Surfaces, History, & ‘Noise’ in Derek Jarman’s Jubilee
Jon Davies, 2003
Jubilee is a 1977 “fantasy documentary” by the British director Derek Jarman (Quinn-Meyler 130). His second feature, it stands out for me as his richest articulation of a particular time and place. The film was heavily influenced in terms of style and content by the punk movement. It is a disturbing, dynamic, beautiful and occasionally didactic view of a girl gang in an apocalyptic future wasteland that bears a striking resemblance to the late seventies British welfare state in decline. Call it an all-White, dystopian Born in Flames. Over the course of this essay, I will trace how Jubilee elaborates its politics and its poetics through a generally chronological textual analysis. In the preface to her book The Art of Memory, Frances Yates describes the “art of memory” as a type of “inner writing” (6) invented by the Greeks and passed down throughout European culture, which involves developing a trained memory through inscribing images and places in one’s mind. This was necessary for the development of memory before the printing press existed (xi). Jarman cites Yates’ book, and the Renaissance texts of Agrippa and Bruno that it refers to, as one of the primary inspirations for Jubilee (43), and there are important parallels. Notably, Jarman is carrying on Yates’ interest in how memory, and consequently history, is produced through our mind’s active inscription and interpretation of images and their contexts, as opposed to our minds being passively filled with memories like a vessel. Basically, the art of memory suggests that the world is primarily intelligible on a visual level, as opposed to all other methods of comprehension. I will examine how the film treats the obsession of the punk scene – and the increasingly postmodern world – with surfaces, images, artifice, and the act of looking (the gaze) and how this emphasis on superficial modes of understanding affect how history is interpreted and constructed. It would not be controversial to state that Derek Jarman was the UK’s most important queer experimental film maker. He was also a prolific and accomplished painter and music video director (see The Smiths, Psychic TV, etc.) His films are all heterogenous and extremely dense texts, eclectic in style, that are all grounded in social critique and the historical “real.” His films contain varying configurations of documentary, formal experimentation, literary adaptation, biography, and socio-political allegory. For example, Wittgenstein is a dramatized documentary entirely performed on a dark sound-stage, told through a variety of voices. The Garden is a black and white, experimental re-telling of the life of the son of God with a gay couple starring as Jesus. Edward II is based on the Marlowe work, but also incorporates images from many different time periods, including Annie Lennox singing Cole Porter or an ACT-UP demonstration. Blue, made after he was blinded by an AIDS-related condition (he would die in of AIDS in 1994), is a blue screen with a haunting soundscape of voices and music. Jubilee was made for 50,000 £, low-budget, as were most of Jarman’s films, and it was completed with the help of his friends, a highly personal kind of filmmaking. While labeled a “dull little middle-class wanker” on a Vivienne Westwood t-shirt (Jarman 1996, 43), Jarman’s politics were unabashedly anti-authoritarian, yet he refused to regurgitate dogma. His artistic experimentation was as important as his political activism. In his work, he constantly exposed the oppressive social, political and sexual norms of the state. Knowing this, the first few times I watched Jubilee over the past several years, I felt Jarman was celebrating punk’s subversions. I enjoyed the antics of the punk gang, quoted their poetic rhetoric and celebrated the fact that I’d found a text where art, anarchism, and queerness overlapped. I felt validated. Only later, after closer analysis and more emotional distance, did I see the contradictions and ambiguities that spoke to a more critical view of the punk movement and society in general that he represents. Jarman is basically pointing out the dangers of a movement that purports to be revolutionary but is only constituted of so much bile and kerosene. He finds the punk generation’s obsession with surface appearances, and the consequent inability to see deeper, to see the world in the holistic context of history, as a great danger. Their nihilism disturbed him. However, the film stars “real” punks, it glamourizes and poeticizes them and their violence, and it presents a similar nihilistic view of the future with apparently not many options for agency. The 1970’s in Britain were a time of recession and inflation (Royle 212), with the unemployment rate hitting 6.2 % in 1977, the highest it would be that decade (Marwick 284). In 1977, James Callaghan’s Labour government instituted their first massive cut in public spending (Marwick 285). It was also a time when the perpetrators of violent crime were getting younger and younger, with an increasingly higher percentage of these crimes being committed by young women (Royle 219). Not surprisingly, consumer spending was increasing steadily, as it had been doing since the 1950’s (Royle 285), and the gap between the rich and the poor was on its way to becoming the insurmountable chasm it is today (Royle 154). The decade came to a close with the election of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in May, 1979 (Marwick 289). The pre-fabricated high-rise council housing buildings, detested by their residents, that carry such metaphorical weight in Jubilee, appeared in increasing numbers from the 1960’s onward (Royle 33). Most important of all, 1977 was the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s twenty-fifth anniversary on the throne, the Jubilee. The film begins with a credit sequence in which only the actors’ names are given. This is their film, for it is all about performance: Who can act the meanest or the most outrageous. Among the many famous punks in the film are Adam Ant as Kid, Jordan as Amyl, Little Nell as Crabs, Richard O’Brien as John Dee (a non-punk role), Wayne (now Jayne) County as Lounge Lizard, and the Slits as one of Borgia Ginz’s bands. All of these figures are musicians, while O’Brien and Nell starred as Riff-Raff and Columbia in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The credits are followed by a title card: a strikingly composed black and white still of an explosion with a large red JUBILEE superimposed, and a thundercrack which breaks the silence on the soundtrack. Here, a moment of dynamism and action is reduced to a still photo, the first of many moments of aestheticized violence. The film is organized around the gaze, the act of looking is the privileged performative gesture. Jubilee is structured by a wrap-around story involving Elizabeth I, her magician advisor John Dee, and a midget serving woman