Cultural Bulletin
Exploring Film, Music, Design, Art and the Wider Cultural Themes that Surround Them

WATCH: Blue - Derek Jarman

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Blue protects white from innocence
Blue drags black with it
Blue is darkness made visible
Blue protects white from innocence
Blue drags black with it
Blue is darkness made visible

Blue (1993) is a film by the British artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman which features a single static shot of the colour blue with a voiceover and musical soundtrack by Simon Fisher Turnerand and Brian Eno. Andrew Wilson, who is senior curator, modern and contemporary British art and archives at Tate Britain, eloquently wrote the following summary of Blue in 2013. Find the original source of the text here.

SUMMARY

The voiceover, written by Jarman, consists of a diaristic and poetic text documenting his AIDS-related illness and impending death at a time that he had become partially blind, his vision often interrupted by blue light. The film is Jarman’s last feature and was completed only a few months before he died.

The visual language of Blue – an unchanging blue screen – directly references Yves Klein’s (1928–1962) evocation of the void and zones of immateriality through his use of the colour ‘International Klein Blue’. The film’s voiceover is spoken by Jarman alongside long-term collaborators Tilda Swinton, Nigel Terry and John Quentin. The text – often spoken as a form of verse – is augmented by music and sound by Jarman’s regular composer Simon Fisher-Turner, as well as Coil, Momus, Karol Szymanowski and Eric Satie.

The genesis of Blue dates back to 1987 when Jarman conceived of a film – initially tentatively titled International Blue (alternative early titles include Blue is Poison and My Blue Heaven) – that directly engaged with Klein’s painting and underlying philosophy. Jarman’s initial proposal was for a film that might explore: ‘the juxtaposition of sound and image that exists in The Last of England [a feature film made by Jarman in 1987], but unlike this film to produce an atmosphere of calm and joy. A world to which refugees from that dark space may journey.’ (Derek Jarman, ‘proposal for Blue’, August 1987)

The film, even at this very early stage of development, was always conceived to be an imageless projected screen of International Klein Blue complemented by a soundtrack that would tell the story of Klein ‘in sound and jazzy be-bop’ (Jarman 1987). However, because such an approach would have inevitably rendered the film virtually impossible to fund, he then planned for the film to be a masque set in a blue room.

By the end of 1992 Jarman returned once again to Blue as he had originally conceived it, with a blue screen devoid of imagery so that nothing would detract from ‘the admirable austerity of the void’. The film became a meditation on colour, the void and his disease. Jarman felt that he had previously failed to address AIDS through film in the way he had done through his late paintings. By accompanying a field of blue with a richly layered soundtrack, he finally succeeded in addressing this subject with film by creating an elegiac journey towards a zone of immateriality. Jarman explained in a late proposal for the film: ‘The monochrome is an alchemy, effective liberation from personality. It articulates silence. It is a fragment of an immense work without limit. The blue of the landscape of liberty.’

Andrew Wilson, 2013

You can find a full transcript of Blue here.