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Jubilee: The Criterion Collection

Essay filmmaking at its most rancorous, Derek Jarman's Jubilee was, on its release in 1977, perceived as a traitorous work of art that sold out the then-thriving punk movement as easily corruptible by the reigning government and media apparatus it was so concertedly broad-siding. Though it was clear early on in its filming that Jarman was not preparing a complimentary celebration of the counterculture's rude, spit-in-the-face approach — intended collaborators Malcolm McLaren and The Clash, among others, bolted early upon realizing the director's contrary aims — many of the movement's mainstays hung around anyway, giving the lie already to the supposed anti-capitalist punk mentality several years before they were (almost) all co-opted by big business in the Reagan and Thatcher era. Jubilee's valuable importance as a cultural artifact is to allow the viewer a window into those heady days before the revolution was sold to the highest bidder, and it's a credit to the prescience of Jarman that he could see the end looming even as he was immersed in the insurgent orgy (some would say that he was the British Warhol of the 1970s). His idea, allowing Queen Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre) and her loyal intellectual counsel, John Dee (Rocky Horror Picture Show mastermind Richard O'Brien), a glimpse of the bombed-out future of England, via the assistance of the angel Ariel (David Haughton), lays the groundwork for a pretty obvious critique of all-things awful and compromised in the country according to Jarman — it's because of this conceptual bluntness that the film is, far too often, such a didactic bore. The present on display for the erstwhile Queen is viewed through the skewed prism of a marauding gang led by Bod (Runacre again). Among her charges are the butch pyromaniac Mad (Toyah Willcox, who sports a flaming orange buzz-cut), the libidinous Crabs (Little Nell), a mute tag-along named Chaos (Hermine Demoriane), and the caustically articulate Amyl Nitrate (Jordan). Mostly a collection of vignettes, there is something of a story involving Crab's discovery of Kid (Adam Ant), who, with his fresh-faced good looks, seems destined for stardom. But this is to be determined by a media mogul known as Borgia (Orlando), who acts as a sort of arbiter of sensation — no one pisses in the spotlight without his approval. Meanwhile, Bod and her girls commit a variety of transgressive acts, e.g. trashing a diner, watching Crabs have sex with some random boy brought home from the clubs only to suffocate him post-coitus (they photograph this, as well), and murdering a glam transvestite known as Loung Lizard (played by real-life transsexual Wayne/Jayne County, who provided the inspiration for Hedwig and the Angry Inch). Most interesting about the film, as it builds to its telegraphed conclusion/summation, is how repulsed Jarman seems to be by the scene in which he thrived. The film is truly a design orgy awash in obscene decadence, but the artistry is so stifling, one senses the director distancing himself from the fray, subconsciously commenting on its emptiness and his own shame at having been a part of it. They might've been having fun at the time — and some of the more playful bits, like Mad's jacket bearing the final lines of Psycho, the Idi Amin dildo, or Wayne County's invigorating performance of "Paranoia Paradise," are indeed brilliant touches — but Jarman is too fixed on the party's depressing end to enjoy it, and his downer attitude kills the audience's enjoyment. The Criterion Collection presents Jubilee in a fine widescreen transfer (1.66:1) with Dolby Digital 1.0 audio. Extras include an interesting new documentary titled "Jubilee: A Time Less Golden" featuring interviews with John Maybury, Lee Drysdale, Tony Rayns, Christopher Hobbs, and two of the film's stars, Runacre and Willcox (37 min.), excerpts from Jarman's personal scrapbook for the film, an essay by Tony Peake, and a trailer. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks

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