I just love the way London has become so cinephile over the last decade, in a way that is a lot more vibrant, inventive and playful even than Paris, which might reign supreme as the city of cinema but is a little too reverential and serious for my liking. As yet another example, I attended the screening of Derek Jarman's Blue tonight, part of the pagan punk season at the BFI. And as a stroke of genius, the film was presented in the enormous screen of the IMAX, when you would have expected to see it in a much smaller screen, considering its perceived niche audience. Yet it was a crazy gamble that the programmers took which more than paid off, given than the screening was nearly full.
Blue is Derek Jarman's penultimate feature length film and a radical one, shot as he was succumbing to the effects of AIDS, among them blindness. It is is an hypnotic and immersive experience, which was enhanced by its presentation on the massive screen of the IMAX. There are no actors, no movements, no variation in the screen, which consist of a single shot of blue from start to finish, inviting the viewer to see the world as he was seeing it back then.
We hear Derek Jarman's warm and engaging tones, as well as those of regulars in his filmography: Tilda Swinton and Nigel Terry, as he freely evokes his past and present, from the his visits to the hospital and the gritty details of his medication and its side-effects, to some more elegiac memories of friends and lovers who were taken too soon by the same illness. It is at once sad, meditative, joyful, enthused, as Derek Jarman is looking back at his own life and staring at death in the eyes with a quiet resignation. There is no self-pity, rather an almost innocent and curious contemplation of life.
As a cinematic experience, it is also incredibly powerful. I must admit, I had my reservations as to whether the film could sustain one's interest for nearly 80 minute of a static, single shot of blue, but it is the true power of cinema and the talent of Derek Jarman that it is captivating, (more so than so many blockbusters which frenetic agitation drags into a tedious nothingness), as we are carried by the poetry of this experiment. Blue does get disorientating at times, dizzying even, challenging the viewer into a unique experience, wrapped into a unique soundscape and facing a radical visual proposition. But this is what makes it an extraordinary sensorial experience, pushing the boundaries of cinema as we know it.