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Derek Jarman

A Biography

Tony Peake

Publication Year: 2011

England’s most controversial filmmaker and director, Derek Jarman was also a gifted writer, artist, gardener, designer, and an outspoken AIDS and queer rights activist. Jarman’s story stretches from his childhood in postwar Britain to art school days at the Slade School of Art and the making of many acclaimed films, including Sebastiane, Jubilee, Caravaggio, and Blue.

A chronicle of sexual fear and repression, the devastation of disease, and inimitable courage and grace, Derek Jarman: A Biography is an honest and brilliant tribute to the uncompromising life and art of Derek Jarman.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. 1-6

The picture on the front page of the was of an unequivocally bespectacled man photographed against a hazy bank of flowers in Monet’s garden at Giverny. Wearing a cap, scarf and rumpled tweed jacket, he had a book clasped tightly in his left hand, a walking stick in the other, ...

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1. Family Mythology

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pp. 7-14

In Dancing Ledge, the first of his published journals, Derek Jarman titles his brief account of his family background ‘A Short Family Mythology’. The Viceroy’s Ball, Great-Aunt Doris and her rubber roses, grandmother Moselle – or Mimosa, as he called her – a daffodil bell hanging from a lychgate. ...

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2. Beautiful Flowers and How to Grow Them

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pp. 15-19

‘Roses. There is a charm about a beautiful Rose garden which appeals irresistibly to every lover of flowers. It is not necessary to win a prize at a Rose show to enjoy Roses when they are used in free, informal, natural ways. There is a wide gulf between exhibiting and gardening.’1 ...

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3. Buried Feelings

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pp. 20-25

By 1947, although the war had been over for two years, its effects were still being strongly and unpleasantly felt in England. Despite victory and the determination of the recently elected Labour government to start a new social chapter in the country’s history, the process of adapting to peace was slow and painful. ...

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4. School House and Manor House

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pp. 26-33

The fifties are frequently seen as an age of wide-eyed innocence. The Festival of Britain, a young Elizabeth, Supermac, net petticoats, Brylcreem, quiffs, salad days. They were also a time of great stress and unease – the end of empire, Cold War, Suez. One of the ways people coped was by pretending that nothing had changed. ...

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5. Pakistan

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pp. 34-40

Although Jarman’s trips to Pakistan to visit his parents affected and marked him less intensely – certainly less obviously – than his earlier sojourn in Italy, it would be wrong to dismiss their effect entirely. Witnessing at first hand the sometimes surreal spectacle of a once splendid colonial power glorying in its past and traditions ...

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6. A Subtle Terror Rules

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pp. 41-54

The house assigned to Lance and Betts on their return to Northwood was still in the process of being built, which meant that for the first few months they had to lodge with Betts’ brother Teddy and his wife Pegs. If the wait in any way whetted their appetites for their new home, they were in for a disappointment. ...

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7. Every Man Is a Special Kind of Artist

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pp. 55-68

A spry figure with a distinctive goatee and a shock of unruly hair, Robin Noscoe had been in charge of art at Canford for some five years when Jarman arrived at the school. A silversmith, potter, furniture-maker, painter and keen student of architecture, Noscoe did not value one sphere of artistic activity over another, ...

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8. Metroland Student

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pp. 69-77

In one of the interviews that formed the basis for his first volume of autobiography, Jarman claimed not to remember much about King’s, saying only that it ‘seemed rather grey and colourless’. Yet his three years there were crucial to his development. Grey it may have been, but within the rabbit warren of rooms that led off its underground corridors, ...

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9. If You’re Anxious for to Shine

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pp. 78-87

At the close of the summer of 1962 and the start of his final year at King’s, Jarman moved with Michael Ginsborg and his schoolfriend Dugald Campbell, now studying architecture at the Regent Street Polytechnic, into a purpose-built block of flats in Coram Street, just north of Russell Square. ...

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10. Meeting Mr Wright

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pp. 88-98

At the end of the 1963 summer holidays, during which he kept himself in pocket money with a series of odd jobs,1 Jarman returned to London to look for digs with Noël Hardy, another Drama Society friend from King’s. Their search led them to Kentish Town and a house at 2 Healey Street, ...

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11. The Billboard Promised Land

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pp. 99-107

In later years, Jarman would put a jaunty gloss on his recollections of his first transatlantic trip – a gloss perhaps not entirely in keeping with the underlying facts. ...

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12. Becoming Derek

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pp. 108-118

The ideas are in fact far from tentative. Not only had they been gestating for some time, they were passionately held and would inform much of Jarman’s future output – though not, it has to be said, in their entirety. The cult of personality was not later seen as a complete perversion, nor were failures always to be desired. ...

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13. Father Figures

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pp. 119-125

Thanks in part to the Slade, where Jarman was meeting an everincreasing number of fellow artists, in part to his sexual openness, which had magicked an entirely new area of friendship into being, and in part to his discovery that the public and the personal sides of his life could be made to co-exist, ...

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14. Swinging Decayed

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pp. 126-136

Across London from Sloane Square, in then unfashionable Islington (‘Drizzlington’, Jarman once termed it), stood 60 Liverpool Road, a decaying early Victorian house that dominated the corner with Bromfield Street, just north of Chapel Street Market. ...

