Derek Jarman’s film, Blue, opened at the Camden Parkway cinema in London on August 23, 1993, and was shown the next month on Channel Four with a simultaneous broadcast of the soundtrack on BBC’s Radio Three. A few months later Jarman was dead, from complications derived from AIDS. Blue is an autobiographical film, which deals directly with its director’s experience of AIDS, his blindness, and his awareness of his approaching death. At the same time, it should be seen in parallel with his book, Chroma, a meditation on colour, completed in June 1993 and published the next year. The text of Blue consists almost entirely of material from the book’s section, ‘Into The Blue’, plus one brief passage from ‘The Perils of Yellow’, and a single new paragraph in which Blue is engaged in a death struggle with his mortal foe, Yellowbelly. The film consists of the projection on screen, for its entire seventy-five minutes, of pure blue light, with a soundtrack of the film-maker reading his text and a music score by his collaborator, Simon Turner.
Blue had been in Jarman’s mind as a possible project for many years. In 1987, after the success of Caravaggio (released the previous year), he floated the idea of making a film about Yves Klein, a painter whose work he had admired since his days as an art student at the Slade in the mid-sixties. Nothing came of this, but in 1989 he was approached by a television producer (from a ‘loathsome inept youth-orientated arts programme’) to appear in a documentary about Klein. As he recorded in his journal, ‘I agreed to co-operate only if the work explained Yves and didn’t turn him into a circus—perhaps an interview followed by as many minutes or seconds of blank blue soundless TV’. Jarman hated the programme, a ‘travesty’, when it came out, even though Simon Turner had composed the music for it. He noted that Klein’s own works—such as the Symphonie Monotone and the Anthropometries—
were for a select invited audience, who were requested to show their respect by arriving in evening dress—this the fifties, Paris, and that was what it was about, exclusivity. The photos are the evidence, the performance a secret. The enemy is the spurious egalitarianism and lack of concentration of the media. Maybe the best way would be to black out TV sets. Furious phone calls: ‘I’ve paid my licence.’ Yes, but it doesn’t give you the right to pry—this is a private programme of the void, if you wish to see it you’ll pay the dues as well and if you fail you’ll be fined.
spirit in matter
IKB refers here to International Klein Blue, the unique blue paint, a deep ultramarine, which Yves Klein himself invented, patented, and used exclusively in his series of monochrome blue works.
A week later, on June 1st, Jarman noted in his journal: ‘Blueprint becomes Bliss—dedicated to St. Rita of Cascia, patron of lost causes. Into the blue. Wandered through the bookshops and bought The Book of Changes to construct the script.’ This entry is significant both because ‘Into The Blue’ eventually became the title of the section on blue in Chroma, reproduced in the film Blue, and because St. Rita is mentioned in a crucial passage in the text of Blue. St. Rita was a medieval saint to whose shrine at Cascia, in a remote region of Umbria, Yves Klein’s aunt and grandmother both made pilgrimages from their home in Nice, followed eventually by Yves Klein himself. He made four visits during the 1950s and left an art-work there with the prioress, in return for the saint’s favour. Jarman spent the next day, June 2nd, planning an installation for a gallery in Glasgow—a room which ‘turned in my mind from white to black, then blue, then white again’, with a ‘tomb/cenotaph’ and other elements, including a monochromatic painting alluding to the AIDS epidemic and to Thatcher’s proposed anti-gay legislation, Clause 28. Thus IKB was now linked to AIDS.
Next, on the Saturday, June 3rd, Jarman noted that the ‘blue columbine’ that he had planted in his garden at Prospect Cottage, Dungeness, and which was now in flower, had been ‘one of the herbs used against the Black Death in the 14th century.’ Then, on Sunday, June 4th, he ‘gilded a small pocket book for Blueprint’ and noted some ideas, which had occurred to him while walking on the beach, that seem mainly to have pointed towards The Garden, the next film he was to make, rather than towards Blue. He did, however, wonder whether these new ideas could ‘be resolved with the Tao Te Ching: great fullness seems empty?’ and—surely a coincidence—quoted a passage from The Gardener’s Labyrinth, which claimed that the blue-flowering sea kale he had planted ‘cureth the soreness of eyes’. Throughout the summer of 1989, Jarman was preoccupied with his gardening, the campaign against Clause 28 and the preparations for his film, The Garden. However, he still continued to work on Blueprint/Bliss, as well as thinking about the bluescreen matte background effects for The Garden and pasting up the script in a notebook, which he then painted cobalt blue.