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95 min. English.

Derek Jarman had two gardens. One was in Dungeness, he started to work on it after being diagnosed with HIV. ''The gardener digs in another time, without past or future, beginning or end,'' he wrote in his journal. The other one, this film, opens with images of a man sleeping on a desk, his face resting on an open notebook as a voice proclaims ''I want to share this emptiness with you,'' before a series of vignettes begins in which hallucinations of a two-man-Eden become progressively unravelled. This is a cinema of ecstasy; extinction looms from all sides, friends die silently, queer bodies are whipped, hanged, stoned and chased by cameras. There is the growing impression that representation means violence, means imprisonment. But this is also a cinema of sharing, stemming from the hope that it is indeed possible to share one's dreams, failures, uncertainties and cares. Jarman repeatedly shows himself tending the garden and offers us snapshots of mushrooms, stones, butterflies, poppies, snails, crows, clouds, embraces and music: a whole ecology of images. (Dane Komljen)

Derek Jarman was born in Northwood, Middlesex, England in 1942. He studied English and history at King’s College London, then painting at the Slade School of Fine Art, London. After his studies, he initially worked as a costume and set designer for the Royal Ballet. In the early 1970s, he was responsible for production design for Ken Russell’s The Devils (GB 1971) and was the set designer for Russell’s Savage Messiah (GB 1972). In 1976, he made his first feature-length film, Sebastiane. Starting in the beginning of the 1980s, Jarman also directed several short films and music clips. Derek Jarman died in 1994.

Cold, cold, cold

I walk in this Garden
Holding the hands of dead friends,
Old age came quickly for my frosted generation.
Cold, cold, cold
They died so silently.
Did the forgotten generations scream?
Or go full of resignation
Quietly protesting innocence?
Cold, cold, cold
They died so silently.
I have no words.
My shaking hand cannot express my fury.
Sadness is all I have, no words.
Cold, cold, cold
You died so silently.

Linked hands at 4.00 am
Deep under the city, you slept on.
Never heard the sweet flesh song.
Cold, cold, cold
Matthew fucked Mark, fucked Luke, fucked John
Who lay on the bed that I lie on.
Touch fingers again as we sing this song.
Cold, cold, cold
We die so silently.
My gilly flowers, roses, violets blue, 
Sweet garden of vanished pleasures.
Please come back next year.
Cold, cold, cold
I die so silently.
Good night boys, good night Johnny, 
Good night. Good night.

(Derek Jarman)

The place

Derek Jarman bought a house in Dungeness three years ago. It sparked an idea and he began filming straight away. “As soon as I saw this dreary fishing community, I thought it would be a great place for the life of Christ. I felt that the fishermen and the boats could represent the Sea of Galilee, and that’s how it started. The garden was both the Garden of Eden and Gethsemane. We had already shot parts of THE LAST OF ENGLAND down here and gotten to know the place. It’s very unusual and quite unlike anything else in England. This is only the case for a mile or two. As soon as you turn the corner onto the Dungeness road, you are in another world. In some way it reminded me of North America with its telegraph poles and crazy corners. It is also a working-class area, so it is not pretty, but it has the best skies you can imagine. Because everything is so flat and there are no trees, it looks like a desert. You can watch the sun come up from the front of the house and watch it set behind the house in the evening. The light is wonderful. Then there is the nuclear power station, which in a way prevented the area from being overrun by people coming to build holiday homes. (Derek Jarman)

As if the world had forgotten Jesus’ message

Like all of Derek Jarman’s films, THE GARDEN is an innovative and controversial piece of work, a continuation of a highly original and personal approach to cinema which explores the rich possibilities of the medium in the process. The result is a stunningly vibrant and rich palette of image and sound, at times almost ethereal, at others terrifying in its directness. Jarman leads the viewer on a magical journey through the film – the structure of which he describes as a tapestry of moods, ranging from horror to humour, from melancholy to exhilaration, and one never knows what lies around the corner. The effect is provocative, sensual and highly stimulating.
The early part of the film is dominated by nature images of pristine beauty – flowers, shingle, the sea and the sky, integrated into scenes that show the filmmaker at work in the garden of his home in Dungeness, on the Kent coast, with the nuclear power station a constant presence in the background. A narrative slowly emerges in the form of dreamed scenes. We see Jarman asleep at his desk, surrounded by Christian imagery: a portrait of the resurrected Christ, a crucifix onto which water runs endlessly. He begins to dream and we find ourselves in another Garden of Eden, at the moment of the original sin. Besides the filmmaker, the film also features a dishevelled beachcomber played by Tilda Swinton and a young boy who can be interpreted both as the young Jarman and the Christ child, both of whom eventually dream parts of the narrative.
This narrative is a fragmented interpretation of the Passion story, though, significantly, in certain scenes the figure of Christ is replaced by two young men who are arrested, harassed, humiliated, tortured and finally murdered by brutal policemen dressed as Father Christmas. Christ looks on rather passive and sad. He seems almost confused, as if the world had forgotten his message. Jarman’s purpose here is to examine the role of the Church in the persecution of homosexuality through the centuries, to expose the moral justification for a climate of hatred which persists today, enshrined in legislation such as the pernicious Clause 28 (ed. note: see below). His intention, however, is not to attack Christ, who is treated with great reverence and respect in the film. The religious imagery also serves to open up the film, providing shared cultural meanings to which we can all relate. THE GARDEN is Jarman’s most personal work to date, touching on the Aids crisis and, in the process, on the issue of his own mortality. (Duncan Petrie, 1991)

Clause 28: An amendment to English, Welsh and Scottish law enacted in 1988 and repealed in 2003, which banned municipalities, schools and local authorities from “promoting homosexuality”: “1 – Ed.) A local authority shall not a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality; b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship. 2) Nothing in subsection 1) above shall be taken to prohibit the doing of anything for the purpose of treating or preventing the spread of disease.”

Production James Mackay. Production companies Basilisk Communications (Inverness, United Kingdom), ZDF (Mainz, Germany). Director Derek Jarman. Cinematography Christopher Hughes. Editing Peter Cartwright. Music Simon Fisher Turner. Digital restoration British Film Institute, Halo Post London. With Tilda Swinton (Madonna), Johnny Mills (Lover), Kevin Collins (Lover), Pete Lee-Wilson (Devil), Spencer Leigh (Maria Magdalena / Adam), Jody Graber (Boy), Roger Cook (Christus), Jessica Martin (Singer), Philip Macdonald (Joseph / Jesus).

World sales Basilisk Communications
Premiere August 20, 1990, Edinburgh Festival


1976: Sebastiane (85 Min., co-directed by Paul Humfress). 1977: Jubilee (103 min.). 1979: The Tempest (95 min.), Broken English (12 min.). 1980: In the Shadow of the Sun (54 min., Forum 1981), Psychic Rally In Heaven (8 min.), A Room of One's Own (10 min.). 1983: The Dream Machine (34 min., Panorama 1987), Pirate Tape (16 min., Panorama 1987), Waiting for Waiting for Godot (18 min.). 1984: Imagining October (27 min.). 1985: The Angelic Conversation (84 min., Panorama 1985). 1986: Caravaggio (90 min., Competition 1986), The Queen is Dead (13 min.). 1988: The Last of England (87 min., Forum1988). 1989: War Requiem (92 min., Competition 1989). 1990: The Garden. 1991: Edward II (90 min., Forum 1992). 1993: Wittgenstein (72 min., Panorama 1993), Blue (76 min.).

Photo: © LiamDaniel-BasiliskCommunications-EditionSalzgeber

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