Derek Jarman

Blue

1993

On display at Tate Britain

Artist
Derek Jarman 1942–1994
Medium
35mm film shown as video, high definition, colour and sound
Dimensions
Duration: 79min
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Tate Patrons 2014
Reference
T14555

Summary

Blue 1993 is a film by the British artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman which features a single static shot of the colour blue with a voiceover and musical soundtrack. The voiceover, written by Jarman, consists of a diaristic and poetic text documenting his AIDS-related illness and impending death at a time that he had become partially blind, his vision often interrupted by blue light. The film is Jarman’s last feature and was completed only a few months before he died. Consequently, Blue forms a direct counterpart to the late painting Ataxia - Aids is Fun 1993 (Tate T06768) in its evocation of Jarman’s final illness, albeit from a very different standpoint.

The visual language of Blue – an unchanging blue screen – directly references Yves Klein’s (1928–1962) evocation of the void and zones of immateriality through his use of the colour ‘International Klein Blue’ (see, for instance, Klein’s IKB 79 1959, Tate T01513). The film’s voiceover is spoken by Jarman alongside long-term collaborators Tilda Swinton, Nigel Terry and John Quentin. The text – often spoken as a form of verse – is augmented by music and sound by Jarman’s regular composer Simon Fisher-Turner, as well as Coil, Momus, Karol Szymanowski and Eric Satie.

The genesis of Blue dates back to 1987 when Jarman conceived of a film – initially tentatively titled International Blue (alternative early titles include Blue is Poison and My Blue Heaven) – that directly engaged with Klein’s painting and underlying philosophy. Jarman’s initial proposal was for a film that might explore: ‘the juxtaposition of sound and image that exists in The Last of England [a feature film made by Jarman in 1987], but unlike this film to produce an atmosphere of calm and joy. A world to which refugees from that dark space may journey.’ (Derek Jarman, ‘proposal for Blue’, August 1987, quoted in Peake 1999, p.398.) The film, even at this very early stage of development, was always conceived to be an imageless projected screen of International Klein Blue complemented by a soundtrack that would tell the story of Klein ‘in sound and jazzy be-bop’ (Jarman 1987, quoted in Peake 1999, p.398). However, because such an approach would have inevitably rendered the film virtually impossible to fund, he then planned for the film to be a masque set in a blue room.

As Jarman developed his ideas for the film over ensuing years, texts by Klein were augmented by related texts by other artists and writers and then finally by Jarman himself. As his illness took greater hold, and Channel 4 agreed to fund the development of the script, the film’s subject moved from a concentration on Klein to one that conveyed a wider myth about a journey through London (this version was titled Blueprint for Bliss or Bliss). The film became less about Klein and both more social and personal before it then evolved, as Pansy, into ‘a musical film covering anti-queer legislation from the 60s to the 80s’ – a script that was rejected by Channel 4 (Derek Jarman and Malcolm Sutherland quoted in Peake 1999, p.477).

By the end of 1992 Jarman returned once again to Blue as he had originally conceived it, with a blue screen devoid of imagery so that nothing would detract from ‘the admirable austerity of the void’ (Jarman and Sutherland quoted in Peake 1999, p.477). The film became a meditation on colour, the void and his disease. Jarman felt that he had previously failed to address AIDS through film in the way he had done through his late paintings. By accompanying a field of blue with a richly layered soundtrack, he finally succeeded in addressing this subject with film by creating an elegiac journey towards a zone of immateriality. Jarman explained in a late proposal for the film: ‘The monochrome is an alchemy, effective liberation from personality. It articulates silence. It is a fragment of an immense work without limit. The blue of the landscape of liberty.’ (Jarman 1987, quoted in Peake 1999, p.515.)

Further reading
Blue: Text of a Film by Derek Jarman, London 1993.
Derek Jarman, Chroma: A Book of Colour June ’93, London 1994.
Tony Peake, Derek Jarman, London 1999.

Andrew Wilson
November 2013

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