A nearly wordless visual narrative intercuts two main stories and a couple of minor ones. A woman, perhaps the Madonna, brings forth her baby to a crowd of intrusive paparazzi; she tries to flee them. Two men who are lovers marry and are arrested by the powers that be. The men are mocked and pilloried, tarred, feathered, and beaten. Loose in this contemporary world of electrical-power transmission lines is also Jesus. The elements, particularly fire and water, content with political power, which is intolerant and murderous.
“Half waking dream and half fiery polemic, The Garden was born of director Jarman’s rage over continued anti-gay discrimination and the sluggardly response to the AIDS crisis—he had been diagnosed HIV positive in 1988. Starring Tilda Swinton, this uniquely kaleidoscopic film shows the filmmaker’s genius at its most coruscating, making space in its breadth of vision for an over-the-top Hollywood-style musical number, nightmare images of tar-and-feather queer persecution, and footage of the particularly menacing-looking nuclear power plant that overlooks Jarman’s own garden, the point from which his film begins, and a cherished spot which he must keep to tending even as his body begins to betray him. Writhing with sorrow and anger, and yet so vividly alive to the loveliness of being, The Garden is a baleful and beautiful epistle from the brink of the beyond.”
“Watching The Garden, for example, is not an easy experience. For one thing, the film does not offer a narrative, which often serves to comfortably anchor the viewing experience. As with every film, the audience is at the film’s mercy for the allotted time span: we do not control the time of the film or the pace of the experience. We are more aware of this subjection with The Garden for a number of reasons: the film thematizes different experiences of time, it plays with the literal speed of the images, and at points the film’s direct address to the audience returns us to the space of the cinema, and hence to our own time. At other points we give in to its dreamy progress and simply drift with the images. The lack of a narrative means that we are left without a story’s recognizable temporal markers, which frequently alert us to how far along in a film we are.”
“The gardener digs in another time, without past or future, beginning or end. A time that does not cleave the day with rush hours, lunch breaks, the last bus home. As you walk in the garden you pass into this time—the moment of entering can never be remembered. Around you the landscape lies transfigured. Here is the Amen beyond the prayer.”
“I suppose ostrich-like filmmakers often ignore their own lives, but I was brought up with a different set of aesthetics to filmmaking, those of the painter. Presumably, the painter would paint his immediate surroundings and if he was going to paint a vase of flowers, it would be one at home. For a painter to concentrate on his own life or any other form of art is actually considered to be a raison d’être. If a painter started to operate in the way a film director did, everyone would say the paintings were valueless. Witness the astronomical sums of money that are paid for van Gogh at the moment where someone is painting their own life. It seems very strange that in cinema this doesn’t really happen.”
My friend Howard Brookner dies in New York.
A letter falls through the door.
Words forget their sweet meaning,
drowned by time,
no one remembers the old story.
How can anything endure
the terrible rising of the sun,
the death of a thousand summers?
- 1Jim Ellis, Derek Jarman’s Angelic Conversations, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009).
- 2Derek Jarman, Modern Nature (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009).
- 3“Gardener's Question Time: Derek Jarman,” Metrograph, 1990.
- 4Derek Jarman and Howard Sooley, “Derek Jarman’s Garden by Howard Sooley & Derek Jarman,” Bomb Magazine, 1 January 1996.