I caught myself looking at shoes in a shop window. I thought of going in and buying a pair, but stopped myself. The shoes I am wearing at the moment should be sufficient to walk me out of life.
Cezanne: “Things are looking bad. You have to hurry if you want to see anything. Everything is disappearing.”
The Mediterranean blue is fading on the 35mm film, so badly spooled that it took three tries before the chimes would ring. Scratches that appeared like boils and sores on a retina, black starlings flocking and dispersing. At times, the blue seemed washed out altogether, fading. But if there is one thing that we are sure of by the end of the movie, everything fades eventually. Sometimes in the time it takes to boil a kettle or break a heart. Or to watch a film.
I seem to recall a white screen the first time I saw it, at the beginning.
Proust: “…the memory of a certain image is only regret for a certain moment”
Jarman’s blindness was as monstrous as Baudelaire’s aphasia or the madness of philosophers. Do we lose the vital things first, leaving the juddering, wracked body to trail in its wake? Until there is only a spasm of lucidity, longing for its own annihilation?
But the origin of “monstrous” is the same as “to demonstrate.” In response to blindness, Jarman bathes our eyes in lush blues in what is in some ways his most straightforwardly narrative work. We leave the hospital and end in a reverie of blue skies, soft breezes, lapping water. Slender cool fingers reach to touch an antique smile. This is a demonstration of Jarman’s generosity, as is his installation of compassion and courage at the heart of the infinity he allows us to glimpse at 24 frames per second.
And there is righteous indignation. The virus rages fierce. I have no friends who are not dead or dying. The flashes of rage, protest (a demonstration), sorrow are mixed with the blue of bliss, the impatient youths of the sun dancing amid emerald lasers and coral amphora. A life lived with eyes open.
Blanchot: “The quick of life would be the burn of a wound - a hurt so lively, a flame so avid that it is not content to live and be present, but consumes all that is present till presence is precisely what is exempt from the present. The quick of life is the exemplarity, in the absence of any example, of un-presence, of un-life; absence in its vivacity always coming back without ever coming.”
My ghostly eye.
In Blue, Jarman creates the ultimate film, a film which exists only as film, spirit in matter (as he used to say). The point of minimal difference between not-film and Film. In this, he is a fellow traveller with Malevich, Cage and Beckett, other artists who marked the barely necessary condition for the work of art (film, painting, music, literature) to exist. An interstitial zone prior to recognition, where ghosts reside. Jarman hears their voices, and they flicker at the edge of the screen, made bold by the rising forth of Blue. The voices of dead friends: David, Terry, Graham, Howard, Paul. Of dead possibilities, stranding us in an agonized world (Sarajevo, the woman in the taxi crying before the helpless Jarman). The world is dying, but we do not know it. Filling up with spectres, ghosts.
Derrida: “The spectre, as its name indicates, is the frequency of a certain visibility. But the visibility of the invisible. And visibility, by its essence, is not seen…. The spectre is also, among other things, what one imagines, what one thinks one sees and which one projects - on an imaginary screen where there is nothing to see. Not even the screen sometimes, and a screen always has, at bottom, in the bottom or background that it is, a structure of disappearing apparition.”
The ghosts appear and disappear on the cinema screen - there is a sense in which watching this film on a dvd (however large the projection) is not to watch it. Blue is a film - the film stock bears the lesions of having been viewed, having been seen. And will eventually deteriorate, as Jarman wished. Art becomes its own death-mask. And behind the mask, the imperceptible becoming of the artist, this artist, this Derek Jarman, one with the ghosts that welcome him.
Chateaubriand: “This is how everything in my story vanishes, how I am left with only images of what happened so quickly. I will go down to the Elysian Fields with more shadows than any man ever brought along.”