Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 11 July 2004
Source The Criterion Collection DVD
It is Derek Jarman’s vision of the post apocalypse: a ballerina dances gracefully around an alley bonfire. She has a meager audience, its members naked or anonymous behind an elaborate mask. It is an episode of anarchy, in which loss is a cause of celebration.
The coincidence of Jubilee’s release has lent the film concrete and perhaps unavoidable interpretations. The film is decidedly anarchic, in keeping with late-70s British punk, and depicts a scenario of societal rot, in which the guiding throne is uninvolved. Jubilee precedes the Margaret Thatcher renaissance, and functions as a call-to-question, a statement of disinterest in the threatening use of violence.
The central characters are patently different: Bod is the interpreted leader, Mad the violent pyromaniac, Crabs the nymphomaniac, and others collaboratively essential as pieces to a puzzle that yields a singular view of punk anarchy. The team’s routine consists of erratic and well-enunciated political claims and murders. The latter practice is a source of Jarman’s strength in aesthetic abstraction. One involves a diner waitress, and ketchup is applied liberally over her screaming face. It is both humorous and rightfully horrific; a woman is being assaulted/murdered, and the color red is abundantly present. Other jobs involve asphyxiation with red cellophane, and the red lighting that accompanies the murder of a pop singer. With notable exceptions (two murders late in the film are realistically done), most of the violence in Jubillee occurs in this noticeably abstracted manner, yet the result is unexpectedly affronting.
Jubilee is divided by scenes of Queen Elizabeth I (the film opens in 1578) in her visit to a contemporary England. The obvious commentary is that her kingdom is ruined, that the ethics she strives to collectively (and, perhaps, timelessly) instill do not prosper. Jubilee was released in the prime of punk, and has been assessed as a commentary of England’s disintegrating political state in the late 70s. Thatcher’s reign can be seen, in this limited interpretation, as the strengthening of ancient aristocracy; a renaissance. Jubilee, in this light, represents a brief celebration of loss before the Queen reclaims her throne. The film stands as an exemplar of its origin era, both undeniably bold and alienating.
The Criterion DVD includes a slideshow of Jarman’s production notebook. Ostensibly a screenplay, it is a collection of penned dialogue, song lyrics, production and press photographs. The overall whole is a fractured yet cohesive collection of relevant ephemera that relays the spirit of the film; it is complete within its intended disarray. And it is a tremendously useful feature in assessing Jarman’s film.