Note: There are a few not-safe-for-work scenes in the film.
The world of music video was in its infancy in the late 1970s. MTV had yet to exist, and promotional films for singles were seen as useful for the times when a show couldn’t book a band to play live, or the band just didn’t play live any more. Into this world fell many a commercial director, used to the promotion side of the promo film business. But there were also directors like Derek Jarman, the punkest of UK directors at that time. This new format paid the bills in between features, and let him experiment.
Though he would go on to work with the Pet Shop Boys and The Smiths, Jarman’s first promo video is above, for three songs from Marianne Faithfull’s masterpiece of a new wave album, Broken English (1979).
Faithfull had been out of the public eye for years, having spent a lot of the ’70 trying to kick her drug habit. The anger and cynicism of this album, her cracked but commanding voice, and the electronic sounds were such that many forget she released two other “comeback albums” before this one. On Broken English she forcefully rewrites her own history as an artist, not content to be seen as a drug casualty or Mick Jagger’s ex-girlfriend.
Jarman was known at the time as the controversial filmmaker of both the homoerotic Sebastiane and the anti-Royal Jubilee, which more than any film at the time encapsulated the UK punk scene. It’s both brutal and romantic and charmingly D.I.Y.
The Broken English promo film features three songs, bracketed by black and white footage of Faithfull wandering around London and playing Space Invaders in a local arcade. The first, “Witch’s Song,” is the closest to Jarman’s short films during that period: languid, ambiguously gendered young people, apocalyptic dockside ruins, reflected mirrors, occultism and debauchery. The second, “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan,” features scenes of domesticity double exposed and/or projected over footage of Faithfull. The final one, for the title track, is a short collage of 20th century fascism and carnage, featuring Hitler, Mussolini, Oswald Mosley, British strikes, and self-immolated monks.
The two artists got along so well that she recorded the theme song for his film The Last of England, featuring a very young Tilda Swinton.
Both Jarman and Faithfull went on to successfully reinvent themselves, but for the 21st century viewer, they are also both worth rediscovering.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.