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Review by Todd Franson
Rating: (5 out of 5)
Saturday, 10/25/2008, 4:00 PM
Feature presentation, $10 at Shakespeare Theatre’s Harman Center for the Arts
TILDA SWINTON IS mystical — she is camphor in a dark and stale world. It was only natural that she would become first Derek Jarman’s muse, and then solicitor of the post-mortem accolades he so richly deserves.
”I think it would be marvelous to evaporate, I wish I could take all my works with me,” says Jarman. Considering this decree, a film about visionary British filmmaker cannot be your average ”let’s interview his friends” documentary. Indeed, it must live up to its subject matter, and while Jarman’s films may not be to everyone’s taste, what he did for independent gay cinema in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s is undeniable.
No ordinary solicitor, Swinton’s nearly decade-long artistic conversation with Jarman is expressed here as she reads her ”Letter to an Angel”, written to her dear friend eight years after his passing.
Director Isaac Julien effectively adopts Jarman’s visual style as he interweaves the narrative of Jarman’s life — revealed by the artist himself in a never-seen 1990 interview given at his home four years before his death — with Swinton’s letter in voiceover as she strolls through Jarman’s garden and the streets of London. Additionally, Julien himself is shown leafing through Jarman’s personal archive letters, scripts and photos. The linear journey from childhood through adolescence, late sexual awakening, painting, filmmaking, celebrity, activism and return to painting due to blindness, illuminate Jarman’s personal life while director Julien deftly ties the experiences to scenes from his films. By doing so, the scenes gain new relevance and present a very intimate portrait of gay cinema’s ”art house auteur.”