Finally the DVD will be released in the USA. Read the review from dvd.talk.com
"I've often thought that the reason he wanted to make films was for the company, that there was something in him that was so gregarious and so valued. He loved being in a group, just as he loved being solitary...he's telling his own story over and over again.
He was the material of his own work."
- Tilda Swinton
Avant-garde, underground, experimental...you name it, Derek Jarman helped define it. A painter, a poet, a gay rights activist, a filmmaker--he combined all of his passions together when he picked up a video camera, an artist in every sense of the word. Frequently experimenting with Super 8mm film, he challenged the way viewers interpreted movies, and frequently infused his works with his own style of "gay filmmaking". This new four-disc set presents four of his films--two art house, two avant-garde--available on DVD for the first time (Carvaggio and Wittgenstein will also be released separately; The Angelic Conversation and Blue are exclusive to this set).
Largely considered one of Jarman's most successful efforts, this 1986 biopic chronicles the life of 17th Century Italian painter Michelangelo Caravaggio--a sometimes controversial artist who led a tumultuous life, one exacerbated by his fame. The film starts on July 18, 1610 as the artist (brilliantly played by Nigel Terry) lies on his deathbed: "Four years on the run--so many labels on the luggage, and hardly a friendly face." Attended to by his loyal assistant, the mute Jerusaleme (Spencer Leigh), Caravaggio reflects upon his life, taking us back in time: "I built my world as divine mystery...found the god in the wine and took into my heart. I painted myself as Bacchus and took on his fate: a wild, orgiastic dismemberment. I raise this fragile glass and drink to you, my audience...man's character is his fate."
We see his exploits as a young man (the motto engraved on the blade of his knife: "No Hope, No Fear"), with his budding sexuality catching the attention of strangers ("I'm an art object--and very, very expensive...") as well as mentor Cardinal Del Monte (Michael Gough). We soon jump to a later stage in his life, where the bulk of the story unfolds as the painter eyes a new muse: a young, dashing fighter named Ranuccio (Sean Bean), who sees an opportunity to pay off his gambling debts when Caravaggio comes calling. Their relationship disturbs his girlfriend Lena (Tilda Swinton, in her first movie), but when she provides her own inspiration for the artist, the story escalates into a hauntingly beautiful Greek tragedy.
A labor of love for Jarman, this film was seven years in the making and constructed on a very low budget in a London warehouse. It's remarkable what he was able to create, aided by the superb skill of cinematographer Gabriel Beristain, production designer Christopher Hobbs and costume designer Sandy Powell. It proves that passion--not money--counts the most. The sets are simple yet striking, taking advantage of effective lighting (much like Caravaggio's paintings) to tell the story. A painter himself, Jarman's film is its own work of art--a personal portrait of an artist, a rebel--and a man in love. He makes effective use of bold imagery: a snake on a basket, shadows on a wall and any scene that brings Caravaggio's paintings to life, and uses sound to suggest grander surroundings. Jarman also opts for some anachronisms: a calculator, a typewriter, a motorbike and various costumes evoke a later period, a playful choice that perfectly suits the film's tone.
Jarman is able to convey not only the painter's passion, but his own as well: "All art is against lived experience," says Carvaggio. "How can you compare flesh and blood with oil, ground, pigment?" Bean runs away with the film, a smoldering presence that oozes sexuality and pops off the screen (I loved the final sequence with Carvaggio and Ranuccio). He and Swinton are perfectly cast, (literally) shining in their roles. The camera loves both of them, and countless shots leave no doubt as to how they put the artist under their spell.
Jarman has noted that when it was first suggested he make a film about Caravaggio, he knew very little about him--much like I had little knowledge of Jarman's work. This was a beautiful introduction (this film hasn't aged a bit) and quickly whetted my appetite for more.
Restored from high-definition elements, the anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer still shows age but looks beautiful. This is a warm presentation, bathed in dark shades and very soft. It's a beautiful choice to convey Caravaggio's work and life. There's mild grain and occasional candle-like flicker lighting (which sometimes seems intentional). The 2.0 stereo track (with optional English subtitles) is one of the more robust ones you'll find, making good use of the film's modest yet powerful sound effects.
Leading the way is a collection of four video interviews (30:22), led by three new ones. Tilda Swinton--a longtime Jarman friend and collaborator who many cite as being his muse--shares her thoughts on Jarman and the film. "He was very interested in how the individual survives any environment and the loneliness that any enclosed environment can instill," she says, adding that there was a feeling of family--and abandon--on the set. "There aren't that many artists working as filmmakers, and the thing about Derek which is really interesting is that he managed to come form a constituency of filmmaking--which is a fine-art constituency, generally speaking underground, and certainly experimental--and he managed to by two means...working with 35 millimeter early on, and secondly by the force of his own personality and his sense of himself as a performer. He crossed over into somewhere else."
