Saturday, September 19, 2009
Today, as part of my cinematic self-education process, I went and saw Derek Jarman's 1977 film "Jubilee". It was literally the best possible way to spend a Saturday morning. By turns hilarious, disturbing, hypnotic, ridiculous, camp, grandiose, violent, loving and snarling it is as close an encapsulation of punk Britain as I have ever seen. Set in a near present of civil war, urban disturbances and roaming gangs, an era when law and order has been abolished, it is both the ultimate expression of NO FUTURE and an imagining of what the country would look like after that (no) future.
Born as I was in 1982, I grew up at the tail end of punk, and remember clearly both the look and the political upheavals. I remember race riots on the news and tax riots in the papers and the closure of all England's old economies, the hopelessness of being poor in times of unbelievable new wealth.
To look back now on the film (and indeed the era) makes "Jubilee" seem like a piece of nostalgia, no, scratch that, it's more powerful than that, it's a souvenir, it has the power to make that epoch "come again", to conjure it back up. It is still such a vital film, so full of apocalyptic anger, so contemporary in its approach to compiling material and storytelling; it casts a long shadow forward onto everyone from Kathy Acker to David Lynch .
It is not a film that shies away from vulgarity or violence, it feels very authentic, and at times the "realness" of the performers comes across to such an extent that the acting is decidedly dicey. However, the raw feeling that genuinely anything could happen at any moment, and the flair with which the cast dismember pastiche after pastiche of British culture is terrifying. The queen gets jumped and murdered, the police have fire bombs thrown through their doorways, pop stars are strangled, lovers are suffocated mid-fuck, and incestuous brothers shot at the pin ball machine. And all without a hint of irony, all without any redeeming glamor.
It is a strange film (but utterly watchable, though not always pleasant) made all the more pulsing by its supporting cast of punk rockers (established, up and coming, would bes), the whole chorus of them ridiculing the very notion of being a punk "star".
And of course it's nice to see that at one point it wasn't necessary to be emaciated to be radical.