The Austin Chronicle

Slipped Discs

Reviewed by Spencer Parsons, December 5, 2008, Screens

The Derek Jarman Collection (Sebastiane/The Tempest/War Requiem/Derek)

Kino International, $79.95

If you haven't seen it before or if it's been awhile, Derek Jarman's debut feature, the Latin-language, Brian Eno-scored saint's legend Sebastiane, arrives almost like a box set on a single disk, a treasure trove of images and instincts lifted, stolen, and alluded to by other filmmakers. For instance, one finds among revelers at a bacchanal a courtesan sporting a look that would later turn up without embellishment on Daryl Hannah in Blade Runner. Of course Todd Haynes wears filmmaking debts on his sleeve, so superfans of Poison and Velvet Goldmine are likely already wise to the appropriated goodies here. On the other hand, Claire Denis fans may wonder what possessed her to credit the scenario for Beau Travail to Melville's Billy Budd when the plot, look, and location of her movie so scandalously resemble a contemporary Sebastiane, with beefier flesh and fewer exposed dicks. Plus, memo to Mel Gibson: Jarman got there first with the Latin and the lavishly sadomasochistic homoeroticism in a biblical pageant; dude, Sebastiane owns The Passion of the Christ.

If I get caught up in Jarman's influence, it's from genuine surprise that comes with reacquaintance through this box from Kino (which also includes The Tempest, War Requiem, and biographical doc Derek). I confess real familiarity only with Jarman's production design on Ken Russell's The Devils and late-career directorial efforts Edward II and Wittgenstein. Of this selection, I'd previously seen only The Tempest, so perhaps I'm most qualified to recommend this set as an excellent introduction. And I will, especially for its inclusion of Isaac Julien and Tilda Swinton's Derek, a bio that's no mere DVD extra but a real documentary, warm and passionate and beautifully edited. If I still find Jarman's films to work like hunks of spectacle plunked down next to each other, indifferent to pacing or accumulating narrative weight, I'm now left considerably more impressed by Jarman's powerful use of spectacle itself, so no wonder everybody steals from him. But would it kill Peter Jackson and Andy Serkis to mention Caliban from Jarman's The Tempest when they talk about Gollum? The CGI isn't hiding anything.

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