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TSPDT 2014: Blue

Posted by martinteller on February 20, 2014

Derek Jarman, dying of AIDS and losing his sight, shares his blindness with the unique visual component of his final film.  You see, except for the opening and closing credits, the only thing you see is an unbroken field of blue.  A solid, neutral blue… not a sky blue or a turquoise or a deep blue, just plain blue.  It’s the most literal title since Bruce Conner’s A Movie.  The audio consists of Jarman (with additional voices by Tilda Swinton, John Quentin and Nigel Terry) speaking about his illness and its taxing treatment, his sexuality, assorted musings on the color blue and various other scenes and digressions.

Intellectually, I have no issue with the “gimmick” of this movie.  I am of the belief that movies can be whatever you want them to be.  In practice, however, it was a bit of a problem.  I am certain that had I been watching in a darkened theater on a big screen, the effect would have been more profound… no escape from the color dominating your field of vision, forming a sympathetic allegiance with Jarman and his fading eyesight, forcing you to concentrate on what you’re hearing.  In my girlfriend’s bedroom with a 30-inch screen, on the other hand, distractions abound and it was difficult to prevent my eyes from wandering.  A picture on the wall, the covers on the bed, a cat demanding attention.  I was at a disadvantage, and one should take that into account when reading this.

The soundscape is often quite captivating, though.  The music by Momus, Coil and Simon Fisher-Turner is beautiful and evocative, and the superbly-executed sound effects help build the scenes in your mind’s eye.  Jarman’s stories are frequently riveting… harrowing in their details, sorrowful in their honesty, sharp in their cynicism (he had a particular distaste for certain attempts at “AIDS awareness”).  When he gets autobiographical, the film is at its best, a revealing and sometimes heartbreaking autobiography.  When he (or the actors) went off on whimsical or poetic tangents, however, the cat would start to get more attention.  While there’s some lovely writing in diversions like his personification of the color blue, it was a lot more difficult to care about.  I just wanted him to get back to describing his experience, exploring his pain and fears, expressing his feelings for his lover “H.B.”.  It’s these deeply personal investigations that give the movie its power and humanity.  The rest of it is only occasionally interesting and mostly tedious.  At least it was a far cry better than Jubilee, the only other Jarman film I’ve seen so far.  Rating: Fair (66)


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