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15. This Month in Vogue

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pp. 137-152

As defined by Patrick Procktor, and with a fine disregard for the issue of student or political unrest, ‘1968 was the year when everybody wanted pink suede shoes, high heels, and to have what was This Month in Vogue.’1 If anyone was in vogue, it was Derek Jarman. ...

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16. The Devils

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pp. 153-163

In helping to introduce Jarman to the writings of Carl Jung, Anthony Harwood had doubtless noticed the extent to which his protégé could seem to live in psychic rather than physical time; how, on occasion, Jarman’s life could embody the more mystical precepts of the Swiss psychoanalyst. ...

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17. Oasis at Bankside

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pp. 164-176

Summing up 1970 from the vantage point of 1983, Jarman wrote: ‘By the time I emerged from Pinewood in December, the easy life of the sixties – designing and painting – had gone for ever. It was now impossible to pick up all the threads.’1 ...

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18. Movietown

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pp. 177-187

As a token of his friendship with Jarman, Michael Pinney of Bettiscombe Press had used a photograph of a gathering at Bankside on the front cover of Nota Bene , his most recent collection of poetry. On the back, in Jarman’s own handwriting, was Jarman’s phrase ‘Thru the Billboard promised land’. ...

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19. Butler’s Wharf and Beyond

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pp. 188-213

It was not only Gargantua Jarman had in his sights when he travelled to Rome in March 1973. Because of their work together on St Sebastian, he paid for Patrik Steede to accompany him so that the latter could progress his script. While Steede researched – or, as Jarman suspected, concentrated on having fun ...

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20. Features

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pp. 214-232

Ironically, given Jarman’s antipathy to such gatherings, it was an encounter at a lunch party that breathed life into St Sebastian. James Whaley – young, handsome, charming, wealthy, a sometime student of the London Film School and keen to make his mark as a producer – asked Jarman if he had ever thought of making a feature. ...

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21. Jubilee

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pp. 233-251

In the course of making Sebastiane, Jarman had his palm read by Umberto Tirelli, the Italian costumier. Tirelli unsettled his subject by pronouncing sombrely: ‘You are an alien, Derek . . . You will die violently.’1 Jarman took this prediction very much to heart. ...

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22. Stormy Weather

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pp. 252-274

Jubilee helped delineate the shape – that of being primarily a filmmaker – into which Jarman’s life was beginning to form. Whereas before 1977 his activities had revolved around any number of arenas, now they tended to be tied to the film of the moment. ...

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23. Montage Years

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pp. 275-313

Although Jarman maintained that what had always interested him about The Tempest was that ‘no one can pinpoint the meaning’,1 his own reading of the play was fairly unequivocal and deeply pessimistic. Jarman’s Prospero is, in the words of Michael O’Pray, ‘sinister, intense, secretive and cruel’. ...

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24. Angelic and Other Conversations

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pp. 314-360

Of the many strands forming the montage years, four stand out: painting, writing, a new direction in home-movie making and a new disease, first classified in 1981. ...

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25. The Last of England

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pp. 361-382

Although he knew much of 1986 would be devoted to the launching of Caravaggio, Jarman’s diary note to himself on 1 January was about the need to get other projects ‘underway’. ‘Get about a little more’ was another instruction; be less of a ‘prisoner at Phoenix’. ...

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26. A Fifth Continent

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pp. 383-415

For someone as sensitive to signs as Jarman, 1987 did not start promisingly. On 6 January, he and Tilda Swinton had their photographs taken by Angus McBean, one of whose photographic portraits had long been the only piece by any artist other than himself to hang on the walls of Jarman’s flat. ...

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27. Sod ’Em

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pp. 416-433

Having attended one of its first London performances as a student, and having edited The Last of England to its strains, Jarman had ‘often thought of the possibility of visualizing Britten’s War Requiem without fixing it like a butterfly on a setting board and thereby diminishing it’.1 ...

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28. I Walk in This Garden

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pp. 434-451

On the second anniversary of his diagnosis, Jarman told an interviewer: ‘December 22 . . . becomes a kind of key day in my life now, and I think: “Ah, that’s another year over.” On that day and over Christmas I think, what shall I do next year? ...

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29. Blue Prints

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pp. 452-485

Although Modern Nature contains references to how unwell Jarman was starting to feel in the final months of 1989, it never conveys the full extent of his developing illness, or the despair it engendered. To appreciate how critical the situation was becoming, one has to read between the lines. ...

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30. Do Not Go Gentle

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pp. 486-534

Tired of being ‘spread all over the breakfast table like toast and marmalade each morning’,1 Jarman asked his agent to stop all interviews. Only ‘seventy per cent healthy’, he was suffering the effects of a post-canonisation ‘autumn depression’.2 ...


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pp. 535-568

List of Works

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pp. 568-573


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pp. 573-587

Select Bibliography

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pp. 587-593


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pp. 593-596


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pp. 597-614

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About the Author

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p. 626-626

Tony Peake was Derek Jarman’s friend and literary agent, and he continues to serve as literary agent for his estate. He is the author of two novels and also writes short stories.

E-ISBN-13: 9780816676781
E-ISBN-10: 081667678X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816674329

Page Count: 624
Publication Year: 2011