A personal diary about life in a country town, Bungendore NSW Australia

Sunday 23 May 2004

Derek Jarman's cottage and garden at Dungeness in Kent on the south east corner of England. All cottage photographs by Norman Withers.
Then Derek bought Penny a drink in Heaven.

Just over ten years ago, at 11 o'clock on February 19, 1994, Derek Jarman died from a long battle with AIDS. I heard the news on the radio late that evening as we were in the final stages of layout of (my first edition as editor), MM - Australian MultiMedia Magazine. Heading for a printer's deadline I sat down and wrote a short tribute piece which included this...

Jarman's experimental film work has been confronting and stimulating as the best art should be. Each year the local film festivals have shown the latest Jarman movie and have either driven the audience from the theatre with grainy, blown-up Super 8 features with Throbbing Gristle sound tracks, or entranced them with features such as last year's Wittgenstein.

His homosexuality was not just worn on his sleeve but shoved in your face, especially in his journals. They also revealed as much about the process of alternative film-making as any I've read. His books are expanded diaries, Dancing Ledge and Modern Nature have as much loveless homosexual casual sex in the moonlight on Hampstead Heath as I care to read about, but they are also powerful documents about current film culture. Modern Nature is loaded with the knowledge that he was diagnosed with AIDS and is going to die, which makes all its descriptions of his illnesses heavy reading. But the behind the scenes film stories, of trying to get deals, production woes and terrific catty stories about working with people like Ken Russell on The Devils and doing pop videos for The Pet Shop Boys, make them recommended reading for anyone interested in film.

His features grew more assured from Sebastiane (1976) through the punk Jubilee, The Tempest, the sumptuous Caravaggio, to Edward II and Wittgenstein. His experimental and shorter films are also worth seeking out and include The Angelic Conversation, The Last of England, (the beautiful and fun) The Garden, and War Requiem. His fading sight, then blindness is the ultimate horror for any artist as strongly visual as Jarman, and resulted in his last film yet to be screened here. Called Blue it apparently consists of an unchanging blue screen with Jarman's commentaries on AIDS and blindness, and his favourite colour blue.

Mercifully his battle is over with the English tabloid press who portrayed him as a dangerous and subversive queer. Losing an artist like Derek Jarman is just another cruel twist of the AIDS knife.

                Australian MultiMedia Magazine. No.1, Vol 2. March 1994

I found his last journal Smiling in slow motion in a remaindered bin a year or so ago. It stayed in the bedside reading pile and took me a whole year to finish it. I assume that was because I knew how it ended and didn't want to get there, but it was also heavy going as Jarman pulled no pain in the descriptions of the advance of debilitating illness.

With my move to Bungendore when the magazine closed in 1997, I've felt a lot of sympathy with Jarman "re-inventing himself as a gardener" as one reviewer wrote. I was pleased when an English friend who has just moved from Brighton to Kent, sent me an email with these photographs last week. Norman said ...

"Thought you might be interested in the attached pix. Penny and I went to Dungeness recently and found Derek Jarman's seaside cottage, where he spent most of his last years making an extraordinary garden. I expect you know all about it, but it was really nice to find it much as he left it. I suppose some of his mates are tending it now, but it was just closed up as though he'd gone off to London for the day.

Penny says that she not only worked on The Tempest, but Derek bought her a drink in Heaven afterwards (Heaven being a filthy gay nightclub down the side of Charing Cross station - filthy in the garbage-strewn sense). Gosh!"

Prospect Cottage (as I now know) is still the home of Keith Collins who must understand the fans on pilgrimage, or delightedly discovering the place by chance as my friends did. There are lots of websites with photographs of the cottage and most say 'please respect the owners privacy' as they continue to take their own photographs. It must be the same for anyone who owns the home of a famous person, even if it is as here, on a bleak seaside plain with no fences, in one of the most remote parts of Kent and opposite a nuclear power station.

When I first wrote this Diary entry I couldn't find my copy of Modern Nature to get the exact wording of a note in the introduction that explains why it's titled that. So I quoted from memory. I was delighted when Keith Collins sent me an email with the correct quote ...

...Maggie Hambling, who good-naturedly complained I had not said hello. I had, though maybe not immediately. Maggie is a tonic at any of these receptions. 'What are you up to?' I described the garden and Dungeness. 'Oh,' said Maggie 'you've discovered nature Derek.' 'Well it's not quite that, Maggie, it's not Samuel Palmer's Kent.' 'Oh I see,' she said 'you've discovered modern nature.'

Here's to the memory of Derek Jarman and to more 'modern' nature. And thanks to Norman and Penny and Keith Collins.

Derek Jarman on the web.

The best overview I could find on the web was on the Literary Encyclopedia site www.litencyc.com The Literary Encyclopedia also has an essay on Jarman's 'Modern Nature' (Published in 1991)

There's an Interview by Jeremy Isaacs that appeared on BBC's Face to Face and was included on The Garden DVD release where Jarman said that he wished he could just pull in his webs and disappear when he died.
I liked Gerald Houghton's short obituary and his review of Derek Jarman's Garden on The Edge. There are quotes from it there.

It wouldn't be the web if there wasn't a 'Shrine' to Derek complete with black background and multicoloured text. Sister Morticia has a page on his films and his books. And there's even a Derek Jarman site ring which doesn't seem to go anywhere.

Spike Magazine's Nick Clapson reviews Jarman's work, a good critical piece.

And if you liked Jarman's films, you'll enjoy the Scottish actress (who appeared in many of Jarman's films) Tilda Swinton's keynote speech at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Saturday 17th August 2002 In the Spirit of Derek Jarman from Vertigo magazine.

Derek Jarman's books.

Dancing Ledge (1984), The Last of England (1987) (republished as Kicking the Pricks (1996), Modern Nature (1991), At Your Own Risk (1992), Smiling in Slow Motion (2000), Blue (1993), and Chroma his book about colour through history and art that he writes a lot about in Smiling in slow motion, working in Prospect Cottage and his hospital bed -"today I finally finished Yellow...". Chroma was published a few weeks before his death (1994).


Jarman's final journal Smiling in slow motion was published by Vintage in paperback in 2001. It was edited by Keith Collins, Jarman's lover (called HB through the book), who nursed him through the end of his life. Those are Howard Sooley's photographs on the cover. 

Here are some more of Norman's photographs (and that's Penny with the red hair.)



On the wall at Dungeness is the raised wooden lettering of the poem The Sunne Rising by John Dunne

"Busie old foole, unruly Sunne,
Why dost thou thus,
through windowes, and through curtaines call on us?
Must to they motions loversí seasons run?"













Jarman's books introduced me to the work of fashion photographer Howard Sooley who took many of the better photographs in the later journals, and for a book dedicated to the garden at Prospect Cottage, published in 1995, called Derek Jarman's Garden.

(Sooley also took the photographs for a book that I'd love to do better someday, Gardener Cook by Christopher Lloyd, Willow Creek Press. Amazon have some excerpts of that book here.)

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Bungendore Country Diary by Fred Harden