Sunday, 30 July 2017
In 1976, Derek Jarman had this to say about the British punk scene, its prime movers and faithful followers; "petit bourgeois art students, who a few months ago were David Bowie and Bryan Ferry look-alikes – who’ve read a little art history and adopted some Dadaist typography and bad manners, and who are now in the business of reproducing a fake street credibility"
So why did he set about making Jubilee - a film whose aim was to capture the nihilist aesthetic of punk?
Well, primarily because he had become fascinated with Jordan, whom he first spotted at Victoria Station and recorded in his diary thus; "White patent boots clattering down the platform, transparent plastic miniskirt revealing a hazy pudenda. Venus T-shirt. Smudged black eye-paint, covered with a flaming blonde beehive ... the face that launched a thousand tabloids. Art history as makeup." It was a match made in heaven; the posh thirtysomething gay filmmaker and set designer and the curvy, young provocative trendsetter who worked at the counter of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren's Kings Rd boutique, Sex and managed a band led by one Adam Ant. Jarman made a super 8 short of Jordan (real name Pamela Rooke) performing ballet around a bonfire, which in turn gave him the ambition to make a full length feature around her and the punk movement. Jubilee became that movie.
Despite his fascination with Jordan and his admiration for punk's bold, anti-establishment stance, Jarman's initial suspicions regarding the scene still seep through the chaotic savagery and juvenile shock tactics of Jubilee, and never more so than in its depiction of how its sloganeering and fashion goes hand in hand with the capitalism it purports to be against. Almost every one of Jubilee's anarchists want a piece of the pie offered by creepy impresario Borgia Ginz (Jack Birkett, like an uber camp, terrifying Bond villain) who rightly proclaims "they all sign up in the end, one way or another". It's a statement all the more prescient than when you consider how, in just a few short years after the film's release, Adam Ant went mainstream and pledged an allegiance to Thatcher by appearing at the Falklands ball, whilst Vivienne Westwood, Jubilee's biggest most vociferous critic (she posted an open letter to Jarman on her next best-selling T-shirt, slamming the film as "the most boring and therefore disgusting film" she has witnessed, adding that Jarman was "a gay boy jerking off through the titillation of his masochistic tremblings") went on to accept both an OBE and a damehood from a Queen who Jubilee gleefully kills off in its initial stages. Then again, when you consider that Jarman based Jordan's character, the punk historian and (with her reggae infused, bum flashing and rather catchy version of Rule Britannia) UK entrant to the Eurovision Song Contest, Amyl Nitrate on Westwood it's perhaps unsurprising the fashion designer got the hump.
Ultimately, Jubilee is the best film about punk because it dared to call out the hypocrisy at the heart of punk. Its a damning indictment not just of the establishment they railed against, but of the movement itself. It wasn't the film the punks wanted, it wasn't their A Clockwork Orange, but the protagonists should know that they don't get to tell the story or write the history. In Jubilee, Jarman has managed to capture them, and their inevitable failings, warts and all. And Ian Charleson's Angel was right, Toyah Wilcox really does have a fat arse in this.