Jubilee (1977)
bit of high culture
Jubilee (1977)

Director: Derek Jarman

Genre: Avante-garde/Experimental

Themes: Punk/Royalty/Time travel
Produced by: Cinegate/Libra Films International/Megalovision


Jenny Runacre – Elizabeth I
Jordan – Amyl Nitrate
Nell Campbell – Crabs
Linda Spurrier – Viv
Toyah Wilcox – Mad
Ian Charleson – Angel (Ariel)
Richard O’Brien – Dee
Adam Ant – Kid

Derek Jarman’s Jubilee presents a futuristic view of the rebellious fashions of the British punk movement of late 1970’s London. It is steeped in a nihilistic philosophy from the point of view of a group of female outcasts who are united in their hatred of convention. Jubilee, if seen today, has never been more relevant in our apocalyptic times. A vision of the future when chaos and disorder have destroyed the system and its leaders have lost touch with humanity. The police, the church and authority are seen as corrupt and party to violence and sexual depravity.

The youth though, remnants of this shattered society, discuss Art, Literature and Music in terms of history and culture. They view difference as no longer antagonistic but something to celebrate (once the old establishment has been dissolved).

In Jubilee the youth mix the past and present but can ultimately see ‘no future’. Looking at the current re-emergence of some of the truly great artists (Iggy, MC5, and Morrissey) maybe that lesson has been learnt and there is a future now. Maybe Jarmans’ statement that there are ‘no more heroes’ has finally been resolved and the youth today are finally acknowledging the musical ‘heroes’ of the past once more.

When the young and chubby Toyah (Mad) is seen photographing the suffocation of a young man it should send ‘shock waves’ through the youth of today. Why? Because with the advancement of new technology and video mobile phones there lies a danger that images of personal degradation can now be distributed for profit, fun or humiliation at the expense of our own human dignity. You only have to look at the recent news stories from Iraq to see the connection.

In Jubilee Queen Elizabeth I is transported through time by an angel (Ariel) to this future where chaos reigns. If you’ve read the papers lately you’ll have noticed that our current Queen has been digitally mapped, was Jarman prophetically showing the blurring boundaries between reality and fantasy?

Maybe things should never be repeated too often or they become stale and self-serving – as the domination of junk American culture deadens our passions. Music, and particularly of the youth, should be allowed to emerge and ignite new ideas, it’s their future, not the people in power. In Jarmans future vision the food is tasteless and the water is bad (remind you of anything?).

Jarman shows the kids roaming the streets with guns, creating violence, maybe the film is exploring the possibility that todays’ youth culture no longer needs the heroes it has been fed. This should ‘ring bells’ with the nations, and medias, preoccupation with ‘stars’ and their lifestyles. Statistics (as Amyl Nitrate so prophetically proposes) have been substituted for our new reality and govern the way we live our lives.

Adam Ant (Kid) states that he does ‘nothing’, which the majority of todays younger generation should listen to as a warning. Everybody has forgotten the people who built this nation and the kids use it as a playground (as Mad represents).

As Jarman predicts; the true artists have been driven into corners and are unappreciated today, the youth only recognise the art of drinking (look at the news). As the media megalomaniac in charge of Buckingham Palace states:

‘This is the generation who grew up and forgot to lead their lives’

‘I don’t create it, I own it’

‘The media became their own reality’

‘I own the world of flickering shadows’

Maybe without the media WE don’t exist? (T.B.C.)

Returning to Jarman’s difficult and indecipherable Jubilee after a lengthy summer hiatus it has struck me how misunderstood it was at the time and still is today. So to reset the balance before we end the analysis I should state that it should be viewed not in purely ‘musical’ terms but with more an ‘artistic/political’ sensibility. Can music ever really change the world or does it only reflect its views? I’m not sure are you? The media is key to this reflection and we wouldn’t exist without it, but it must be a ‘true’ reflection and one that is not distorted for some form of profit.

So back to Jarman’s vision where we find Kid (Adam Ant) climbing the steps opposite the Royal Albert Hall, to a classical music soundtrack, to pay tribute to the statues of some of the great classical composers of forgotten centuries (Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Bach). I know that you may not consider these men ‘punks’ but many were radical for their time and as such could be seen as subversive if you dig deep enough. Kid drops the bottle of milk he is carrying with little expression, why? – I’m not sure (YOU think!).

