Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Derek Jarman's Edward II

Derek Jarman Film Series at the SF MOMA
Thu 4 Dec 7pm

This is supposedly Jarman's most accessible movie. However, I still went to this screening with a little trepidation, since I don't happen to like the Marlowe play on which it's based. I was also anticipating a gory movie, which it is (though no more so than its source).

The movie is similar to Caravaggio in style & structure. It all appears to be shot in a cavernous concrete soundstage. Many of the set-ups have an artificial, tableaux-like look. The play unfolds as a series of flashbacks framed by Edward sitting in a dungeon with Lightborn, his sexy executioner. Jarman mixes & matches lines of the original text & makes heavy use of post-modern anachronism.

Jarman does tell the basics of the story: Edward's infatuation with Gaveston to the neglect of all else, the aligning & re-aligning of allegiances, & the rapid plot reversals. The biggest change Jarman makes to the original is at the end. After we witness Edward's grisly death, we get another ending in which the executioner throws the offending hot poker into water & kisses Edward. Either version may be a dream. I think this is Jarman's way of suggesting an alternative to the universally nasty conduct of all the characters.

There's definitely an angry-gay-man feel to the movie. In the opening scene, Gaveston reads Edward's fateful letter while 2 naked men make out in his bed. In the big sentimental moment, Edward & Gaveston slow dance in their pajamas to Annie Lenox singing Cole Porter's Every Time We Say Goodbye. When Gaveston is banished, he walks a gauntlet of middle-aged men representing the establishment who contemptuously spit on him. The macho military man Mortimer also enjoys being humiliated by a dominatrix in drag. Edward's forced abdication sparks a gay rights protest.

However, the movie may not have aged well. The only thing that really grabbed my attention was Tilda Swinton's tightly contained performance as Queen Isabella. She looks & behaves like a creature from another planet.

The SF MOMA projected a very old print, which no doubt saw the rounds of the art houses back in the day. There were about 20 of us in attendance.

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