Jubilee (1979)

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To view Jubilee click here.

Jubilee (1979) by Derek Jarman, the experimental filmmaker and activist who also made music videos for bands such as The Sex Pistols, Throbbing Gristle, The Smiths, Bob Geldof, Pet Shop Boys and Patti Smith, is a punk, dystopian film that transports Queen Elizabeth I forward in time to the Britain of the 1970s where violence and decay are the coin of the realm. The film does carry with it some creature comforts (music by Brian Eno, a young Adam Ant), and plenty of purposeful discomforts (at this point, all I can say is: take your pick).

Jubilee evokes elements of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Little Stabs at Happiness (1961) while all the while being completely unique in it’s own right. It’s a colorful spitball of found elements and random street debris that have been duct taped and glued together and then hurled at its audience with nihilistic abandon and a scream of “no future!”

Fans of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) will notice army jackets festooned on their backs with the Sharpie scribblings of Norman Bate’s last words that end with “I wouldn’t hurt a fly.” It’s that kind of anarchistic project. Shot entirely on location, in areas of London that had not yet been cleaned up since WWII bombings, it has plenty of grit and do-it-yourself moxie. Even though it was shot almost 40 years ago, it’s still not something you’d rather watch with mum and dad if it can helped. It still feels forbidden.

Derek Jarman started out making private Super 8 films, got a leg up as a painter, and also worked on set designs, first for ballet, then opera, before moving on to films. These included work on Ken Russell’s Devils (1971) before he came into his own as a feature filmmaker. When the British Film Institute listed “A handful of the very best films by legendary British artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman” (“Derek Jarman: five essential films”), it lists Jubilee at the top and then goes chronologically from there followed by Caravaggio (1986), The Last of England (1987), Edward II (1991), and Blue (1993).

He died of AIDS on Feb. 19, 1994, in St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in central London at the age of 52. He was not shy about his sexuality, telling The Sunday Telegraph in 1991 “I am simply trying to demystify areas of life which are very ordinary, such as H.I.V., infection or my sexuality.”

With the above in mind, it’s interesting to note that his New York Time’s obituary stated that Jarman “was no less renowned for his outspokenness, arguing at one point that Sir Ian McKellen — an actor and gay-rights advocate — had compromised himself by accepting a knighthood from a Conservative Government responsible for anti-gay legislation.” This is only interesting because when thinking of Jubilee which is, yes, a uniquely British and punk film that seems to attack the monarchy on the surface of things (the title refers to the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II in 1977, marking her 25th anniversary and which was to be met with a succession of parties and parades), yet the film is also rather Tory and conservative in its romantic framework of presenting us with an angelic Queen Elizabeth I who is being accompanied by two time-traveling fabulist sidekicks in the form of an occultist and ethereal spirit guide who then bear witness to the results of abandoned factories, disrepair, decay, carnage and rising crime.

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In a (God-forbid) remake these three might as well red wear caps made in China and beseech everyone to Make Britain Great Again. In Jarman’s Jubilee, however, the director was clearly too much of a true nihilist to think anything would ever get better.

Jarman was able to enlist some true thespians who wanted to let their punk flag fly, as well as an amalgam of no wave, glam and punk musicians who wanted to flex their thespian muscles. At one point you can even see Adam Ant (born Stuart Leslie Goddard) flexing his tongue muscle as he licks the TV screen. Fun Wiki fact: “His parents divorced when Goddard was seven years old and his mother supported him by working as a domestic cleaner, briefly working for Paul McCartney.” (Paul McCartney’s working title for his 1968 song “Junk”? “Jubilee”!) Small world. And while I’m name dropping I should mention the cast for Jubilee includes Malcolm McLaren protégé Jordan, and such punk icons as Toyah Wilcox, Nell Campbell, Hermine Demoriane and Wayne County, with cameo’s by The Slits and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

You can see them all strut their stuff off in Jubilee, which does double-duty as part of both FilmStruck’s “How the Future Looked from the ’70s” and “Punk Rules” themes.

Pablo Kjolseth

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2 Responses Jubilee (1979)
Posted By swac44 : September 21, 2017 9:12 am

I was trying to figure out who Neil Campbell was, until I realized it was Nell Campbell, a.k.a. “Little Nell” of Rocky Horror Picture Show and TV blooper fame (Google her version of “The Swim”). Rocky Horror’s Richard “Riff Raff” O’Brien also puts in an appearance, so it would seem Jarman was quite the fan of the midnight movie classic.

Posted By Pablo Kjolseth : September 21, 2017 4:15 pm

Thanks for bringing that typo to my attention – now fixed! Funny how even Little Nell’s family chimes in on the comments section to THE SWIM. It’s a small world.

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