Close Up

28 September 2019: Derek Jarman's Super 8 Film Cycle


"Super 8mm film was Derek Jarman’s primary medium in the 70’s and the Derek Jarman Super 8 archive comprises of all the personal film work that Jarman made between 1970 and 1983 and contains over 80 individual titles which were filmed and edited by Jarman himself. The archive consists of original S8mm reversal films; i.e. the reel of film that passed through the camera being that which was edited and projected and stored in the archive. By the end of the 70’s Derek had almost stopped screening his S8mm films as he was acutely aware of their fragility. I inherited the archive on Jarman’s death in 1993 and over the following years did everything possible with the limited financial resources at my disposal to conserve the films whilst continuing to make them available on demand. However, after much deep consideration, I decided that the only viable way to safeguard the films future and to ensure that they will be more accessible is to find a permanent home for the archive with sufficient resources to undertake a structured programme of conservation and exhibition.

As time passed, I became increasingly worried about colour fading, particularly in relation to the early Ektachrome material, and realised that I needed to copy it to another format. There were two possibilities: one would be to copy the material to 16mm or 35mm film. Past experience with 16mm told me that a certain amount of distortion seemed to creep in to the image. I had seen some very good transfers to 35mm, but none of those were made in the UK. In any case, the cost of transferring a whole archive to 16mm or 35mm film was prohibitive. The second possibility was to digitise the images. I knew that 2K digital scanning for Super 8 was possible in London and that it would result in very high-resolution copies of the films. In order to see what could be achieved, I selected one film from the archive: Tarot, partly because of its red and black sections, as the accurate rendition of red had always been a problem in earlier transfers to analogue videotape formats. I scanned the film with Tom Russell. The results were stunning. The clarity of detail was far greater than I had been able to achieve with transfers to 16mm and professional Telecine and the red was clear and limpid.

There was also the question of “look and feel” – I did not want to change the way that the image looked on the screen. The 2K process appeared transparent with no trace of digitisation on viewing, but it was a bigger, brighter image than the one archived by projecting the original films, using one of Derek’s small Bolex projectors. I took the pragmatic approach that 2K digitisation would result in an image closer to that seen by Derek when looking through the camera viewfinder, not clouded by the relatively primitive projection system available for Super 8 at the time and, knowing Derek, I am certain that he would have preferred the larger, clearer image made possible by the scanning process.

In 2008, Isaac Julien included a selection of the Super 8 films in the exhibition of Derek’s work that he curated at London’s Serpentine Gallery under the title Brutal Beauty. It was there that Maja Hoffmann saw the films and offered to fund a conservation programme to preserve them and to make them more generally available through the auspices of the LUMA Foundation." – James Mackay

Studio Bankside
Derek Jarman, 1972, 6'47 min

Filmed in and around Derek’s studio (now demolished) on the Thames at Bankside, London SE1 and featuring various friends, this is Derek’s first film. Edited in camera it is in two parts, a colour section filmed inside the studio and a black and white section filmed in the area around the studio, the reels spliced together to make one continuous film. The soundtrack by Coil was added later in 2005.

Journey to Avebury
Derek Jarman, 1973, 10 min

Filmed through a yellow filter and edited in camera this film, an exploration of the landscape and great stone circle at Avebury, exists in a longer and a shorter version. The shortening was accomplished by cutting out a long travelling sequence that takes up the first half of the original film. This version, preferred by Derek, has a later soundtrack composed by Coil.

Tarot aka The Magician
Derek Jarman, 1973, 7’39 min

Christopher Hobbs and Gerald Incandela feature in this narrative short filmed in a bed sitting room in Islington and in the empty space next to the Butler’s Wharf warehouse on the Thames that became his “back lot” used in many of the films. Costumes and props by Christopher Hobbs. The music by Cyclobe, was composed for and originally performed at Meltdown, London, 2012.

Derek Jarman, 1973, 15’15 min

Along with In the Shadow of the Sun this film is the culmination of a series of works collectively titled Art of Mirrors. Filmed in and around Butler’s Wharf Sulphur features performances by Gerald Incandela, Graham Dowie, Christopher Hobbs, Derek Jarman, Luciana Martinez and Kevin Whitney. As per Tarot, the music by Cyclobe, was composed for Meltdown in 2012.

Sloane Square aka Removal Party; Sloane Square: A Room of One’s Own
Derek Jarman, 1974–76, 8'19 min

A film by Derek Jarman and Guy Ford recording life in Anthony Harwood’s Sloan Square apartment where Derek lived during the period that he made Sebastiane. Long sequences in stop frame pixilation animate the interior. The middle part is a “removal party” held when Derek was finally evicted. Anarchy rules. Featuring Alasdair McGaw and Graham Cracker amongst others. The soundtrack, Simon Fisher Turner’s first, was composed in 1984 for a series of screenings at the ICA in London.

Sebastian Wrap aka A Break from Sebastian; Sebastian Mirror Film
Derek Jarman, 1975, 5’58 min

Filmed in Sardinia during a break in the shooting of Sebastiane. Derek points his camera into a sheet of Mylar, which acts as a partial mirror. Made in a single take, Sebastian Wrap is typical of the style of filming that Derek adopted in this period and marks a shift from costume and set to a more freeform hand-held approach. Shown here silent.

Waiting for Waiting for Godot
Derek Jarman, 1982, 7’14min

One of the last films that Derek shot and edited as Super 8, this was filed at a rehearsal for a RADA student performance of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Directed by Gerard McArthur, with a set by John Maybury and featuring Sean Bean and Johnny Phillips. Derek restricts his filming to a monitor screen that was part of the in house recording of the play. Although he utilises a slow filming speed and the image is somewhat obscured and blurred it is still recognisable as Beckett’s play. This hybridisation of film and video would mark Derek’s work of the period in such films as Imagining October and The Last of England.

Part of our season on Derek Jarman