James Mackay’s Derek Jar­man Su­per 8

BOMB Magazine - - CONTENTS - by Ge­n­e­sis BREYER P- OR­RIDGE

Thames & Hud­son, 2014

It is sig­nif­i­cant that Derek Jar­man is equally, if not more, well known for his Su­per 8 films and ex­per­i­ments than for his fea­ture films. This book, a first at­tempt at a de­fin­i­tive om­nibus of these myr­iad gems has been long over­due. It is in­her­ently prob­lem­atic to cap­ture any mov­ing im­age in a still, but al­most im­pos­si­ble with Jar­man’s films, as they revel in su­per­im­po­si­tion, slow mo­tion, and color sat­u­ra­tion. His col­lab­o­ra­tor and pro­ducer James Mackay man­aged to con­vey a rich im­pres­sion of move­ment by fill­ing al­most half of the book’s pages with stills from over twenty Su­per 8 films. It was a wise de­ci­sion to re­frain from us­ing a high- gloss pa­per—the pages high­light the coarse tex­ture of the im­ages, while the emo­tional sub­texts seem al­most mag­i­cally re­leased from the pages, af­fect­ing us sur­pris­ingly deeply.

Pi­rate Tape, from 1982, is a prime ex­am­ple of this. Dur­ing The Fi­nal Academy fes­ti­val, an “unof­fi­cial” cel­e­bra­tion of Wil­liam S. Bur­roughs that I con­ceived (and with David Daw­son and Roger Ely some­how made hap­pen!), Derek vol­un­teered to be our doc­u­men­tary cam­era­man so he could spend as much time as pos­si­ble with Bur­roughs. The en­tire fes­ti­val was filmed by him, but trag­i­cally Scot­land Yard seized all the Su­per 8 reels and spir­ited them away—an ag­o­niz­ing loss of what would have been a price­less mas­ter­piece. Im­ages of Bur­roughs are pen­e­trat­ing, and Jar­man’s un­canny abil­ity to trans­mute mun­dane mo­ments into emo­tional en­chant­ment is one of his time­less skills.

Look­ing up def­i­ni­tions for the word pro­jec­tor yields the per­fect de­scrip­tion of Jar­man’s works: “. . . to make a thought or feel­ing seem to have an ex­ter­nal or ob­jec­tive re­al­ity, es­pe­cially to as­cribe some­thing per­sonal to oth­ers”; “…to use the imag­i­na­tion to see or re­mem­ber some­thing.” We re­call once hav­ing tea at his small flat on Tot­ten­ham Court Road. Jar­man was, as al­ways, highly an­i­mated and ex­cited. Like a mis­chievi­ous

school­boy play­ing a prank on school author­i­ties, he said, “Look Gen, see how easy and cheaply I can get these most fab­u­lous ef­fects!” He had set up his two pro­jec­tors on the floor so both reels ap­peared su­per­im­posed and then he was film­ing the mir­ror. This sim­ple so­lu­tion, us­ing min­i­mal tech­no­log­i­cal equip­ment, cre­ated what we might call his Su­per 8 sig­na­ture.

A more en­cy­clo­pe­dic fil­mog­ra­phy could have made this book an es­sen­tial ref­er­ence work. Per­haps Mackay is only in­clud­ing films that are one hun­dred per­cent Su­per 8. Where is Imag­in­ing Oc­to­ber, in­clud­ing co­pi­ous Su­per 8 from Jar­man’s trip to Rus­sia in 1984? Be­fore Glit­terbug, there was Home Movies, a mix of Sloane Square, B2 Movie, and oth­ers. And there was The Art of Mir­rors, a poetic Su­per 8 of a ripped piece of my­lar catch­ing the sun in a breeze on the set of Se­bas­tiane.

Hav­ing com­posed the orig­i­nal sound­tracks for all of them, we know of these by as­so­ci­a­tion, but there must be oth­ers too. Per­haps a truly de­fin­i­tive Jar­man book is still re­quired, pre­sent­ing the painterly col­lag­ist who was al­ways re- edit­ing, dis­as­sem­bling, restruc­tur­ing, chop­ping, and re­con­fig­ur­ing his Su­per 8 films. Jar­man saw them quite lit­er­ally as raw ma­te­rial, cir­cu­lat­ing in­fin­itely, but never truly fin­ished. What one does see most vividly in this es­sen­tial book is how alive and how de­cep­tively “or­di­nary” these mas­ter­pieces are. They will con­tinue to in­spire young film­mak­ers and in the back­ground will be Derek Jar­man’s spirit, mut­ter­ing, “Let’s cut it up and see what it re­ally says.” — Ge­n­e­sis BREYER P- OR­RIDGE is an English artist, mu­si­cian, poet, and per­former.

All im­ages copy­right 2014 LUMA Foun­da­tion.

left: Still from SLOANE SQUARE: A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN, 1974–76, a re­moval party cel­e­brates a forced evic­tion.

be­low: Still from PI­RATE TAPE, 1982, in which Wil­liam S. Bur­roughs, friends, and passersby are filmed on Tot­ten­ham Court Road dur­ing The Fi­nal Academy event.

Still from CORFE FILM, 1975, set on the bat­tle­ments of Corfe Castle ru­ins.

Still from JOUR­NEY TO AVE­BURY, 1971, a land­scape film sat­u­rated in gold that maps the great Ne­olithic stone cir­cle and its sur­round­ings at Ave­bury.

clock­wise from above left:

Still from SUL­PHUR, 1973.

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