at Dee’s home at Mortlake in 1597. Dee conjures the angel Ariel for Elizabeth’s pleasure and to give her knowledge. Ariel states: “pluck up thy heart and be merry for I shall reveal to thee the shadow of this time.” Ariel is a metaphor for the film screen in Jubilee. He is abstract, divine, and the grantor of wisdom and prophecies. Ariel’s visions are as valuable as the gold that results from alchemical transformations. The parts of his body that are most like windows, his eyes and nails, are black (his eyes are described as “mirrored” by Dee). He is impenetrable, his subjectivity cannot be investigated, he can only reflect. In this case, the future he reflects is the same location as Elizabethan England, though it is urban London rather than rural Mortlake, but in 1977 it is a violent wasteland. The camera often places us in a position where Ariel faces the spectators directly, as if embodying the film screen. The scenes of Elizabeth and her entourage in 1597 are markedly different than those of the punks in 1977. Their scenes seem extremely melodramatic: The writing is hyperbolic, the delivery very stagey, and the lighting unnatural. The aura of royalty that Elizabeth represented is enacted in a very artificial style that creates a feeling of alienation rather than glorification of the Queen. The effect is one of nostalgia, as the images do not resemble a recollection of history so much as a staged, starry-eyed re-enactment of them. The shift from 1597 to 1977 is not immediate however: After we see two punks in long shot walking behind a huge bonfire with billowing smoke, we see a reaction shot of Elizabeth, and then the action in 1977 continues. The spectatorial gaze which seems initially like Elizabeth’s, acquired through looking into Ariel, is complicated very early on. The shots of the streets that could be from a discrete perspective are interrupted by a shot from the inside of a car (whose passengers will be revealed at the end of the film), thereby displacing Elizabeth’s point of view. The 1977 world is shot in a distinctively cinema-verité style. Jarman’s camera work is dynamic and energetic, in order to keep up with the hyperactive characters represented. Typical of Jarman’s camera work in Jubilee are zooms, whether zooming out to expose a pram in flames on an empty grey street or zooming in on a small tattered image of a defaced Elizabeth II on the wall of the punks’ apartment (accompanied by the spoken words “misgovernment and idiocy” that explain the present circumstances). Jarman does not present his apocalyptic landscape subtly: The word POSTMODERN is spray-painted across a crumbling wall, which also testifies to the world’s self-consciousness about its position in history. Almost immediately begins the most important recurring gesture in the film: An anonymous punk picks a pair of glasses off of the victim of a car wreck, holds them up to his eyes, and looks anew at the world around him. The next shot, edited with a straight cut, is that of a spinning globe with specific countries blacked out and labeled with text such as “obsolete.” Perhaps Jarman is suggesting that Elizabeth may have once had a monopoly over the eye of enlightenment and reason, but here is a time when this authoritative subjectivity has become democratized – the world of Jubilee is one with no powerful authority (we find out soon that law and order have been abolished, and thus no more statistics = no crime). This punk’s vision of the world is as valid as that of a monarch once was. A scary punk girl who will later be introduced to us as Mad informs us that “the world is no longer interested in heroes. So sad. We now know too much about them, don’t we?” The by-product of the democratization of subjectivity is that everyone is worthy of fame and commemoration, so how do we distinguish the extraordinary from the mundane? Amyl Nitrate, the historian with a perfume bottle and pink sweater, informs us that art was only necessary when people needed to channel their desires into a safe outlet. Now that people can make their fantasies a reality, art is obsolete. “Make your dreams reality. Myself, I prefer the song ‘Don’t Dream it, Be it’ [from The Rocky Horror Picture Show].” The democratized point-of-view, and the ironic performance of propriety and authority in this scene is emphasized by the straight-on camera position and her placement at a desk, as if it were a newscast. In Jubilee, art is yet another privileged institution that has been abolished, but its refugees are perhaps the only hope of restoring a meaningful world, as we will later see. In an act of nostalgia, Amyl recounts her love of dance (something else that no one is interested in anymore) because it enables her to defy gravity – another law. We then cut to an image of a ballerina figurine in a music box and then some hauntingly beautiful super-8 footage of Amyl ballet dancing that Jarman had shot earlier as its own film. With a classical music soundtrack to further its antique value, we see her dancing slowly and tragically around a bonfire (another recurring image) of books in a junkyard. Books represent an obsolete form of knowledge in Jubilee, they offer the in-depth information that images cannot convey. She is surrounded by costumed figures representing “art” and “death” (according to the script) who are silent witnesses to her danse macabre. They seem to be mourning the loss of edified beauty in the midst of destruction and filth through ritual. This oddly misplaced, tarnished footage records the swan song – or rather the death throes – of the classical, ruling class aesthetic worldview. As might be apparent so far, the characters’ names are all descriptive terms which reveal qualities about them without us actually needing to know them. Kid is a wide-eyed naïf musician, Crabs the romantic nymphomaniac with bourgeois aspirations, Mad the overly aggressive pyromaniac enfant terrible, Bod the stylish but haughty and brutal fashionista, Viv (which sounds like “life” in French) is an artist and thus the character who Jarman treats the most humanely, Sphinx and Angel are the mysterious and incestuous twin boys, Chaos the silent and virtually unseen maid, and then there is Amyl Nitrate. It is not too difficult to guess what Jarman is suggesting when he names the historian of the group after a drug that relaxes the muscles and blood vessels and causes a rush of oxygenated blood to the brain (A.K.A. poppers), which gay men have been using during sex for decades; the past and the future are in the hands of a narcotized, lunatic aesthete. A following sequence shows Bod laughing maniacally and chasing after an unidentifiable woman wearing what the script describes as a “scarf and hunting jacket.” Near an old shack, Bod attacks and the woman falls down dead. However, we see the kill through a long shot, making it difficult to discern any details, with a field of flowers (a counterpoint to the savage violence) placed between the viewers and the action. With a closer shot, and with gunshots in the distance, we see a young boy wander onto the scene and retrieve a large gem from the dead body. He holds the clear crystal up and looks through it (a familiar gesture) accompanied by the sound of broken glass. Later, this sequence makes more sense when we see Bod return home triumphantly, mounts a staircase, pushes open the shutters and dramatically mock-opens fire on her friends with machine guns pantomimed by her hands. On her head she wears a crown which can only be that of Elizabeth II (the script confirms this), “I captured it,” she proclaims proudly, “it’s High Fashion.” Interestingly, Elizabeth and Bod are played by the same actress, so in effect Bod kills her own flesh and blood by killing Elizabeth I’s only nominal descendant. Bod, the brutal, tea-drinking, ex-Christian, high class bitch is the surviving Queen of Jarman’s England. Just before Bod enters is a clever scene where Amyl screams “I broke my Winston Churchill mug” which we see is actually in the image of Adolf Hitler (I might be wrong about this but it looks like his moustache). As she shows Mad the remains, she sadly says “look” and Jarman cuts to Sphinx and Angel reading the newspaper in bed, unperturbed by the tragedy, and refusing Mad’s command to look. Only the twins and Amyl are seen reading for pleasure in the film, it is clearly an antiquated activity to the more nihilistic members of the group. Their literature is the pop culture detritus graffitied on their walls: Triumph of the Will, Brave New World, etc. The Hitler/Churchill reversal is perhaps the most overt re-writing of history in the film. Jubilee offers us chaos both in images and in language, but the two are deeply intertwined. Along with the democratization of perspective and the obsession with surfaces and appearances in the film is the idea that history can be manipulated to suit anyone’s needs, and is thus just a toy. Amyl is the historian of the group, the history book that she is writing is more like a diary or a scrapbook, and indeed she pieces together history like a subjective collage, interjecting plenty of personal observations because there are no hierarchies of objectivity in this world. Just as Elizabeth I can use her power to see the future, so Amyl can access the past in however way she wishes, constructing it according to her will: “[H]istory still fascinates me – it’s so intangible. You can weave facts any way you like.” If 1977 is “the shadow of this time [Elizabeth’s era],” then 1977 is Elizabeth I’s legacy, and the residents get their revenge against her by disobeying reason, order, authority and the linearity of time. After Bod’s mock-shooting on the balcony, we cut to see Ariel, Elizabeth I and her gang around the corpse of who we now know to be Elizabeth II. The serving lady picks up Elizabeth II’s large glasses, looks through them and eventually wears them. She finds the boy who had taken the gem and frightens him. In his shock, he drops the gem and the serving lady retrieves it, looking through it as well. The jewel is held up and looked through several times throughout the film. It too is an optical device that alters one’s world view, like the film camera, and the crystal balls through which Dee communicated with angels. By the end of the film, it also represents the cyclical nature of history in the film. The serving lady returns it to Elizabeth I to be passed on down the monarchic line back to Elizabeth II, from whom the serving lady took it in 1977 (the first time that the 1597 group physically inhabit the same diegetic space as the punks). They are there to mourn the death of their monarchical offspring, and they also transport the jewel back to their time. This action serves to underscore the malleable nature of time and history, whether by conjuring divinities or by violence. Soon after, we are introduced to Crabs and Kid on a date at a restaurant. The other punks arrive to make trouble, with Mad waxing poetic about a series of postcards for sale, which includes one of New York, among other international destinations. What the point is of having postcards for sale from international destinations readily accessible in London is never explained. Mad ‘s comments include: “America’s dead, it’s never been alive…All these ruins. All this concrete, brick and glass, and the people who made them are utterly forgotten. The prisons we live in today may have taken longer than a day to build but it doesn’t take long to destroy them.” This is the legacy of reason, a world of decaying buildings with all the people dead and erased from the historical record. Bod attacks the waitress and covers her in ketchup, a typical theatrical and cinematic stand-in for blood. In this world, the distinction between real and simulated is negligible, but this is the only time that vicious play-acting will be an adequate substitute for cathartic violence. This is the first truly disturbing attack in the film, one of several, though the others will be fatal. It is unclear what motivates the intensity of their brutality, it is seemingly arbitrary who will be violated (until the final assault, that is). Mad steals the waitress’ Shirley Temple wig and puts it on. At the end of this scene Mad declares “For a moment I thought you would kill her” to which Bod responds “Just a dress rehearsal,” which explains why the camera focuses on the waitress applying lipstick for so long at the beginning of the scene. With the make-up and 50’s waitress costume, fake blood, and wig, what else could this scene be but the performance of a murder? The next scene most clearly examines the role of the artist in a world such as this. Viv, Sphinx and Angel leave the restaurant and go to Viv’s house. The three are the most sympathetic characters in the film, with Viv the one Jarman seems to identify with most (Amyl has her sympathetic moments, but in the end she sells her soul like the other girls). Viv is not a manipulator, she has ethics and emotions. She is capable of love. She has one of the best lines in the film: “Artists steal the world’s energy…They become blood donors. Their life blood drips away till they’re bled dry, and the people who control the world make it as inaccessible as possible by driving the artists into corners. Our only hope is to recreate ourselves as artists, or anarchists if you like, and liberate the energy for all.” Artists are almost extinct in Jubilee, and from this statement it seems that the “only hope” is to diffuse art into life (art = blood=life force) in order for it to be of value, an historically dadaist position. Her apartment does not contain any art objects, it is bare except for a bed and a radiator. The walls are black. Her art is indistinguishable from anarchism – with the goal of liberating the transformative possibilities of art for everyone to participate in. For Jarman, artists must strive to merge art with life in order to even begin to have an impact on the world. Sphinx and Angel remain skeptical about Viv’s utopian ideas, however. The first shot of the following scene is a close-up of a TV screen showing another close-up of a girl punk singer’s face. Kid watches the TV as Crabs molests him (for her, men are tools, she later says: “He’s better than a vibrator, and bigger”), his proximity to the TV is as near as the extreme close-up would suggest – later in the film he will lick the screen, his desire for fame is so overwhelming. The television, perhaps the greatest – to our eyes, overused – symbol for image culture and the simulacrum is very present in Jubilee. Competing with the shrieks of the punk song, which act more as ambient noise than anything else, Bod sings ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ while admiring the crown, her new trophy, and stating its potential usefulness as a crash helmet. Here is yet another appropriation, and another playful juxtaposition of contesting powers, official and anarchic. Bod receives a call at the end of this scene from Borgia Ginz asking her opinion on a new star he’s grooming. Ginz is a creepy, flamboyant and greasy megalomaniac who owns the entire media. He is the Malcolm McLaren figure who constructs hapless punks into stars for his own profit. From his studio is Buckingham Palace he produces Top of the Pops, the show they watch on the tube. Borgia introduces Bod to his official contestant for the Eurovision Song Contest: Amyl Nitrate. We see her performing a souped-up choral/reggae/punk version of “Rule Brittania” while decked out in a costume of postmodern pastiche that is equal parts Roman centurion, British patriot, and striptease. She performs to a huge empty opera house, with stadium lights and fake smoke, the sounds of British football hooligans, Hitler speeches, Nazi marches, and bombings in the background. Like the rest of the film, this scene is emphasized as pure performance, but here the artificiality of the scene is further emphasized through the theater stage, and the way our historian’s performance dramatizes the illegibility and schizophrenia of historical truth. Soon follows a scene showing Crabs – dressed in bondage hood with dainty ribbon – fornicating in a bed with Happy Days, a new trick. She spontaneously decides to tie him up and then she, Bod and Mad murder him by suffocation, with Mad filming all the way, stating “I like to watch” (which could be the motto of the film and the world it depicts). The violence is extremely disturbing and is highly aestheticized by the presence of the camera (and all the taboos that go along with the idea of snuff films), the occasional shots from the victim’s point of view, and by making the bedsheets – the murder weapon – bright red plastic. Soon after, they dump the red bedsheet-wrapped corpse off of a bridge onto a muddy beach. “Love snuffed it with the hippies…sex is for geriatrics, mindless” are the consoling words given to the romantic Crabs, who regrets losing someone who may have been “the one.” As the girls look down at the hauntingly composed crumpled red mass in the brown mud we hear Sphinx singing ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose…” (from the next scene) before this scene cuts. Jarman’s lament for the death of love is extremely poetic and moving in this particular juxtaposition of sound and image. Angel and Sphinx are shown cuddling in bed with Viv, they collectively represent the only hope for civilization, which involves the twins, men, declaring that they are passing on the torch to Viv, a woman, after five-thousand years of “being in the limelight,” and right as time is almost running out. The only hope lies in a woman, the only non-violent one of the lot, who believes in the vitality of living in the present. This idea of valuing the present is set in opposition to the living in the past of Amyl, the living in the future of patriarchal capitalism (with its parental lineage, colonial expansion, RRSP’s, trust funds, “won’t somebody think of the children” etc.) and the other punks’ total disregard for life. The importance of Viv’s statement is underscored by the spiritual white light that washes in on them when she opens the blinds. The twin boys are the role models of revolutionary masculinity: queer, sensitive, intelligent, poetic, voluntarily ceding power without a fight, and they literally enact the virtue of “brotherly love.” Because Borgia Ginz is the most powerful figure in the film, much of the action is shown with him in a spectatorial position. In a later scene we see Mad in a clown suit screeching her heart out singing in a punk girl band contained behind glass in the studio as Ginz and his lackeys survey them. Ginz’s omnipresent maniacal cackle is like the canned laughter of a TV sitcom. It is prescriptive rather than merely expressive, for he determines who succeeds and who fails (one memorable line: “the dollar’s crashing without [Ginz’s] support”). In Jarman’s film, punk music is explicitly shown to be a product created by the ruling class to distract the masses from directing their manic and violent energy towards constructive change. Borgia states: “As long as the music’s loud enough we won’t hear the world falling apart!” When Kid is introduced to Ginz, Crabs states “He’s going to be the next Garbo” which explicitly references the construction of celebrity and the power games behind the scenes of the Hollywood star system. Ginz’s lackey, Schmitzer, responds “Garbo was very profitable” which serves to re-write the past as under Ginz’s control, or more specifically to re-write the ownership of the product of Garbo’s star image as belonging to Ginz. The next scene returns us to the boys and Viv, who are further humanized by showing them playfully picking flowers. The boys decide to show Viv their friend Max’s garden, and so they break into a car and drive there. This scene is one of the most clever – perhaps didactic to contemporary viewers – plays with the idea of the simulacrum in the film. Max had joined the army, but when he did not get an opportunity to kill people he killed the weeds in his beautiful garden – and all the plants – instead. He decided to replace them with plastic ones, which he nourishes with Pledge and water: “I prefer the world dead. It’s cleaner. My idea of a perfect garden is a remembrance poppy field.” The layout of the garden is as one would expect in the urban wasteland, a small outdoor enclosure where only Max and his guests can have access to the beauty of his artificial plants. The walls block strangers from accessing the visual pleasure he attempts to nurture so faithfully. Ironically, the reason the brothers brought Viv to Max’s was to see “real” – i.e. artificial – flowers as opposed to living ones. Later, on a rooftop, Sphinx talks about growing up emotionally dead in a regulated high-rise housing unit where he was never allowed outside or even downstairs: “Sight: concrete, sound: the telly, taste: plastic, touch: plastic, the seasons regulated by the thermostat…Never experienced love or hate. My generation’s the blank generation.” His childhood is emblematic not only of the characters in Jubilee, but of much of the 1977 British state, where anonymous, vertical council flats crowd the skyline. Dehumanizing units filled with folks numbed by TV, sometimes struggling, sometimes not, to have meaningful interactions with others. This is the environment that has created the numbed punks who can only feel something through inflicting pain on themselves and others out of the absence of opportunities and meaning. The next scene shows the gang hanging around the apartment, bored, playing Monopoly – a game where one gets to pretend to be wealthy and powerful. They take out their black book of prospective murder victims, whose photos they cross out as they go kill by kill. They realize to their chagrin that they have completed the book; all are dead. To fill the void, they look to the TV and see a trashy, glamourous drag queen character named Lounge Lizard, who is Borgia’s biggest star of the moment. They decide to kill her, explicitly stating that “the world won’t miss his missing chromosome,” a eugenics-inflected statement that seems appropriate given the frequent Nazi references in the film, and which further distances the queer activist Jarman from identifying with the punks. One of them flicks a switch-blade over Lizard’s image on the TV, a foreshadowing, but also a suggestion that the end of her career as a media star is as serious a loss as physical death. Before the gang come into her home, we see Lizard watching herself on TV, singing along to her performance with a microphone and adding some witty banter as she goes. Adding to the theme of looking, she states “I’m so filthy rich I could eat my own glasses.” Lounge Lizard’s death is another particularly brutal murder. Like the previous two graphic attacks, the colour red is privileged. However, instead of ketchup or plastic bedsheets, Bod throws Lizard to the floor and chokes her with a microphone – the final performance – her death throes illuminated by melodramatic red lighting as Bod kills her. Despite Lizard’s disturbing spitting and gurgling, the other girls are bored. Killing is not the thrill it once was apparently, and the mundanity and monotony of the event are echoed by Amyl gently striking a tambourine in rhythm with a metronome as the scene draws to a close. Ariel’s role as screen is emphasized further at the end of this scene with some beautifully edited shots. There is a straight cut to a long shot (which then zooms in) of Ariel holding a rectangular mirror at crotch level which reflects glints of light at us. There is then a quick cut to Lizard’s dead body and a tilt upwards to show Elizabeth who has again entered the world of 1977. Ariel always seems to appear out of nowhere, which adds to his otherworldly status. Dee states “Light and dark, living or dead, mankind is attracted to the polarities” to which Ariel, the screen, adds “seeing or not seeing.” Dee’s reference to polarities also refers to the gender binary that Lounge Lizard broke and was acutely punished for, ironically by violent girls who were also blurring gender roles (during a fencing match between Amyl and Mad, Bod states “may the best man win.”) Elizabeth demands knowledge of God, to know whether he is dead, and the response is illustrated by Ariel in the following scene. Inside Westminster Cathedral is a huge party organized by Ginz, dressed as a cardinal. The revelers enact scenes from the Bible, grotesquely and perversely parodying every sacred rite of Christianity amidst sex, violence, and mind-altering substances. The simulacrum has replaced God as well, as Ginz declares: “Progress has taken the place of heaven…It’s like pornography, better than the real thing. They prefer shadows, the light’s too cruel for them…they follow blindly.” These statements sum up the world view of Jarman’s 1977, where both the ruling class and the street punks are perpetuating an ideology of “pornography,” and “shadows,” in other words, looking but not actually seeing anything, blindness. Later, Amyl announces that she has written a new chapter in her history book, on the subject of how humans once foolishly believed they had material rights including “One desolate suburban acre and a car. And then a TV, fridge and another car” and on and on until there was nothing left and they “felt cheated.” This is what resulted in the decline of civilization: Pride, and its consequence, greed. Humans once believed they had political rights too but they quickly forgot about those. As she reads her text, Mad carves the word LOVE into Bod’s back with a large knife. Bod then instructs Mad to fetch some salt to rub on the wounds, when she cannot find it, Bod states “Mad’s as blind as a bat” and urges Amyl to look. In Jarman’s relatively sympathetic view of Amyl (at least initially) it seems that the desire to engage with history, no matter how subjective or inauthentic, is at least worthier than being “blind” like Mad to the past, and correspondingly, to the present. Mad prefers to burn Amyl’s book – another historical referent to the Nazis, and one we’ve seen earlier in the ballet footage – the ultimate form of destruction as it leaves no trace, rather than see or create the past as Amyl does. To illustrate the dangerous quality of Mad’s superficial vision is her statement during a duel with Amyl later in the film. Mad says that instead of needing fists to vanquish enemies: “I just have to look at them.” Angel, Sphinx, Kid and Viv decide to go to the Bingo parlour that Max emcees, except they play arcade games there instead of Bingo. The only two participants are two old “pepperpots” (to use the Monty Python phrase) who reminisce about a friend of theirs who could not adjust to the contemporary violent world, and was murdered. They have adapted – one speaks of giving an inflatable doll to her husband while the other expresses shock that their friend refused to carry a weapon. One of the ladies wins a prize: “a 3-month supply of Jubilee knickers, red, white and blue.” This is the only invocation of the title in the film, and it shows that the monarchy – or more specifically, the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s 25th anniversary on the throne – is nothing but mass-merchandised kitsch. Apparently her murder at the hands of Bod has gone unnoticed or unmarked by the underwear industry and the general population. In the entertainment-saturated world of Jubilee, the Queen’s real existence, as opposed to her symbolic value, is inconsequential. The Queen was once considered to be appointed by God and now she is used to sell underwear. Jarman does not have nostalgia for the past, he clearly states that the world of 1977 is Elizabeth I’s legacy, and that this is clearly negative, but he does mourn for the loss of Britain’s soul. Immediately after the invocation of the Jubilee knickers, two police officers storm the Bingo parlour, harass the punks and shoot the twins dead when Sphinx tells them “come on, give us a kiss.” Kid runs away but is caught, beat up and slashed by the police. Perhaps because he is represented as the young naïf, his is the most violent death of the main characters, including a close-up of his gurgling bloody face, which connects his death with that of Lounge Lizard, and the celebrated success he was on his way to emulating. Kid’s death may be the most graphic but it is not the most lamented. That honour is held by the twins. When Viv makes it back to the punk house and tells the girls about what happened, it is the deaths of their two virtuous queer boys who inspire their vengeance. A hopeful gesture? Betraying little emotion, they calmly plan their revenge and make Molotov cocktails. Amyl and Mad stalk one of the cops and move in for the kill. Amyl blinds him with her perfume bottle, the object that marks her as a sensitive aesthete in her first scene. In this, the climax of the film’s murder scenes, the two brutally tear him apart with a razor and their bare hands. It contains a ferocity that is still as shocking today as it probably was at the time. Part of the terrible effect comes from the close-up shots of the combat where we see the girls’ slashes and blows in close proximity to the cop’s face. Also, Mad’s performance is wrenching: She is literally hysterical, screeching and attacking with devastating rage, and breaking down at the end of it all. By sheer dramatic coincidence, Crabs just happens to pick up the second cop at the laundromat, not knowing of his deeds. She goes back to his home and they entertain her typically banal romantic dreams of suburban bliss while they shag. The doorbell rings, the cop answers, and Bod throws in a Molotov cocktail shouting ‘No Future,’ the title of a Sex Pistols song. Crabs is incinerated for the unforgivable crime of bourgeois aspirations (or as Jarman describes her in the script, “casualty of true romance” (Jarman 1996, 44)) and more pragmatically, for screwing a cop. Crabs is both the model of stereotypical domestic femininity and unrestrained female libido. Jarman sees Crabs’ practices of both as forms of objectification and materialism, and her death is treated merely as an afterthought compared to the only other sexually active characters, the twins, who are virtually martyrs. There is a cut to Elizabeth and her group in a garden, a real one this time, with Viv who is weeping. She has escaped the urban wasteland apparently, but at what cost? Ariel states: “I am the mirror, the fire that consumes all that is created.” The act of reflection, engaged in by Ariel with his mirror and Viv with her painting, is necessarily destructive. Jarman does not offer any consolation to the radical artist who merges art and life, they are doomed to be an outsider because they leave themselves open to the world around them, and they respond authentically and emotionally to it. “Yet, for all her good intentions, Viv remains unable to combine her hope in the utopian promise of the vanguard artist with the bleak reality of her own situation: her call to action is confined to the sterile walls of her empty black room” (Quinn-Meyler 117). Ariel, as a supernatural creature, is also divorced from the human world because he has the power to show people what the future holds, which they do not necessarily want to see. The film begins its denouement: several of the shots echo back to those at the beginning such as the view from inside a car (which it turns out is from the punks’ point of view traveling with Ginz in his Rolls Royce) and two punks in long shot walking behind smoke from a bonfire (this time heading the other direction). The result is a cyclical structure – as Elizabeth’s quote “the wheel turns…” from the previous scene suggests – which emphasizes the futility and repetitiveness of society endlessly driving towards annihilation and death. Amyl, Bod and Mad are driven to Ginz’s mansion in Dorset. The British border, with the goal “to keep the riff-raff out,” is marked by Nazi sieg-heiling, a USSR flag, and the provision “no Blacks, homosexuals or Jews, and no seditious literature” (Amyl’s history book, perhaps?). It seems that Jarman’s idea of contemporary geo-politics is one where only tyranny, as opposed to freedom, has been globalized. The girls have now been signed as Ginz’s latest band: The Daughters of God. They are the legacy of Elizabeth I, whose status as monarch was seen as divine providence as well. Hitler is at the mansion, playing the part of an artist in paint-splattered suit. He states “I was the greatest artist of this century, greater than Leonardo da Vinci” (a theorist of optics, the science of Jubilee) and the girls toast him, laughing joyously. The TV plays the Jubilee festivities for the Queen that died much earlier in the film. The film ends with Elizabeth I and her group walking into darkness. The ruminations of Elizabeth and Dee suggest that they see the visions that Ariel has given them as mere trifle, magic is to them a bit of pleasure. Ariel’s final declaration is much more grave. He makes apocalyptic statements such as “The sun eclipsed by the wings of a phoenix” and “We drift into a sea of storms.” The film closes with “And now Elizabeth and Dee go along the same great highway, and the light of the air about them seemed somewhat dark, like evening or twilight, and as they walked the phoenix spoke and cried with a loud voice: COME AWAY.” The idea of a phoenix resurrecting from the ash is another cyclical motif, but Elizabeth will be continuing on a linear “highway” down the monarchical line that still continues today. Perhaps Jarman’s final statement is that Western culture’s supposed rational linear progress is in reality a circular, repetitive death drive: “the horrific condition of the second Elizabeth’s England clearly demonstrates not progress, but terminal degeneration” (Hawkes 106). After Amyl’s “Rule Brittania” Dee states: “To you, Elizabeth of England, is granted the greater vision. That man perceives but little and rarely beyond this labyrinth and the serpent of memory is the still point of the world, that gateway which man seeks. It is everywhere and nowhere. It is here and now, round it time runs in a forgetfulness beyond…[H]e who murders will swim in blood lapping against the bounds of time.” Committed acts of memory are the only ways of avoiding the repetition of past crimes. The crumbling Britain of 1977 is the legacy of the nation’s authoritarianism and imperialism and their corresponding injustices. Elizabeth I is given the ability to look at her actions as part of a historical continuum, but she cannot make the connection between her time and the 1977 wasteland. Only by thoughtfully considering the historical effects and context of one’s actions might we be able to escape this cycle of oppression. England will reap what it sows, and only by being able to consider the consequences of what one sows through historical example can the results be truly joyful and not cruel. The parallels between Elizabeth I’s reign and the themes of the film are quite interesting, for its events unfold with her as the primary spectator, a 400-year flash forward as one critic described it (Hawkes 106). The first line of Haigh’s account of Elizabeth’s political career reads “The monarchy of Elizabeth I was founded upon illusion.” He goes on to state that this illusion constructed the idea that England before her was disastrous, and her reign would be heroic. The Queen’s coronation happened on January 14, 1559 and from this point forward she put the propagandistic image mill into overdrive in order to suit her reign (Haigh 7). In 1977 power is displaced, decentralized, and in the 16th century it is consolidated in one omnipotent body, a female one at that, and an expert at manipulation and power games. In writings on her at the time she is represented as an über-woman, goddess, and even a phoenix – the creature invoked in Ariel’s last line of the film (Haigh 19). She believed that her position and success were due to Divine intervention (Haigh 21). Many of her attributes – “masculine” strength, courage, will, aggressivity, and vitality – are shared by the punks in Jubilee (Haigh 20). Also like the punks, she knew the value of appearances: “Elizabeth was a show-off, and she dressed to kill…The Court served as a splendid palace for the display of majesty“ (Haigh 86-7). Her image was widely circulated among the populace as well, in portrait format (Haigh 148). She was a performer, always playing a different role depending on the context: “On her throne, Elizabeth was the Virgin Queen; towards the Church she was a mother, with her nobles she was an aunt, to her councilors a nagging wife, and to her courtiers a seductress” (Haigh 106). According to the published script, the scenes with Elizabeth I in Jubilee occur in 1597 when the Queen would have been 64 years old. By this time, Elizabeth was not as charming as she once was. Her promises of a bright future had revealed themselves as false by this point, and she was increasingly withdrawn from public view: “[T]he English had never loved the real Elizabeth – they had loved the image she created and the promises she had made” (Haigh 164). It was her image, and not her actions, that brought stability and prestige to England (Haigh 172). To Driscoll, the past in Jubilee “is shown as a world of sympathy, culture and order…we see him turning to the British tradition of middle-class dissent to solve the problems of the contemporary milieu…Ever since the English Civil War, middle-class dissidence has always turned away from the industrial middle-classes…expressing sympathy with the supposedly effete, effeminate and (from the bourgeoisie’s point of view) decadent aristocracy” (70-71). He believes that Jarman sympathizes with Elizabeth I in Jubilee, but I would argue that this interpretation is neglecting the complex presence of her court philosopher John Dee. Dee’s role suggests that what is most attractive to Jarman about the 16th century was that it was a time when the metaphysical and otherworldly actually had currency. Dee would have been 70 years old – and well past the period of his most intense involvement with Elizabeth and her court – in the scenes set in 1597. The Queen did indeed visit Dee’s residence at Mortlake – a small village about eight miles upstream from London (Woolley 80) where the scenes set in 1597 take place – several times, speaking with him about all matters philosophical: astrology, alchemy, theology, even medicine (Woolley 82). In addition to his scientific and artistic pursuits – he was trained in mathematics – Dee also was involved in the occult: conjuring and “summon[ing] divine secrets of the universe from angels and archangels” (Woolley 296) since at least 1568, and by 1579, Mortlake was seen as a center of magical activity (Woolley 146-7). An important figure for Dee was the archangel Uriel – a “good creature” (Woolley 155) – who is obviously an inspiration for Ariel, the angel in Jubilee, and Prospero’s supernatural servant (played by Karl Johnson, the actor who played Sphinx) in Jarman’s next film The Tempest (1979). Dee communicated with angels such as Uriel through a crystal ball blessed by God (Wooley 236) which is represented by the oft-gazed into crystal taken from Elizabeth II’s corpse in Jubilee. Uriel’s name means “fire of God”, he is a “pitiless” angel who “watches over thunder and terror,” and he is symbolized by an open hand holding a flame (Lewis 402-3). The prince of lights, he is the “sharpest sighted spirit of all in Heaven” (Lewis 403). All these qualities are referred to in Ariel’s mystic and opaque statements throughout the film. An interpreter of prophecies, Uriel was sent by God to warn Noah of the flood and he revealed astrological secrets to Enoch (Woolley 156). Dee’s conversations with him always centered on revelations as well, as Ariel’s role is revelatory in Jubilee. Interestingly, he was the first angel to ever transform into a human (Lewis 404). The pessimism of Jubilee is not quite so overwhelming when one considers Wooley’s statements on the nature of angel prophecy: “[T]he angels were not infallible emissaries. Just like human testimony, the spiritual sort could not be taken at face value. It could be corrupt, incoherent, inconsistent. Some angels were fallen, some really demons in disguise” (Woolley 197). This reminds us that the visions we see in Jubilee are not the unmediated future, but a subjective, flawed vision of it. Interestingly, Woolley sees Dee’s attraction to angels as an attempt to deal with the world around him which was undergoing radical changes. With his library, his contacts with royalty, his written works, his imprisonment and his religious struggles “he could see as well as anyone…that the world was in a state of transformation, and the angels captured this perfectly…Dee had seen with his own eyes the world spill off the edge of the map, and the universe burst out of its shell. And as the cosmos had spread into infinity, so he had seen his, everyone’s position in it correspondingly reduced. For the first time in more than a thousand years [could be perceived] a world that no longer revolved around humans” (Woolley 297). Jarman too, through his use of an angel as cinema, is recording testaments to the radically changing world around him. The punks around London were as much a sign of the unstable future of the nation as the angels were. If Jarman’s view of them is neither wholly positive nor totally negative, he is definitely engaging with their apocalyptic vision of the world, and it is no coincidence that Ariel resembles a glam punk boy more than an otherworldly, divine apparition. Jarman sees Jubilee‘s excessive, dystopian spectacle as prophetic: “Dr. Dee’s vision came true – the streets burned in Brixton and Toxteth, Adam [Ant] was Top of the Pops and signed up with Margaret Thatcher to sing at the Falklands Ball… (Jarman 1984, 172)” Dick Hebdige’s extremely influential study Subculture: The Meaning of Style focuses on how objects – in our case the accoutrements of punk – are made into symbols of “self-imposed exile” (2). Hebdige defines British punk, which first made its appearance in the press in summer 1976, as an unstable mix of “heterogenous youth styles” influenced by glam-rock to American bands like the Stooges and the Ramones to Reggae, Mod, and R & B (25). The visual style was one of eclecticism and shocking juxtaposition of previous sub-cultures, all held together by a safety pin (Hebdige 26). They were apocalyptic, angry and alienated, arty yet proletarian, hedonistically indulgent, and sexually perverse. This stylistic pastiche can be considered postmodern, as is their desecration of the borders between high and low culture. Perhaps their most subversive (and problematic) stylistic gesture was their donning of bondage gear to dramatize the subjugation of their generation, class, and attitudes. Jarman’s interest in punk in Jubilee mimics this formally, for the story is explicitly nihilistic in design: It does not go anywhere new, it can only go in mad circles, “punk might seem to ‘open all the doors’ but these doors ‘gave onto a circular corridor’” (Hebdige 65). The structure is also fragmented and episodic, as if mismatched and loosely patched together with a safety pin itself. The most important aspect of punk for Jarman is their post-modernity, the fact that their self-images, perhaps more than any other generations before them, had been manufactured for them by the media, which makes their donning of radical styles all the more a complex negociation. “Subcultures are representations of these representations” (Hebdige 86). They dramatized the concept of the decline of Britain that was circulating so much in discourse (Hebdige 87), a spectacle like that of Jubilee which Ariel projects for Elizabeth. Another example of punk as postmodern: “They are obviously fabricated…[and] [t]hey display their own codes” (Hebdige 101). They bring attention to their artificiality and the construction of their personae. The non-programmatic, unfocused, chaotic energy of the punk movement is virtually antithetical to Jarman’s political artistic practice. Hebdige concludes: “I have interpreted subculture as a form of resistance in which experienced contradictions and objections to th[e] ruling ideology are obliquely represented in style. Specifically I have used the term ‘noise’ to describe the challenge to symbolic order that such styles are seen to constitute” (133). The choice of one kind of consumer item over another is a fundamental of style, and this indivisibility of punk and other subcultures from the ethos of consumer culture is what bothers Jarman so much. He cannot see their obsession with superficial style as being anything other than a new kind of fascistic consumer capitalism – in Jubilee controlled by a single dictatorial figure – who ends up owning the punks in the end. Jarman is obviously intrigued by it, but does not believe it can be capable of real cultural subversion, it is more a passive effect of Western hegemonic culture than an affront to it. As Hebdige states: “The challenge to hegemony which subcultures represent…is expressed obliquely, in style” (17). Jarman does not put their nihilistic dandyism into the same category as political activism or even revolutionary art, regardless of how problematized that is. Jarman saw in late 1970’s British punk the mode of protestation which would become most dominant in the increasingly inescapable consumer culture of our era. “[The spectacular] subculture is concerned first and foremost with consumption. It operates exclusively in the leisure sphere” (Hebdige 95). There is no better description of the prevailing method of popular resistance in our age, for better or for worse, than a performative, individualized challenge to a supposedly universal – and thus normalizing – social consensus. There is no question that this resistance is entirely focused on style, but in the age of the simulacrum, “a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real…A hyperreal henceforth sheltered from the imaginary, and from any distinction between the real and the imaginary, leaving room only for the orbital recurrence of models…” (2-3) style is the central channel for manifesting both personal and institutional identity. Sadly, many people believed (and believe now) that a revolution in style was the only available option, and that the more profound demonstrations of revolutionary desire would have to follow, after the war on the terrain of lifestyle had been won. In the end, the artifice, the appropriations and reclamations, and the language games of the punks in Jubilee can be seen as threatening to the status quo, even if limited in their scope. The value of his characters’ complex aesthetic re-negociations of dominant culture and history, performed through style, is perhaps greater than Jarman realized. Theoretical developments in the twenty-five years since the film’s production have contributed greatly to our better understanding of the subversive aspects of style and surface, a phenomenon whose merit is still fiercely debated, as the need for revolutionary action has become even more urgent.
WORKS CITED Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Glaser, Sheila F. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994. Driscoll, Lawrence. “’The Rose Revived’: Derek Jarman and the British Tradition.” By Angels Driven: The Films of Derek Jarman. Ed. Lippard, Chris. Westport CT: Praeger, 1996. 65-83. Haigh, Christopher. Elizabeth I. London: Longman, 1988. Hawkes, David. “’The Shadow of This Time’: The Renaissance Cinema of Derek Jarman.” By Angels Driven: The Films of Derek Jarman. Ed. Lippard, Chris. Westport CT: Praeger, 1996. 103-116. Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London: Routledge, 1991. Jarman, Derek. “Chelsea on Ice.” Dancing Ledge. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1984. 168-80. ——————–. “Jubilee.” Up in the Air: Collected Film Scripts. London: Vintage, 1996. 41-77. Lewis, James R. Angels A to Z. New York: Gale Research, 1996. Marwick, Arthur. A History of the Modern British Isles: 1914-1999. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000. Quinn-Meyler, Martin. “Opposing ‘Heterosoc’: Jarman’s Counter-Hegemonic Activism.” By Angels Driven: The Films of Derek Jarman. Ed. Lippard, Chris. Westport CT: Praeger, 1996. 135-160. Royle, Edward. Modern Britain: A Social History 1750-1997 (2nd Edition). London: Arnold, 1997. Wooley, Benjamin. The Queen’s Conjurer: The Science and Magic of Dr. John Dee, Adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2001. Yates, Frances. The Art of Memory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966. The Art of Memory: http://www.silcom.com/~dlp/mnem3.html