Cutting from this scene we return to Mad and her friends disposing of the murdered youth. The group discusses how women have been reduced to depictions of ‘Penthouse’ and romance stories (yet another image mirrored in todays’ society). Even though these girls believe that they are changing the way the future is maybe they should recognise that one corrupt power has been substituted for another (something that becomes even more apparent towards the end of the film). In effect these characters believe that they have somehow gained power, but this is only ‘false consciousness’ as it is the media who still controls their existence. With Buckingham Palace now a recording studio the media megalomaniac states “As long as the music’s loud enough we won’t see the world fall apart”. How very true!

Society is further debated as being handed over to the female gender as men have destroyed its life-force for their own material gain (big business has always been driven by sexual domination of the female form). It’s not too difficult to see how accurate Jubilee can be viewed, just look at today’s sexual political climate. Women are seen as profitable and a viable commodity, watch the megalomaniac cackle as he talks of packaging them. The girls state that “Love stuffed it with the hippies” and “Sex is for geriatrics, the mindless”, yet fail to see that the media still controls them.

When Kid gets into the studio to sing ‘Plastic Surgery’ stating that he doesn’t care about the money, he just doesn’t want to get ripped off, Jarman could be suggesting that society has become so prosaic that it can be moulded into anything for pure profit. Watching the predominance of American makeover programmes clearly exposes the reality inherent in the films’ message – we mirror the images we see and reproduce these as a way to fit in with the medias portrayal of our society. It’s vicious circle really.

As Kid and the two brothers discuss London and how society is controlled and ordered by inactivity (creating ‘the blank generation’) the girls play monopoly. Yet as they become bored they decide to ‘plan the future’ instead. However, once more the media takes over and they become obsessed by a transsexual popstar on the TV, leading to yet another murder. The scene than cuts to our time travelling Queen who states that “Mankind is attracted to polarities”. This suggests that as a species – if humans can’t have order they will create chaos. These polarities are further represented with the introduction of a bizarre sort of ‘Jesus Christ rock opera’ into the film, illustrating the evil nature of the society depicted within the films narrative so far.

As a sharp juxtaposition the film then returns to the realm of the megalomaniac once more, who states: “Without progress life would be unbearable” and “progress has taken the place of happiness”. He goes on to state how everybody is working for him, so graphically depicted in the scenes of sex, violence and disorder in the club he enters. Outside in the streets a group of girls wreck an abandoned car and string another female up with barbed-wire whilst a policeman watches laughing. Society has indeed gone crazy.

Back at Viv’s flat the lads watch TV whilst the girls discuss women’s material and political rights – civilisation has been destroyed by resentment and they feel cheated. As Mad carves the words ‘LOVE’ into another girls’ back is it for fun? Or desperation? Simultaneously the lads discuss entertainment as ‘easy come, easy go’. It’s a cry for help really! Give us something we can believe in.

As the film becomes more chaotic and disorientating we arrive at ‘Max’s Bingo Palace’ - a sort of nostalgic version of normality. As the caller calls out the numbers to a couple of disinterested ‘Monty Pythonish’ housewives their discussion leads to the topic of the millions of unemployed (a 70’s political comment and attitude). Just as the winner receives her prize of 3 pairs of Jubilee knickers 2 members of the Special Branch arrive to attack Kid, Viv and the two brothers who have been playing on the slot machines at the back of the room. This section of the film should bring memories back to any old punks who could never find a suitable venue to gather. In the ensuing violence the brothers are shot, Viv scarpers back home and Kid is chased around the dark streets of London. When he is caught up with he is violently beaten, which shows a sexual discrimination to the previous incident with the ‘laughing policeman’ and the girls.

The reaction to the killing of the 3 lads is swift, brutal and traumatic for the girls. Although they had previously seen crying as a negative reaction, they breakdown at the completion of their vengeful retribution upon the offending officer. Meanwhile one member of the girls gang experiences a totally different relationship with another policeman, highlighting the polarity the film projects. The only moment within the film when two people actually fall in love, have sex and discuss marriage (it all happens very fast too) is destroyed by a molotov cocktail being hurled at their door with a cry of ‘No Future’.

As the time travelling Queen spouts poetry of despair declaring how colour has deserted the world, the surviving girls (including Amyl and Mad) are driven out of the city to the country retreat of the media meglomaniac. Settling into his world and the chaos that has been acted out throughout the narrative it occurs to me that Jubilee depicts a country which has degenerated into one of staggering extremes and hypocritical belief systems, one in which the media appears to be the only winner. Does this mean that fantasy is the new reality?

As the Queen states during the closing act of the film: “We drift into a sea of storms”

Tyler Durden – tMx 17 – 10/04

contact wastebin@trakMARX.com trakMARX.com - Punk Rock …and Roll