Derek Jarman’s ‘Jubilee’ – punk film reappraised
DEREK JARMAN’S ‘JUBILEE ‘- PRETENIOUS ART-HOUSE OR PORTENTOUS KITCHEN-SINK?2012 sees Great Britain celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee – sixty years since her ascension to the throne and as the ruler of our fair and sceptred isle. Thirty-five years ago, a young film director Derek Jarman, was putting pen to paper and writing the script for an inspired piece of cinematic and cultural punk history – ‘Jubilee’. The film was to represent a dark and nostalgically contemporary document of, at the time, a near future in the hands of anarcho-punks on the street and corporate giants holed up in their mansions. In 1977 – the year punk broke and the year Her Majesty’s Silver Jubilee was in full swing – Jarman, having been influenced and inspired by the sight of Jordan (the SEX shop assistant) cast her and a number of up and coming punk wannabes – Adam Ant, Toyah Wilcox, Gene October – along with a few bands supplying a soundtrack, as characters and cameo roles in this new film.
The plot begins with Queen Elizabeth I requesting to see the future as the court alchemist John Dee summons up a spirit guide. The Angel Ariel transports them through time, from the 16th Century to a bleak and broken London of the late ’70s. As she walks through the social and physical decay of the city, she discovers the current monarch (Queen Elizabeth II) has been killed and observes the activities of a gang of nihilist young women – Bod, Amyl Nitrate, Chaos, Crabs and Mad. This group of misfits undertake a variety of anti-social (mis)adventures – suffocating a post-coital lad with a polythene sheet (later throwing his body into the muddy banks of a low tide Thames), attacking a waitress in a cafe (covering her in tomato sauce), often walking around their squat naked or semi-nude (cutting and scarring themselves with a knife whilst sealing these wounds with salt). They appear unapologetic and carefree in their behaviour – part of an amoral underclass. This is a state where anarchy and violence rules the street, burning vehicles and dead bodies are looted, whilst Buckingham Palace (now under the control of meglomaniacal Borgia Ginz) serves as a recording studio, with Westminster Abbey converted into a discotheque. “As long as the music is loud enough, we won’t hear the world falling apart”.
Ginz controls the world stock markets by the success with his roster of artistes – Lounge Lizard being Number One in Russia with the ‘Paranoia Paradise’ recording. The gang of miscreants, lead by Bod, decide to “remove his chromosomes from the world” and murder ‘the Lizard’ in his hotel suite. Ginz also auditions the undiscovered. raw talent of ‘The Kid’ and transforms Amyl Nitrate into Suzi Pinns to represent the country in the Eurovision Song Contest – singing a punk version of ‘Rule Britannia’ – “They all sign up in the end one way or another”.
Striking parallels with Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ in displaying a contemporary social anarchy – it demonstrates a tasteless and disturbing dynamism that was, at the time, genuinely shocking to society’s high-brow Victorian sensibilities. Except, where Alex’s band of male droogs used their violence as a form of self-gratifying entertainment, Bod’s band of dysfunctional young women used their violent actions as a means of extracting revenge on a society that has semingly betrayed them. It also portrays the decadance and dystopia of a world gone mad – symbolic scenes such as Jordan ballet dancing in front of a naked Greek-tragedy masked character beside a flaming pyre. Such pretentious art-house cinematography – along with the time-travelling Virgin Queen and the under-current of Nazi-isms – rendered the future predictions of such a society unbelieveable and far-fetched – viewed with equal distaste and cynicism.
However, the vision has since turned prophetic. Dr John Dee’s vision proving to be a clairvoyant message as only a few years later the streets of Brixton and Toxteth burned bright with the fires of riotous anarchy, Adam Ant and Toyah Wilcox were signing away their souls to be ‘Top Of The Pops’ in the corporate music industry and, as a near caricature of Jordan – dressed in pearls and twin-set, a real megalomaniac took the reins of the country – Mrs T.
Later on, further predictions once deemed implausible came to pass. As the Golden Jubilee arrived – we witnessed the mindless violence of the Soham and Bulger Murders, the collapse of Communist beliefs with the break up of the Soviet Union, the stock market crash and the plunge of the dollar. We experienced the Limelight nightclub in London – once the former Welsh Presbyterian Church in Shaftesbury Avenue. And now ten years on, we have looting and robbing gangs on the street as the riots in Tottenham, Croydon – even further afield in Manchester, Birmingham, etc gripping the nation. We also have a power hungry media mogul in Rupert Murdoch with his News International empire in Buckingham Palace (albeit via a telephone hack, allegedly) and with the worldwide success and popularity of The X Factor/American Idol, we have a record producer in Simon Cowell rapidly becoming the most important man in the world.
As the common man is being gradually and systematically screwed, did Jarman produce a pretentious art-house filmscape or a potentous kitchen-sink drama? – “As long as the music is loud enough we won’t hear the world falling apart”.