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The Criterion Collection presents
Jubilee (1977)

"As long as the music's loud enough, we won't hear the world falling apart."
- Borgia Ginz (Jack Birkett)

Review By: Robert Edwards   
Published: August 21, 2003

Stars: Jenny Runacre, Jordan, Jack Birkett, Toyah Willcox
Other Stars: Nell Campbell, Adam Ant, Wayne County, Richard O’Brien
Director: Derek Jarman

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (full frontal nudity, sex, language)
Run Time: 1h:46m:33s
Release Date: May 27, 2003
UPC: 037429176023
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ BB+B+ A

DVD Review

Derek Jarman, the Bad Boy of British cinema, was born in 1942 in Middlesex, and after an itinerant childhood, completed several degrees in art at King's College London and the Slade School. From his very first works, in painting, costume and set design, he exhibited a striking talent, which was to be confirmed in his early short films. He burst upon the UK film scene in 1976 with the hastily-assembled Sebastiane, a paean to homoeroticism set in Roman times.

The following year, Jarman released Jubilee, ironically titled to coincide with the Queen's Silver Jubilee, a scathing indictment of contemporary England filtered through the eyes of the then-current punk movement. In the enclosing story, Queen Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre) and her Royal Astrologer John Dee (Richard O'Brien, later of The Rocky Horror Picture Show fame) wish to see a vision of England in the future, which then propels the viewer into the shared life of Amyl Nitrate (Jordan), Mad (Toyah Willcox), Bod (Jenny Runacre), Chaos (Hermine Demoriane), Crabs (Little Nell, also from RHPS), and their friends. Sharing living quarters in a dilapidated, crumbling post-modern society where art is no longer necessary (after all, art was only a reflection of peoples' desires, and now that their desires have become reality, it is superfluous, and those who enjoy sex are looked upon as being relics from an earlier age), the protagonists terrorize innocents, write polemic tracts, and generally do all of those things that punks are supposed to do.

There is some semblance of a plot here, mostly involving Borgia Ginz (the bald, popeyed Jack Birkett, here billed as 'Orlando'). Ginz, despite having enough money to have purchased Buckingham Palace and turned it into a recording studio, and who can manipulate world currency markets at the drop a hat, has taken up with the group, and not only grooms The Kid (a young Adam Ant) for a recording career, but even prepares Amyl Nitrate as the UK's entry in the Eurovision Song Contest—all this between snacking on live goldfish. And there is a minor plotlet involving the kids and their run-in with the police (despite Amyl's earlier claims that law and order had been done away with on her 15th birthday), but for the most part, the film meanders along, apparently content in its concerns to shock us with the amorality of its protagonists.

If the film sounds like somewhat of a mess, that's because it is—in many ways, it is the least of Jarman's works, and fits uneasily with the rest of his films. There are two threads that run through Jarman's works: the first of these is his use of history, and the second is the use of image, in its capacity as a thing of beauty unto itself, rather than its use solely to support narrative events, and Jarman's best works are those that fully utilize one or the other of these strategies. Unfortunately, in Jubilee, neither is used effectively, and the film suffers as a result.

History is a primary source of inspiration for Jarman's later biographical films, such as Edward II and Caravaggio, but he often uses historical elements more subtly; for example, mixing contemporary and period costumes, as he would do in The Tempest, his next film after Jubilee. The result of this mélange is not only Brechtian distanciation, which brings the viewer out of the story and encourages him/her to intellectually analyze the on-screen events, but also a kind of subtle a-historicism, which encourages the viewer to see the events and message of the film as universal, rather than rooted in their specific historical context.

But alas, in Jubilee, history is used very schematically, the enclosing story serving only to launch the film on its examination of punk-era England. Although Jarman is careful to visually distinguish the two time periods (formal compositions and long takes for the historical sequences, versus spontaneity and rapid cutting for the modern), there is none of the complex mingling of past and present that would distinguish his best work.

