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Underground exposed: Jarman performance was politically ignorant

Artist John Moletress performing at the JARMAN / John Moletress

MOSTLY maddening and hardly beautiful, the latest Derek Jarman celebration to be hosted by the College, JARMAN (all this maddening beauty), further confuses the increasingly public profile of this King’s alumnus.

Derek Jarman, the filmmaker and writer most famous for his anti-establishment work in the 1970s and 80s, has been the subject of a year-long celebration, part sponsored by the College, in commemoration of his death 20 years ago.

The one-man show, directed and performed by John Moletress of the theatre company force-collision, combines film, voice-over and live performance in a very reworked retrospective.

Although large amounts of Jarman’s work are shown, creating allusions and flashbacks, their quality is lost in this translation.

The show singles out “men and boys” as victims of HIV/AIDS, blatantly ignoring the fact that more than half the sufferers worldwide are women.

This emphasis is totally out of place in a post Dallas Buyers Club world.

However, worse than the deliberate political ignorance that is inherent in JARMAN, is the restriction and limitation that ultimately results in a misinterpretation of Jarman’s work.

Where the depictions of nudity in Sebastian deliberately allude to the work of Caravaggio while commenting on the taboos surrounding homosexuality, Moletress’s phallic display only serves to further desensitize his audience.

It brings to mind Vivienne Westwood’s review of Jubilee ‘Open T shirt to Derek Jarman’, in which she stated it the ‘most boring and therefore disgusting film I had ever seen’.

Although controversial, Jarman’s 1978 film Jubilee depicts the alienation and disorder of punk, through placing Queen Elizabeth I on the streets of a modern, dystopian London.

What Jarman achieves by contrasting an idealised punk city with the archetypical British royal is not matched by Moletress strutting about the stage of Tutu’s in a ruff and Y-fronts.

A depiction of the repression of homosexuality within the arts is lost in a celebration of an iconic filmmaker, in a venue at the top of a leading university with a view of the National Theatre.

Jarman was subversive in his time, but this retrospective is forced to hark back to remain relevant to the overarching theme of the festival: underground.

Even though there is a way to go, England, a subject dear to Jarman, is no longer a place ‘where freedom is forced to hide’, one definition of ‘underground’ from the Festival’s website.



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