Jubilee (1977)

Amyl Nitrate reads a passage from her self-written history book

“So fantasy was substituted for them – films, books, pictures. They called it ‘art’. But when your desires become reality, you don’t need fantasy any longer, or art.”

Jubilee begins with the queen of England making a deal with a “dark angel” in order to travel to the future and see the future of her beloved country. When she arrives she finds an apocalyptic and punkish London and she is robbed of her crown and pearls. We meet characters from the films in a very loose and un-structured way,  if the viewer were just following this group of people is their anarchic lives.

Along the way we meet a historian who enjoys changing facts and molding history into her own “story”, a pyromaniac, two incestuous brothers and an artist in a love triangle, a lovesick nymphomaniac (played by Nell Campbell or Columbia from ‘Rocky Horror’), a psychotic queen-like woman in a tuxedo, a leather donning S&M housemaid, and a homeless punk boy who is going the be the best new thing, he “oozes sex”(played by Adam Ant). The vivid characters are the true story. The film features a myriad of punk icons and influential musicians like Siouxie and the Banshees, Adam and the Ants, The Slits, Wayne County, Toyah Wilcox, and the film itself is scored by Brian Eno.

Derek Jarman was one of the first openly gay public figures in the 1980s. This alone was a subject of controversy considering his films causally depicted homosexual relationships and much male nudity. His first film, Sebastiane was one of the first films to feature positive images of gay sexuality and simultaneously the first film to be entirely in Latin. Jarman was a lover of classical art and some of films include Caravaggio (a film about the painters life) and The Tempest (a surreal reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s play). His social connections were still somewhat in popular culture during his time. He directed many short films including his feature films. He also directed music videos for The Sex Pistols, Marianne Faithful, The Smiths, Pet Shop Boys, and Throbbing Gristle.

“Punk” is a hard term to pin down because its definition is to reject mainstream society and it faces an existential dilemma when put in the mainstream.  Ironically, punk came into the mainstream in the 1980s, creating a strong contradiction within its core. The movement itself decided to rise from working-class England and move to anti-commercialism campiness. It seemed that popular bands like the Sex Pistols were overrated and possibly a contradiction to their own genre. They spread the anti-commercialism message while selling more records.

Jarman’s connection to pop culture and interest in classical style might have led him to create Jubilee. Jubilee is heavily influenced by the late 1970s punk style in its artistic and technical style. Technically the film’s a “punk” film in the sense that it is shot with grainy color, it has a loose plot or more a series of portraits in this society. The filming took advantage of abandoned buildings and modern ruins. It’s not a film for technical appreciation. Its low fidelity shooting style adds to the anarchistic or nihilistic aesthetic of the film. He had a sloppy way of shooting, editing, and poor actors that were a product of his creative decision and a low budget.

Though Jubilee seems to be a film promoting the punk message Jarman was actually trying to criticize the current state of England and the punk culture by exploiting it. He could almost be interpreted as the queen of England character. Not for the obvious he’s-a-gay-queen way, but because the queen represents his classical tastes. In the film the queen comments on the cruelty and chaos of London. The Queen’s thoughts could reflect Jarmans opinions on the matter. One of the great founders of punk and a famous fashion designer, Vivienne Westwood, designed a t-shirt called an “open letter” to Jarman denouncing the films and misrepresentations of punk. Jarman described the film as a “film about punk”, but later announced it had a much broader message.

With themes of rape, murder, assault, pyromania, incest, homosexuality, anti-capitalism, art, and anarchy Jubilee fits the mood and genre of punk. The film’s nihilistic philosophy and striking image that shows the music business monopolizing England and becoming a cover for the political issues in our world.

The loony characters interact with corny quotes and rather deep discussions concerning England’s history and philosophy. At times it feels like an essay rather than dialogue. Some scenes feel placed for shock value. It is clear that Jarman was knowledgeable yet disapproving of the punk scene. In one scene the pyromaniac carves the word “love” into the psychotic woman’s back it’s a scene that shows how nerveless these people are.

This film has become a cult film through its value to the artistic community and music fans, especially fans of the Punk genre that are looking for a document of the times. Films like these give a different dimension to a scene of music and tend to be loved and simultaneously criticized for misrepresentation. No one who lived through the real time will ever like a film generalizing a large portion of his or her life into two hours of film. Its no use to impress them if that’s the goal. Films like Jubilee can be criticizing or praising the movement it documents, but either way there is some documentation of it.

A scene where Amyl Nitrate sings a song called “Rule Britannia”