Actor Nigel Terry reinforces Jarman's mantra to have a good time--sets were filled with laughter. Terry notes Jarman was a true Renaissance man: a painter, a filmmaker, a writer, a gardener...the list goes on. "He was sort of blasphemous, but he was kind, so he cared about people," Terry says. "(He was) not politically correct at all. He didn't follow a party line, he didn't follow a religious line. He saw the world for what it was--what he saw of it--a bit like Caravaggio. I think he liked Caravaggio because of that."
Production designer Christopher Hobbs notes that the film was created as "Italy of the mind and memory", a blending of history and modern recollection that intentionally had lapses in period. He shares how he refined his storyboards over the years, and that the sets were made with "ingenuity and a lot of hard work." He adds with a laugh that "Derek hatred period movies, and he hated period costumes...be he kept on doing it."
The last video interview (in lower quality video) is an excerpt of Jarman speaking with Simon Field in a 1989 interview. He shares his fascination with Caravaggio's work--the cinematic style of his paintings, his rebellious nature, his sexuality ("Caravaggio's age was in many ways more open than ours was")--and notes that he also made the film as a statement against the American commercial culture that took over after World War II. "In a sense, this was my own throwing down the gauntlet at the American-oriented cinema, and saying, here is a film oriented toward Europe, which has always been the way I've worked." He also talks about his roots in underground/alternative/experimental cinema. All of the interviews provide a powerful look at the man and his mind.
Jarman is also represented in an audio interview (58 minutes) with Derek Malcolm at London's National Film Theatre after a preview screening of Caravaggio during the week leading up to its 1986 U.K. theatrical release. The audio is low quality, but is still easy to follow and provides more great material. Jarman expands upon his influences and his filmmaking process. Malcolm notes that the director has been called "the James Dean of the Italian Baroque"--an apt description--and says the film is vital because "there's a need for cinema that shakes hands with people without pissing on them." As for the "alternative" tag that Jarman lived with? "No," he replies. "I'm always the center."
Up next is a feature-length audio commentary with cinematographer Gabriel Beristain. It's an enthusiastic track (there are periods in the film where he stays quiet), and it's clear from the start he's a huge fan of the film--and Jarman: "It was the greatest experience of my whole entire life," he says, calling the film an incredible masterpiece. "Derek Jarman has been the best director and artist that I have ever worked for." Beristain spends a lot of time talking about the various lighting and camerawork techniques, nothing how they used yellow makeup on the actors playing Caravaggio to separate them from the background. He notes they shot the film the same way Caravaggio's paintings evolved in his life, referencing a form of chiaroscuro that the artist popularized. He adds that Jarman wanted sparse sets with nothing superfluous, adding that he considers Jarman an artist, not a "technician that makes films"--movies gave him a way to express his dreams, emotions, ideology and needs.
Rounding out the package is a photo gallery of storyboard, notebook, production photo and design sketches, and the films British theatrical trailer.
very interesting piece of work done by Schionatulander.
Whenever I watch Jarman's film Caravaggio I am fascinated by its artistic quality, the sometimes theatre-like appearances of the scenes, their carefully developed image formation and "composition" etc. That's why I liked Jarman's Edward II so much when I first saw it on TV as a child. It's very poetic and like watching theatre on TV, and in this cases it's working. Often, when watching theatre productions on TV they miss something, they lose something of their attraction, even their quality. Not so with Jarman's films.
With Caravaggio I sometimes wished I had a catalogue raisonnée of Caravaggio at hand, because there are so much references in that film that I always thought I might miss an important clue because I simply do not know all of Caravaggio's work... Most probably, there are still a lot more hidden hints in this film. But these were the ones that stroke me the most. And I have long wanted to note that down...
Jarman's visualisation of Caravaggio's St. John the Baptist
As to be expected in a film about an artist Derek Jarman's Caravaggio is full of refernces to Caravaggio's work and art history in general. In contrast to the Vermeer-film The Girl with the Pearl Earring which is a film with an undeniable beautiful visual (even though the city-shots are a bit too Disney-like), Jarman did not try to completely revive the time of Caravaggio but give an interpretation of the man and his life, and art in general. And this makes the film, after my opininon, a lot more interesting. The interwoven art historian refrences are fascinating, the inconsistency of historic décor show you connections you might not have thought about. That's not what the Vermeer film wanted, I admit, but then Pearl Earring is only a love story with an artist in one of the main characters, but not actually a film about Vermeer and his art, or art in general.
As for Jarman art is the major topic of the film, it might be rewarding if although a bit pedantic to actually look at the real paintings of Caravaggio in comparison to Jarman's visualisations. This can be very enlightening as it gives key hints to some aspects of Jarman's interpretation of Caravaggio.
