Soundscapes: Our Review of Derek Jarman’s ‘Blue (1993)’

Posted in Movies,, What's Streaming? by - July 10, 2021
Soundscapes: Our Review of Derek Jarman’s ‘Blue (1993)’

Blue is my first Derek Jarman film, and it is a good place to start exploring the filmography of a man who was both literary and visceral. It’s presumably devastating for a film director to lose his sight, only to see shades of the titular color. So he brings that harrowing experience on screen, the only thing changing are the sounds. Sounds like an IV drip that he compares to a canary. Those beeps make for a haunting experience and his metaphors double that effect. Viewers don’t normally associate canaries with death at first until Jarman’s references outside of AIDS click in.

Another sound that Jarman uses are bells, using that and other sounds as language deep with double meaning. The bells can transport his viewers to the East, to a childhood and empire he never experience. Or to his home country, the bells either signaling his doom or a beckoning heaven. Initial viewings are haunting as Jarman only uses one sense in an artistic medium that mostly uses two. But repeat viewings remind us of the old and true adage that taking away one sense enhances another. If anything, having only sound requires us to listen. His collaboration with Simon Fisher-Turner in choreographing these sounds proved fruitful.

Jarman mixes his soundscape with Nigel Terry’s lyrical narration. And sometimes we he hear his voice too. I’m not knocking the imaginative possibility of visuals, and I usually prefer visuals over narration. But Jarman provides a counterpoint for people with the same preferences. Another comparison he makes in describing his IV drop is that it’s like a river. Hearing that word, viewers might associate that word with something lush and flowing. A place outside of the hospital where people like him spend their last days. There’s something comforting in his imagination and how he shares that imagination with us. It feels reassuring that he can mentally take himself to a freer place.

Blue‘s score can be vibrant. Its use of string instruments, in one scene, can remind viewers of people dancing on cobblestone streets. People at their physical peak. People without a disease that took them before they should have died. A whole music interlude takes a minute but feels longer. And that music suddenly stops, as if reminding us of imagination’s limitations. Levity passes. His juxtapositions reminds us of the Godlike qualities and capabilities of people making films. Filmmakers like him giveth and taketh away. But this time around, This God is fallible, a human who deserved better than death.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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