Archive of Devastation (Derek Jarman’s ‘Blue,’ part 2)

The gestation of the film that would eventually be realized as Blue was a lengthy one, traceable through notes and proposals dating from as early as 1987, as well as through the range of possible titles that Jarman considered at various stages, including Bliss, Blueprint, A Blueprint for Bliss, International Blue, Forget-Me-Not, Speedwell Eyes, Bruises, Blue protects white from innocence, 0, Into the Blue, My Blue Heaven and Blue is Poison.  In a proposal written in August 1987, preserved in the archive of his production company, Basilisk, Jarman adumbrates      

[a] fictional film exploring the world of the painter Yves Klein, inventor of the void, International Blue, the symphony monotone.  A film without compunction or narrative existing only for an idea.  In the cacophony of images Yves found the silence of the immaterial, expressed in a series of symbolic gestures performed in six short working years before his early death [in 1962] at 32.  Yves is mercurial, enigmatic…. a devotee of St. Rita, the patron saint of lost causes…. The proposal is to develop a feature length film in 35 mm exploring further the juxtaposition of sound and image that exists in ‘The Last of England,’ but unlike this film to produce an atmosphere of calm and joy.  A world to which the refugees from that dark space might journey.      


In the aftermath of his HIV diagnosis, Jarman found fresh inspiration in the abbreviated career of Yves Klein, particularly in the latter’s pursuit of the immaterial in and through his monochromatic paintings rendered in the vibrant ultramarine that he would come to copyright as “International Klein Blue,” or IKB.  In Chroma, written in 1993, Jarman invokes “The great master of blue – the French painter Yves Klein.  No other painter is commanded by blue, though Cezanne painted more blues than most.”      

International Klein Blue

 Though Blue was initially conceived as an imageless homage to his predecessor, accompanied by a “sophisticated Dolby stereo soundtrack which would tell the Yves Klein story in sound and jazzy be-bop,” the obvious difficulty of funding such a project led Jarman to consider other, very different scenarios, including an elaborate masque dedicated to Klein that would involve a host of dramatis personae, historical pageantry and image montages.  Always, the soundtrack was integral to his plans for the film.  At one stage, Jarman “dreamed of recording the actor Matt Dillon’s heartbeat for the soundtrack:  ‘it would make a great first credit'”; at another point, he “thought the film might follow the sound of footsteps, a journey with the continuous murmur of lazy waves, sea breezes, thunder, and stormy growlers.”      

In the name of “the admirable austerity of the void,” however, the filmmaker would ultimately revert to his original conception of a blue screen devoid of images.  If for Caravaggio, the protagonist of an earlier feature released in 1986, the color had been “poison,” Jarman himself came to exploit the potential of blue as pharmakon:  simultaneously pathogen and remedy, and strictly neither, but a potent distillation of autobiography and historiography, “subjective memory and documentary reality,” in “a fragment of an immense work without limit.”

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Filed under Books, Culture, Death, History and historiography, Media, Reading and writing

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