The Lightbox series is dedicated to showing artists’ film and video. Derek Jarman’s rarely seen experimental short film, Imagining October, is a dreamlike meditation on art and politics in the final years of the Cold War. It was produced for the London Film Festival in 1984, the same year that Jarman was invited with a group of British filmmakers to visit Moscow, where he presented his film, The Tempest. Throughout the trip Jarman furtively wandered off into the streets of Moscow to shoot footage of the city with his Super-8 camera. His gritty, haunting images document fleeting moments of pre-Perestroika Russia very seldom recorded by Western filmmakers at the time.
Jarman’s experience of Moscow prompted him to reflect on the politics of both the Soviet state and Thatcherite Britain. Consequently he combined his Super-8 footage with a series of charged slogans that anticipate the political engagement of his subsequent work. Set against a score of music by Benjamin Britten and a commissioned soundtrack for the film by Genesis P-Orridge and David Ball, the film also includes staged scenes of Russian soldiers played by actors, including the painter Peter Doig.
Derek Jarman (1942–1994) is best known as an iconoclastic filmmaker and polemical gay activist who channeled unparalleled energy into painting, writing, gardening and all manner of cultural activity. He was one of the primary catalysts for a generation of artists and filmmakers whose work is only now being fully recognized for its dark, subversive imagination and fluidity across media. Jarman mused that film was ‘the wedding of light and matter – an alchemical conjunction,’ and it was through his prolific early Super 8 filmmaking that he most energetically explored this formula. Amongst his films, Jarman is particularly recognised for Jubilee (1977), arguably the first punk movie, Caravaggio (1986), and Blue (1993), a moving memoir about his degeneration from AIDS.
Derek Jarman, Imagining October, 1984, 27 minutes
Coinciding with Derek Jarman Curated by Isaac Julien at the Serpentine Gallery (23 February – 13 April).
Film courtesy James Mackay.