Review: ‘Derek Jarman: Life As Art’

Despite eloquent talking heads, chief among them a passionately articulate Tilda Swinton, this uninspired biodoc of iconoclastic English filmmaker Derek Jarman could almost appear on as mainstream a venue as A&E's "Biography." Nevertheless, since pic assembles most of Jarman's closest collaborators, cable and fests may bite.

Despite eloquent talking heads, chief among them a passionately articulate Tilda Swinton, this uninspired biodoc of iconoclastic English filmmaker Derek Jarman could almost appear (except for the nudity) on as mainstream a venue as A&E’s “Biography.” To add insult to injury, Brit helmer Andy Kimpton-Nye wraps his ultra-conventional account in ghastly stylistic imitations of Jarman’s painterly style, alternating medium-shot DV interview footage with out-of-focus, out-of-synch, Super-8 “poetic” versions of the same scene. Nevertheless, since pic assembles most of Jarman’s closest collaborators, who each engrossingly fill in a piece of his idiosyncratic cinematic process, cable and fests may bite.

Kimpton-Nye cuts between Jarman’s actors, set designer, composer, producer, sister and biographer to limn a chronologically straightforward account of his life and oeuvre. More obscure films like “Sebastiane,” “Angelic Conversation” and “Wittgenstein” are almost as well represented as “Caravaggio” or “The Last of England.” In general, clips are well chosen, if few and far between. Director’s self-indulgent stretches of faux Jarmanesque whimsy and endless inserts of flowers in bloom seem particularly egregious alongside Jarman’s striking compositions and violent, daring imagery.

Derek Jarman: Life As Art

U.K.

Production

A 400 Blows/Vet production. Produced by Caroline Spry. Directed by Andy Kimpton-Nye.

Crew

Camera (color, DV, Super-8), Danielle Green, Ben Gundry, Conal Percy, Scott Shand; editor, Percy; music, Tamera Dawkins. Reviewed on videocassette, New York, June 7, 2005. (In NewFest, New York.) Running time: 60 MIN.

With

Tilda Swinton, Nigel Terry, Tariq Ali, Ron Peck, James Mackay, Christopher Hobbs, Karl Johnson, Simon Fisher Turner, Gaye Temple, Tony Peake.
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