Just a few facts beforehand: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) was an Italian painter of the Baroque who worked from live models at great speed and was of great influence on art history with his use of the Chiaroscuro, the dramatic Inszenierung of his paintings by highlighting the important details with spotlights and casting the rest in dark shadows. For example, the Utrecht Caravaggists, such as Hendrick Terbrugghen, Gerard van Honthorst and Dirck van Baburen, went back to Caravaggio's naturalistic modus and his technique of suggestive illumination. Even Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Vermeer were influenced.
First of all, Jarman adjusted the appearance of his main actor to the image of Caravaggio himself:
David with the Head of Goliath, detail,1605-1606.
Oil/canvas, 125 × 100 cm.
Rome, Galleria Borghese.
Then, of course, there appear a lot of paintings of Caravaggio in the film that are already finished and appear on easels etc., such as the Head of Medusa or the Fruit Basket or others.
The Head of Medusa, Tondo, 1595-1596.
Oil/canvas, diameter 55,5 cm.
Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi.
The fruit basket,1596.
Oil/canvas, 46 × 64,5 cm
Milano, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana
More interesting are the paintings Jarman presents in the process of being painted with the live models posing for the artist. This is not only fascinating as they refer to Caravaggio's practice to actually paint this way, these scenes also work (for the viewer of the film) as re-enactments of the paintings, "life pictures" after Caravaggio that interpret the painting again and integrate them into the narrative of the film.
Concerto di giovani, 1591-92.
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Martyrdom of St. Matthew, 1599-1600.
Oil/canvas, 323 × 343 cm
Rome, San Luigi di Francesi, Contarelli-Chapel
John the Baptist (John in the Wilderness), c. 1604.
Oil/canvas, 173 × 133 cm
Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Oil/canvas, 106 × 97 cm.
Rome, Galleria Doria Pamphilj.
Victorious Cupid, ca. 1600.
Oil/canvas, 154 × 110 cm.
Consequently some of the "posed paintings" merge with the "real life" of the film narration, such as when Caravaggio paints the dead Lena as St. Mary, or envisions himself as a work of art:
Death of St. Mary,1605-1506.
Oil/canvas, 369 × 245 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Boy with fruit basket, 1593-1594.
Oil/canvas, 70 × 67 cm.
Rome, Galleria Borghese
But the most fascinating refernces to Caravaggio's art are the more hidden ones, such as, when the Cardinal and auftraggeber Caravaggio's is depicted as St. Hieronymus, or his loyal helper as St. John the Baptist.
St. Hieronymus Writing,1605-1606.
Oil/canvas, 112 × 157 cm.
Rome, Galleria Borghese.
However, the most significant reference is when Jarman's Caravaggio takes over the place of Christ in Caravaggio's composition of the Doubting Thomas. In art history that is not a new interpretation or imagery regarding the self-concept of artists: see for example Albrecht Dürer's self portrait (1500, wood, 67 × 49 cm, Munich, Alte Pinakothek), but in this context it is important for the narrative, as well. Caravaggio's life is told with a lot of references to the passion of Christ: that's why the young Boxer (Sean Bean) is dying while kissing Caravaggio: it's the Judas' kiss. That's why Lena, who posed as Mary Magdalene is shown in a very close relationship to the artist: it's the old idea of Mary Magdalene as lover of Christ. But most important, that's why Jarman visualised the death of Caravaggio with the imagery of Caravaggio's painting of Christ's entombment.
Doubting Thomas, 1602-03.
Oil/canvas, 300 × 203 cm.
Rome, Pinacoteca Vaticana
Other artistic references - such as Jaques Louis David's Death of Marat (1793, Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts) for the depiction of the art critic typing his review on Caravaggio's exhibition - tell more about the business of marketing art: The French salon as a market for selling paintings started to become important in the late 18th century, therefore the reference.
Many thanks to Schionatulander.
This beautiful visionary art film based on the director's take of the life of Caravaggio was worth the almost 7 years it took to make it. Derek Jarman had the brilliant sense to use Nigel Terry and Sean Bean as the lovers in this meditation on sexuality, criminality and art. This film is more of a fictionalization on Caravaggio using the artist's works as a way to pursue the story of the artist. It is beautiful, as are the actors and actresses, and Sean Bean is a revelation in this very early role, as he plays Ranucio, the love interest of Caravaggio. When he is on screen he steals the movie, as his animal magnetism, sexual energy, and wild persona grip the film and propel the story forward. This is an adult film with homosexual themes and might not be for everyone, but if one is adult and has a sense of taste, and loves art movies, this is a 10 out of 10.
