Will Sorg-

In a way, I couldn’t have ended my time writing reviews for The Weekly any other way. For the last three years of my life, I have tried my best to review as wide a range of media as possible. I’ve reviewed horror, romance, sci-fi, trilogies, the second and fourth movie in a tetralogy, new releases, a 20s movie, films about gender or politics or dresses or gummy bears; I have reviewed TV shows and video games and I even read the worst book I have ever experienced as a joke for this job. So, it’s no real surprise that my last review at The Gustavian Weekly is for a film that plays with the essential elements of film.

Derek Jarman’s Blue is my favorite documentary of all time. This is my third time viewing the film, and every time I watch it I feel my love for the film growing. Blue is an hour and fifteen-minute experimental film by British filmmaker Derek Jarman. I watched each of Jarman’s feature-length films last summer and he has grown to be one of my favorite artists ever. Throughout his work, he is deeply concerned with identity – whether that be the identity of famous artists, the identity of a changing 20th-century Britain, or the identity of the LGBTQ+ community which Jarman himself was a part of. Blue is his masterpiece, one of the greatest works of art from the 20th century. Blue is a premortem obituary.

By the 90s, Derek Jarman was dying of AIDS. This film is his testament: a proud, angry final shout at the world before facing oblivion. Blue is titled as such because of the visuals of the film. An unchanging, unbelievably vivid blue screen is all that encompasses the visuals of the film. It is a remarkably powerful visual that is given its power through its meaning. Jarman’s treatment against the AIDS virus had rendered him partially blind, causing him to only be capable of seeing in shades of blue. This decision to use zero visuals is remarkable. It elevates the film beyond the conventional documentary and turns it into a one-of-a-kind work of art. The singular imagery is unflinchingly powerful and it is made only more powerful by the audio of the film.

You get truly transported by this film. It features a stream-of-consciousness style screenplay that jumps around multiple narratives as it likes. A sizable portion of the film is a portrayal of Jarman’s day-to-day experiences voiced by his longtime collaborator, Nigel Perry. However, there are also breathtaking excerpts of a more poetic narrative about a character named Blue. Blue travels, fights, and explores the world. Blue is a free-spirited and elusive character whose story plays out almost like a fairy tale. There are even musical numbers within the film, many of which are genuinely hilarious and most of which feature dialogue and singing by Tilda Swinton, arguably the most famous of Jarman’s collaborators.

Still, these disparate segments are all deeply intertwined within the narrative of the film. Voices overlap like phantoms haunting an empty home, strange detours seemingly go nowhere but are intrinsically linked to the film’s themes. With that being said, one of the things I love about this movie is how elusive its themes are.

Of course, this is a movie about death. It is about a lifelong artist using his art to reconcile himself with his terminal illness. The relatively mundane stories Jarman tells are elevated not just by his masterful writing skills, but by the hanging shadow of death. Jarman knows it is only a matter of time. He is frustrated by the rigorous medical process that is required just to keep him alive. Thoughts of death and even suicide are a constant theme within the film. There is a sequence in which the film repeatedly lists the names of friends Jarman lost to AIDS. It is a film built on mourning. For Jarman’s friends, for himself, and for the gay community in London which, like many queer communities, was decimated by AIDS.

However, the film is not just about death. It’s about so many things it would probably take a book to list them all, but Blue is a personal film for me because it allows vulnerability. I have never had to experience horrible illness or the loss of loved ones on a horrifying scale, but Jarman’s approach to these seemingly impossible topics touches my heart every time I see this film. As someone who loves creating art, I see this film as the artist becoming their art. Jarman’s work is always deeply ingrained with his own identity but here the film is just him, and it’s beautiful. His writings are so genuine, so open that even though it would be impossible to pick him out from the cavalcade of voices used in the film, it very much feels as though every voice could be him. I don’t know how to phrase this other than the film is so vulnerable it can almost make death feel less scary. Not just death, but endings.

That’s why I had to review this film for my final job at The Weekly. Soon my time at college will pass and I will leave the world of papers and projects and join the real world; the dance of reality. It’s been terrifying to think about. I thought of writing a review on The Graduate just to make a playful little end to my time here, but I feel like I owe myself honesty. Blue was something I needed to write about. It transfixes me in a way few films ever have, it comforts me in a way. A film about a horrible disease slowly killing one of the most brilliant artists of the 20th century can bring me comfort. It can make me cry and laugh within minutes of each other. It brings me a sense of ease. Comfort that endings are still something worthy of remembering. An hour and fifteen minutes of a blue rectangle is Jarman’s masterwork, a memory etched in blue film stock. So the end of my time here at Gustavus is okay. It is okay to let go. My memories are printed on paper and archived in the library. They’re on my mother’s end table and on the internet forever. Thank you for letting me be your entertainment editor.

Jarman died less than a year after this film was completed. He was 52.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *