Pete’s Peek | Derek: a film by Isaac Julien


Fans of avant-garde art, queer cinema and gay politics know the name Derek Jarman – one of the UK’s most original artists who left a legacy of paintings, poetry, film work and one of Britain’s best garden’s when he died from AIDS in 1994. An inspiration for a generation of emerging artists in the 1980s and 1990s, he touched the lives of many and it is, as such, that he deserves a tribute as lovingly crafted as the one director Isaac Julien has achieved here.

Talking a leaf out of the iconic artist’s own film-as-art oeuvre, Julien’s documentary traces Jarman’s life and experiences through a moving collage of super-8 home movies, classic film clips and interviews, all interwoven with a cinematic poem by Jarman’s muse, Tilda Swinton. But this more than just an artist’s life presented here, it’s a powerful document about Britain through the eyes of an artist and an outsider – from the carefree days of Gay Liberation and the explosive nihilism of the punk era in the 1970s to the years of sorrow living under the menace of AIDS and Thatcher.

The winner of a number of international awards and the centrepiece of an installation at London’s Serpentine Gallery in 2008, Julien’s documentary is now available in a two-disc BFI DVD, with 170min of features that are to die for. These include a 70min interview with Jarman from 1991; three rare super-8 films (Pirate Tape, Throbbing Gristle: Psychic Rally in Heaven and Sloane Square: A Room of One’s Own); a gallery featuring Jarman’s paintings; and an illustrated booklet packed with essays, film notes and biographies. Plus, there’s a chance to catch Julien’s 1993 short, The Attendant.

This is a must-have for all Jarman aficionados.

Released 30 March 2009

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