
400Blows Productions, August 2003.