StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

Derek Jarman, 85A, and Jihad

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on May 29, 2008

Derek Jarman

Hey, everyone. Did you see the arts section of Sunday’s New York Times? There’s a big piece on the life of filmmaker Derek Jarman called “Gay, Punk and Ever the Provocateur.” The reporter laments that, despite his prolificness and genius, Jarman never quite became a household name. I have to admit, I didn’t know who he was either until the reporter ran down his list of films – Sebastiane (1976), Jubilee (1977), The Angelic Conversation (1985),The Garden (1990), Edward II (1991), and Wittingstein (1993) – and I realized I’d seen all of them.

Sebastiane Cover

My partner Julius loves Sebastiane and owns the DVD, but, to me, it seems like an excuse for cockshots and lurid, homoerotic reinterpretations of religious motifs – plus, that pig scene, ugh! – just like his portrayal of a gay Jesus in The Garden. See that cover up there? And that’s just the foreplay!


But Jubilee and Edward II were a gold standard for both punk and queer cinema. Jarman sure got in on the ground floor of punk with Jubilee. Can’t wait to see Isaac Julien’s documentary on Jarman called Derek, which premiered at Sundance in January and will be at MOMA from June 9 to June 16. It covers Jarman’s life from the 1940’s until his death from AIDS complications in 1994.

Speaking of Gay Punk Iconoclasts, I have been laboring over a new piece called “85A.” Set in Chicago after George H.W. Bush’s inauguration in 1989, it explores the mind of a Johnny Rotten-obsessed 15-year-old from a racist home and neighborhood, who is flunking out of Catholic school, dreams of moving to England, has a black-punk paramour-mentor named Tressa, and has an affair with his therapist Dr. Strykeroth, whom his parents sent him to, largely to correct his gay leanings. If the story keeps unraveling the way it has been, I’m going to be strangled by my own plot twists. But, hey, it beats the hell out of writer’s block!

Julius and I went to see A Jihad for Love at IFC on Sunday. Man alive, Catholic guilt’s got nothing on this! Kind of like in Trembling Before G-d, which portrayed the struggle of gays in the Orthodox Jewish community, almost all those filmed in Jihad had their faces blurred. Some openly condemned themselves for the very condition that they wished for members of their faith community to accept. Then the film shows the inside of the prison where the 52 men busted for sodomy in Egypt (really, most of them had only been at a gay party on a Nile liner) in 2001 were sentenced to three additional years in prison after having already  served a one-year sentence. The courts shrouded each convict in white hoods like Klansmen – it was enough to give you nightmares. They interviewed one guy who managed to escape his sentence and flee to Paris, where the French government granted him refugee status. They never said how he broke out, though. Julius suspects there was some sort of bribery involved that the filmmaker could not mention without someone back in Egypt getting killed. That being said, it was informative, brave, heartrending and well worth the trip to the Village.

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