Jubilee is one of the late Derek Jarman’s most talked about films, and has come to be associated as the first official punk movie. Made in 1977, the Sex Pistols had already stormed London and the punk era was now in full swing, and this fascinated Jarman, who decided to convey the general anarchic feeling through Jubilee.
The premise of the film is original and satirical in its approach. Queen Elizabeth I and John Dee, delivered from their own era by the angel Ariel, are instantly transported to a very bleak, boring and depressing England of the future, where Punk culture is the way of life as a form of escapism from the boredom. Upon arrival, Elizabeth I finds Elizabeth II dead, she’s been mugged and her crown stolen. The streets of this future world are awash with anarchy and history is being rewritten by extreme subversive revisionists who fail to hold any traditionalist stances. To make matters worse, Buckingham Palace is now under the control of the blind power hungered lunatic named Borgia Ginz, who maintains a link with his mass populous by providing them with recording contracts and using the palace as a recording studio. A group of punk girls with very unsubtle names such as Mads, Chaos or Crabs, enjoy passing the time they have with random acts of sex, violence and recording punk music. This is actually a more primary plot focus of the film, and Queen Elizabeth and John Dee are only involved in a few scenes of the film and are if anything a plot device in order to attempt a juxtaposition between the two eras. Although the film is set in the distant future, the art direction and costumes are deliberate in their attempts to evoke comparisons with the 1977 contemporary culture.
Jubilee has very little in the form of well-structured characters or powerful plot, but twenty fours years from the film’s making this appears to be its charm. Many comparisons have been made by scholars between Jubilee and A Clockwork Orange, and Jubilee is in essence the anti-universe twin of Kubrick’s masterpiece. Whereas Kubrick strives for control and deliberate planning on his sequences, it feels like Jarman strives for the opposite effect, and indulges in improvising acting with loose framing and visuals. Jubilee is one of the rawest films you’re likely to witness and the nearest directors I can think of who emulate it are Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey. Jubilee is a blatant attempt at shock, but remains years later as a period punk piece and plays an important part in the period of both British Cinema history and British history itself. Some will find it tasteless, but the scene where Toyah Wilcox (in her punk days) cries with anguish after castrating a policeman is a powerful and compelling cinematic moment, and the pinnacle of the film. Jubilee is definitely worth a look for anyone too young to have witnessed the punk revolution. Some star spotting can be indulged in too – Adam Ant, Ian Charleson, Siousie Soux to name but a few.
Presented in 4:3 (I assume to be unmatted), the transfer isn’t up to much. If you freeze the film you will find at least ten white specs on every frame, and occasionally the print shakes and jerks. Having said that, Jubilee is one of those films whereby the grainy, ugly look suits the picture so in this case it isn’t a minor drawback.
The case refers to the sound as stereo, and although it has been mixed to fill two channels the film is mainly in mono. Some of the music appears in stereo, although considering how bad some of the punk music is I’d say that is a mixed blessing.
Fans of Jarman are in for a treat as there is a forty five minute documentary that Second Sight have licensed from the BBC. It is a Face To Face programme presented by Sir Jeremy Isaacs. Blissfully free of clips or interviewer indulgence, the programme is a fascinating insight into Derek Jarman and was filmed a year before he died. It’s refreshing to see a programme dealing with issues such as homosexuality and AIDS in a frank and yet respectful way. Jarman comes across as likeable and extremely knowledgeable on the facets of filmmaking. A worthy extra indeed.
Jubilee is an original and worthy film that defies modern cinema conventions and won’t please anybody. I suggest viewing the film before buying it, but even so the disc is benefited by an excellent full length interview even if the picture and sound quality aren’t up to modern day standards.