Late maverick Brit filmmaker Derek Jarman gets a lovely if flawed memorial in Isaac Julien’s concise portrait “Derek,” which relies primarily on the helmer’s own interviews and feature clips plus archival materials. Though docu is well-intentioned, major debits here are contributions from Jarman’s friend and favorite actress Tilda Swinton, whose melancholy traipsing around old haunts and windy narration strike ponderous notes. Film Sales Co. purchased worldwide rights (minus the U.K.) at Sundance; however, subject’s no-longer-high profile among gays and cineastes outside his home terrain will likely make pic more viable in DVD and tube exposure than as a theatrical item.
Jarman is a charming, unassuming, frank tour guide through his history, its chronological telling culled from prior film and broadcast interviews. At odds with his patrician upbringing, he moved to London as an art student just as it started swinging in the 1960s, and became a significant figure in the city’s own Warholian underground.
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In the ’70s, Jarman took up film, eventually creating such idiosyncratic, homoerotic, often controversial, variably experimental and accessible features as “Sebastiane,” “Jubilee,” “Caravaggio” and “Edward II.” (He also did musicvideos, notably for the Smiths and Pet Shop Boys.)
Spurred by the Thatcher era’s social conservatism, AIDS epidemic and his own HIV-positive diagnosis (which he publicly acknowledged right away),Jarman became more of a political activist both in his life and his work before he died in 1994 at age 52.
Deft assembly will mostly appeal to those already familiar with Jarman’s oeuvre — the clips are invariably visually striking, but can give little sense of how the complete works hung together. (Not that storytelling was ever Jarman’s strongest suit, or even a principal goal.)
Newly shot interludes of solemn, silent Swinton (and to a lesser degree Julien) feel indulgent, while her spoken prose musings tiresomely repeat how pure his artistry stands in comparison with soulless, market-driven creations.