The second constant in Jarman's oeuvre is his interest in the use of the image as an end unto itself, which is often expressed in his mixing of various film formats. His first short films, influenced by his father's home movies, were done in Super 8mm, and he quickly incorporated the distinctive grainy beauty of these small-format images into his feature films. Jarman also used the over-saturated colors and slightly blurred images of his family's 16mm home movie footage in several of his features, and indeed, his last film, Glitterbug, consists of little more than a compilation of footage in these two formats. In Jubilee's thematic twin, The Last of England, released in 1987 and arguably Jarman's best work (even if several ill-advised sequences threaten to reduce it to the level of camp cabaret), he uses this mix to great effect. In this non-narrative, sustained howl against Thatcherite Britain and postwar society in general, the mixture of film formats, chiaroscuro lighting, both slow and fast motion, and abstract imagery create a dizzying whirlwind of effects that remain in the viewer's mind long after the film is over.

And Jubilee? Unfortunately, Jarman neither draws on his his ability to use historical elements in a sophisticated way, nor his strengths as a visual stylist. Apparently more influenced by his producers, who thought they had a prospect for a commercial hit, than his own best instincts, Jarman includes only one brief section of 8mm footage in the film. The rest is standard 16mm footage, solid and serviceable, but the use of that one short sequence of 8mm film has the effect of rendering the rest of the images flat and uninteresting in comparison.

All this is not to say that the film is without interest—anyone interested in the '70s UK punk scene will enjoy the authenticity of many of the film's details, from the performance of Plastic Surgery by an early incarnation of Adam and the Ants, to the glimpses of a Siouxsie and the Banshees performance, a small role by a pre-op Wayne County, a performance by mime Lindsay Kemp and his Troupe (also an influence on David Bowie), and mentions of Seditionaries in the Kings Road. And just try to spot The Slits as "Street Girls"!

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The source material contains almost constant minor imperfections such as speckles, and the image is consistently grainy, which is not surprising since it was filmed in 16mm. However, the transfer looks better than expected for a low-budget mid-'70s film, with detailed, colorful images, and reasonably accurate skin tones.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital mono soundtrack is an apparently accurate transfer, limited only by the source material. Dialogue is mostly crisp and clear, and although one might have wished for more fidelity (and maybe even stereo) for the music performances, the lo-fi sound seems appropriate for a punk movie.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English for the Deaf and Hearing-Impaired with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Jordan’s Dance, a 4:45 Super-8mm short by Jarman
  2. Jarman’s original scrapbook/shooting script
  3. Costume sketches & continuity stills
  4. "A New Wave Movie"
  5. 8-page foldout booklet
Extras Review: Jordan's Dance, portions of which are seen early on in the film, is regarded as the inspiration for Jubilee. Filmed in silent Super 8, it is presented with a brief introduction by Jarman. The original theatrical trailer, while interesting, is fairly predictable in its use of violent and sexual scenes. The so-called Shooting Script is really a notebook kept by Jarman during the making of the film, and contains bits of dialogue and various ephemera that inspired him during its making.

The costume sketches (mostly for the Elizabethan costumes) and continuity stills don't really contribute much to one's understanding of or appreciation for the film, but the section entitled A New Wave Movie certainly does. This selection of still frames contains not only Jarman's comments, but excerpts from contemporary punk fanzines that provided him with inspiration, some print media coverage, a layout from British Vogue, production photos, and last, but certainly not least, Vivienne Westwood's (then the doyenne of UK punk fashion) infamous t-shirt, the text of which is a scathing indictment/review of Jubilee.

An eight-page foldout booklet contains interesting notes by Jarman biographer Tony Peake that explain the genesis the film, Jarman's shooting style, and the UK media's reaction upon its release.

But the jewel among the extras is a 37m:36s documentary entitled Jubilee: A Time Less Golden, containing interviews with critic Tony Rayns, stars Jenny Runacre and Toyah Willcox, production designer Christopher Hobbs, and assistants Lee Drysdale and John Maybury (who would later go on to a directorial career of his own, and in some ways assume Jarman's mantle as the leading light of UK queer cinema). Between them, they provide fascinating historical details, including the uneasy coexistence of both art-school and street influences on the early punk movement, and Jarman's life, political outlook, and filming technique. The most astute observation is provided by critic Tony Rayns, who comments that Jarman's low-budget, "anyone can do this" method of film-making was in its own way as "punk" as the DIY ethos that ruled the music scene at the time.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

Although not among Derek Jarman's best works, his 1977 Jubilee is an interesting look at the mid-'70s punk scene in Britain. Aided by a quality transfer, and Criterion's usual assortment of excellent extras, this DVD is well worth a look.


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