Derek Jarman’s Jubilee: “It’s the Best Film about Punk” (1978)

Derek Jar­man was too old and too accom­plished to be a punk. By 1977, the open­ly gay film­mak­er and artist was already 36 and had an impres­sive CV that includ­ed doing set design for Ken Russell’s The Dev­ils and direct­ing Sebas­tiane, a land­mark in gay cin­e­ma, notable for not only its frank depic­tion of the male body but also for its dia­logue which was entire­ly in Latin. Nonethe­less, Jar­man gath­ered togeth­er nota­bles from London’s bur­geon­ing punk scene, includ­ing a young, lithe Adam Ant, to cre­ate Jubilee –the first and, arguably best, punk movie ever.

The plot, as such, cen­ters on Queen Eliz­a­beth I who, with the help of court occultist John Dee (played by Rocky Hor­ror Pic­ture Show’s Richard O’Brien), sees her land 400 years into the future. It’s a Britain filled with garbage and plagued with crime. Queen Eliz­a­beth II, for instance, was killed in a mug­ging. As Queen Eliz­a­beth I wan­ders around the wreck­age of the British Empire, she encoun­ters a bunch of leather-clad toughs includ­ing Amyl Nitrite (played by Mal­colm McLaren pro­tégé Jor­dan), Crabs (Lit­tle Nell, also from Rocky Hor­ror) and Mad (Toy­ah Will­cox, who would lat­er go on to delight a gen­er­a­tion of tod­dlers by voic­ing The Tele­tub­bies). The high­point of the movie is, with­out a doubt, is when Jor­dan per­forms a risqué dance to a glammed up ver­sion of Rule Bri­tan­nia.

Jar­man tapped into the same feel­ings of anger, dis­il­lu­sion­ment, and nihilism that the Sex Pis­tols artic­u­lat­ed. As Jar­man told The Guardian in 1978, “We have now seen all estab­lished author­i­ty, all polit­i­cal sys­tems, fail to pro­vide any solu­tion — they no longer ring true.” Jubilee feels like a John Waters movie with­out the gross-out gags. A Paul Mor­ris­sey movie but with a clear sense of polit­i­cal pur­pose. It’s gid­dy, unin­hib­it­ed, vio­lent and occa­sion­al­ly quite dis­turb­ing.

Reac­tions to the movie were, not sur­pris­ing­ly, mixed. Yet the peo­ple who real­ly despised the flick weren’t cul­tur­al con­ser­v­a­tives as you might expect. They would fret over the film when it final­ly aired on late night TV in 1986. But in 1978, when the film came out, the very peo­ple the film was about hat­ed it. Souxsie Sioux, of Souxsie and the Ban­shees fame, had a bit part in the film but nonethe­less thought that it was “hip­py trash.” Punk fash­ion­ista Vivi­enne West­wood hat­ed the movie so much she made an insult­ing T‑shirt about it. And Adam Ant, who went to the pre­miere with his moth­er, ini­tial­ly thought the film was ter­ri­ble. Jar­man didn’t give a toss. “I don’t par­tic­u­lar­ly want peo­ple to like the film or what it depicts,” he once told a reporter. “I sim­ply hope that it makes them feel that some­thing is going on.”

Yet over the years, the film’s rep­u­ta­tion has steadi­ly improved. Ant, for instance, has changed his opin­ion of Jubilee. “Today I think it’s an amaz­ing achieve­ment and tes­ta­ment to Derek Jar­man’s per­sis­tence and inge­nu­ity.” And his­to­ri­an Jon Sav­age, who lit­er­al­ly wrote the book on punk, declared that “it’s the best film about punk, for all its fail­ings.” British crit­ic Julian Upton went one step fur­ther:

Jubilee is the most impor­tant British film of the late ’70s. Okay, it faced lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion at the time — just a weak trick­le of ill-con­ceived co-pro­duc­tions, third-rate soft­core, and the usu­al her­itage and nos­tal­gia. Next to those, Jubilee, then as now, stands out like a sore thumb.

via Net­work Awe­someThe Guardian

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Four Female Punk Bands That Changed Women’s Role in Rock

Wittgen­stein: Watch Derek Jarman’s Trib­ute to the Philoso­pher, Fea­tur­ing Til­da Swin­ton (1993)

Car­avag­gio, Derek Jarman’s Take on the Baroque Painter’s Life, Work & Roman­tic Com­pli­ca­tions (1986)

The Sex Pis­tols Do Dal­las: A Strange Con­cert from the Strangest Tour in His­to­ry (Jan­u­ary 10, 1978)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrowAnd check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing one new draw­ing of a vice pres­i­dent with an octo­pus on his head dai­ly. 

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.