Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • 15
  • Drama
  • 1993
  • 75 mins

Blue

Blue

Synopsis

Derek Jarman's filmic essay on his own blindness and impending death is a monochromatic elegy to a director's loss of vision

About

In 1993, there must have been something in the water. The same year that saw the release of Derek Jarman's monochromatic swansong Blue was also to usher in the similarly-hued opener to the Three Colours trilogy. Yet where Krzysztof Kieslowski's Blue was a visually baroque evocation of a colour in its many moods, Jarman opted for a decidedly more minimalist approach. Even the image featured on the cover of Artificial Eye's DVD release - Jarman's profile silhouetted against a blue background - offers more stimulus for the eye than anything seen in the film itself.

Apart from the opening and closing credits which are a bruised blue and black, in Jarman's Blue, blue is all you see. And not even 40 shades of blue, but a single, unchanging tone, whose only variation is the odd accidental scratch or flaw that has marred the film's reel. So static is the film's ocular impact that instead of a more conventional cinematographer, Blue merely credits a 'still' (note the singular) photographer, Liam Daniel.

Made a year before Jarman's death from Aids, as complications of the illness were causing the director to lose his eyesight, Blue presents viewers with the colour that Jarman claimed would overwhelm his field of vision during the treatments that he received for his detached retinas. More metaphorically, it is the colour associated with the deep funk of loss, with the musical rhythms of complaint, and with the infinity, not to mention serenity, of sky and sea - all associations which the film exploits with abandon.

The blue screen is also, of course, cinema's equivalent of a blank page - a neutral background onto which special effects and digital imagery can subsequently be superimposed - and Jarman helps us fill this visual void with the aid of a densely overlaid soundscape of noises, music and words that combine to evoke their own drama in the mind's eye.

The spoken text is an episodic assemblage of childhood memories, diary entries, eulogies for friends lost, social commentary, poetic musings, discourses on sexual politics, reports on the advance of illness, aesthetic digressions and exotic escapist fantasies, all narrated by Jarman regulars John Quentin, Nigel Terry and Tilda Swinton, as well as by Jarman himself, to the accompaniment of invocatory chimes, sound effects, sung choruses, and an ambient score (by Jarman regular Simon Fisher-Turner and various other artists). Jarman's themes are sex, death (his own, his friends', the world's, cinema's), and naturally the colour blue itself, recurring in the script almost as insistently as on screen.

It is difficult not to be moved by so naked an account of personal disintegration, and Jarman's witty, sardonic voice is always well worth hearing - but unfortunately all this wins only half-marks for Blue which, for all the audacious simplicity of its visual conceit, might still have worked better as an experimental radio play.

Faced with this film's unforgiving, monotonous blue, most viewers will prefer to close their eyes, letting the soundtrack - and their own imagination - take over. No doubt Blue is a bold and individual final statement from one of England's most iconoclastic artists of the twentieth century, but it is a pity that the film is such a half-cocked effort within its own medium - all sound and no fireworks - so that when Jarman is heard asking, "If I lose half my sight, will my vision be halved?", the answer would appear, tragically, to be yes.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Derek Jarman, John Quentin, Tilda Swinton, Nigel Terry
  • Director: Derek Jarman
  • Writer: Derek Jarman
  • Producer: James Mackay, Takashi Asai
  • Composer: Momus, Simon Fisher-Turner

In a nutshell

Blue is an ironic, acerbic and poignant swansong for Jarman - but it forgets, however necessarily, to be cinema for anyone but the blind.

by Anton Bitel

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4 Youth

    Youth

    Fred and Mick, two old friends now approaching 80, are on vacation together in an elegant hotel at the foot of the Alps. The two friends know that their time is quickly running out, and they decide to face their future together.

  • Film4 The Stranger Wore a Gun

    The Stranger Wore a Gun

    Randolph Scott stars in a Western about a former spy who relocates to Ariozna to join a gold robbbery, but quickly reassesses his decision

    On Film4: 21 Apr 1:05PM

  • Film4 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

    Crime and Mystery Season on Film4

    Illegality and intrigue are the order of the day in Film4's Crime and Mystery Season.

  • Film4 The Raven

    The Raven on Film4

    John Cusack stars as Edgar Allen Poe in this crime thriller about a murderer whose methods are inspired by Poe's stories, part of Crime & Mystery Season on Film4

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Four Film4-backed films selected In Competition at Cannes 2015

    Four Film4-backed films ¿ Todd Haynes¿ Carol, Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster, Paolo Sorrentino¿s Youth and Justin Kurzel¿s Macbeth ¿ have been invited into official selection at this year¿s Cannes film

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Release date announced for Suffragette

    Film4-backed historical drama Suffragette will open in UK cinemas on 30th October 2015. Suffragette is the first feature film to tell the story of the ordinary British women at the turn of the last

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register

Share