Source: IMDB Review
The legendary painter Michaelangelo da Caravaggio was renowned for the use of theatrical light, chiaroscuro, and for painting saints with the grubby faces and dirty hands of peasants. So it's no surprise that the legendary British filmmaker Derek Jarman memorialized him not in a traditional costume drama but in an historical fantasy film filled with anachronistic objects and dreamlike imagery that bars the viewer from ever believing in Caravaggio as a biography of a 16th century artist. Visually striking and emotionally wrenching, Caravaggio takes liberties with history and plays games with the interpretation of art, making Jarman's movie as difficult to interpret as the work of his titular character.
Told in flashbacks from the artist's deathbed, Caravaggio finds the painter in exile after having committed a crime that forced him to leave his home. He recalls his youth selling his paintings and himself on the streets before being discovered in Rome by a Cardinal, who hoped to encourage the boy to paint saints while indulging his private sins. Prominent statesmen and Catholic officials recognize Caravaggio's genius, though his work is often controversial; he paints himself as a debauched young god, and employs whores and street fighters to pose for his saints.
While looking for a model for John the Baptist, Caravaggio meets Ranuccio, a laborer and fighter who is only too willing to sell himself for gold coins. Michele (as Caravaggio is called) quickly becomes infatuated with the beautiful young man, and Ranuccio responds to him enough to arouse the envy of his lover, Lena, though the Ranuccio insists that he's only in love with Michele's money. The three have a strange, twisted erotic relationship in which Michele flirts with Lena to make Ranuccio jealous but ends up becoming fond of her, taking pleasure in dressing her up and passing her off as an aristocrat. A violent and tragic chain of events is set in motion when Lena, pregnant with Ranuccio's child, abandons him for the wealthy Scipione Borghese.
The film deliberately draws attention to the ways in which it is a reconstruction of history, not an attempt to tell a straightforward story. There are motor bikes, trucks and typewriters in this Renaissance, as well as frankness about homosexual desire which certainly existed yet one doubts was spoken of so openly by members of the Renaissance Church. The storytelling is slow and methodical. It includes several long, silent scenes showing Caravaggio at work, drawing attention to the dark backgrounds and striking use of light, as well as a long scene with a gymnast posing for the artist who shows off unnatural body positions and later has a monologue about unnatural sexual acts at aristocratic parties. The theme of "blood brothers" runs through the drama, beginning after a knife fight in which Ranuccio wounds Michele, then kisses him; the two share passion and blood later in an even more disturbing context.
The still-life imagery has strong symbolic implications as well. Caravaggio holds an art show at a party in the catacombs, with rotting skeletons all around and stolen jewelry passed among the major characters to show their shifting loyalties and how wealth defines them. Caravaggio's entire relationship with Ranuccio is defined by money; when he first paints the young man, he gives him gold coins that Ranuccio hides in his mouth until the artist offers a last coin from between his own teeth. Later, Ranuccio and Lena play with the coins during their lovemaking. Everything in Michele's world -- drink, fruit, art, love -- can be bought or sold, while spirituality is largely absent, controlled by corrupt Church leaders who will overlook sins like sodomy to collect art that will make them powerful and celebrated.
Caravaggio's art is not discussed in the film except in terms of its biographical importance -- none of the characters note the colors, the lighting or any of the other elements for which the artist is best known. Yet there are fascinating suppositions offered via the use of characters in the canvases. After Ranuccio poses as John the Baptist, Caravaggio comes home to find his mute assistant sitting in Ranuccio's place, holding his props, evidently envious of the young model's place in the painter's affections as well as his artwork. Lena can be chillingly pragmatic -- she has no problem with her lover selling his body for art or sex, though she resents him when she fears that Ranuccio may actually love Caravaggio -- yet when she takes her hair down to pose as Magdalen, she reveals a soft, ethereal beauty that's quite invisible when she's a tough peasant and later a taut would-be-aristocrat.
The movie's scenarios create narratives around traditional canvases, including the disturbing use of a dead body for a classic painting. It's hard at times to guess when the film is making a statement about the life of Caravaggio versus when it's focused more on the experiences of Derek Jarman; many of the themes, like homoerotic desire and challenges to the social order, recur in his other works, and indeed the superlative principal actors (Nigel Terry as Caravaggio, Sean Bean as Ranuccio and Tilda Swinton as Lena) all appear in other films by the director. The somber mood of an era of corruption and violence, when love offers some hope of redemption but also the possibility of devastation and despair, comes through very strongly, despite the interjection of twisted humor via a sadistic critic typing in a bathtub and a wealthy patron who uses a pocket calculator to determine values.
Given Michaelangelo da Caravaggio's renown for using a consistent light source, which permitted natural illumination of his subjects, it's ironic that the characters in this film about him remain impossible to see clearly. This is a deliberately elusive glimpse of a history that belongs as much to a filmmaker as a painter, and to the objects of the artists' gaze as much as the subjects.