Art & Photography / Who, What, Why

Derek Jarman's World on Super 8

A new book explores the visionary queer filmmaker through his Super 8 films and the people he inspired

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A still from My Very Beautiful Movie (1974), a film that captured Fire Island in New York© 2014 LUMA Foundation

Who? Derek Jarman defined experimental. With the use of his Super 8 camera, the fearless English film director devoted his life to creating images that spoke a haunting and beautiful message. Born in London in 1942, after a childhood of studying paintings, he accidentally fell into design. However, the new energy of the 60s and 70s saw Jarman embracing his homosexuality, stepping to the forefront of queer cinema and becoming an established gay icon. As  artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien writes, “Derek created a world that documented a unique vision of a culture: one in which artists were able to explore aesthetic questions and their connection to desire and politics”. 

What? Derek Jarman Super 8 is a celebration of the filmmaker’s creativity, explored through delicate, gauzy stills and the words of his friends, collaborators and dedicated admirers. Gina Birch of the Raincoats describes her first intoxicating encounter with his work, shimmering unexpectedly on the wall of an Alexandra Palace studio; Wilhelm Sasnal unpicks the threads of Jarman inspiration that he finds embedded in his own films; Neil Bartlett tracks the connections between the ethereal magic of Jarman’s Jordan’s Dance of 1997 and Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire’s exhilarating duet to Let’s Face The Music And Dance. And between these memories and accolades flow the images – grainy, illuminated, lyrical, crude, vivid, surreal, otherworldly, human.

Why? Jarman used his Super 8 camera to articulate the emotive and expressive movements of the body. The book, by exploring Jarman’s techniques of capturing light and throwing shadows, shows the processes in which he undertook to create the films, as well as the vast array of inspirations that informed them. Through his lyrical and literal representation of gay sex, Jarman spearheaded a cultural move away from fear and confusion, towards acceptance. He eschewed conformity and celebrated experimentation and courage – choosing to be guided by “emotion and the pounding of waves”, as the German collective Schmeladahin put it. Testament to his variety of inspirations and infinite creativity, this intimate record of Jarman’s work gives an authentic flavour of the artist and his groundbreaking approach to film.

Derek Jarman Super 8 is out now, published by Thames & Hudson. Discover Derek Jarman's garden here

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