Wednesday 7 August 2019

No future? Jubilee (1978)

It’s taken me four decades to finally watch this film which is surprising given how much it was a part of the punk and post-punk culture I was so enamoured of in my teenage years. I’d gone to see Adam Ant at Eric’s club in Liverpool – our generation’s Cavern – and played the Slits and, especially Siouxsie & the Banshees to death. I was too young to get into the cinema at the time although that didn’t stop me getting into pubs and punk clubs.

The Banshees feature in this film and we also have The Slits smashing up a car in the kind of WWII bomb-damaged derelict street that you could still find in Liverpool and London: it’s visceral moment but one which director Derek Jarman used ironically. I saw many of his later films, probably at the Scala in London, but never travelled back to this… his films are undeniably middle-brow and reward the concentrated effort of a cinema screening perhaps more than home video. Very often he makes his point, say with The Last of England or The Garden, over the course of a stuttering narrative filled with images designed to shock and provoke alongside genuinely moving juxtapositions.

Jenny Runacre
He worked with Judi Dench, Tilda Swinton and other notables but often included non-professionals. For Jubilee, his second film after the all Latin, all-male Sebastiane (which the NME loved but, again, I’ve not seen), he recruited a mix of punk performers to go alongside the acting class of Jenny Runacre, Ian Charleson, Karl Johnson. Adam Ant plays Kid, a proto punk, whilst darling of the London scene, Jordan, plays Amyl Nitrate, a member of a gang aimed at some kind of revolution and Toyah Willcox is the aptly named Mad; a riot grrrl all her own.

The mix of styles gives the film an edginess that goes well with its deliberated shocks; it’s not an easy watch and mixes moments of beauty with revulsion. Poor old Wayne County (late Jayne of course…) is kidnapped and then murdered, as is Gene October (of second division punks Chelsea) whilst Kid is badly beaten by two bent coppers… there is, it seems, no future in England’s dreaming.

The film begins with Elizabeth I (Runacre) travelling forward in time to visit the jubilee of the second Elizabethan Age with the aid of John Dee (Richard O'Brien) and the Ariel (David Brandon), a mystical figure borrowed from Shakespeare. She finds her country transformed into a bleak landscape of petty cruelty and unkindness in which, yes, anarchy reigns and not the sovereign.

Runacre’s other role is the amoral and psychotic Bod, the leader of the gang who just want anarchy in the UK even at the expense of punk star lives. The crew is made up of Mad, Amyl, Chaos (Hermine Demoriane), Angel and Sphinx  (Charleson and Johnson) two “brothers” as well as Crabs (Nell Campbell aka Little Nell – the second Rocky Horror alumni after O’Brien) who is busy having her fun with Kid… interesting the dominance her character has in this situation.

Jordan. The boys don't know but the girls understand.
There are many such signifiers and the film is a lot to absorb even now with the crew deciding to commit more outrageous acts provoked by a society on the brink of breakdown. The response of Elizabeth I is often esoterically expressed but it punctuates and all too Tudor ferocity even if the contrast is a purely ironic one: fake Tudors and plastic punks.

There’s a tycoon called Borgia Ginz played by the amazing Jack Birkett who paints a show-stealing picture of money-grabbing madness presiding over a business empire designed to feed of human weakness. There’s an especially full-on orgy at one of his clubs in the film, choreographed, of course, by Lindsay Kemp.

Avenging Kid’s brutal demise, Bod throws a Molotov cocktail over one of the policemen who had attacked him screaming “No Future!” – it’s more of a statement on the times than the filmmaker’s beliefs.

No future
Jubilee is about such moments and, especially those driven by Jarman’s visual aesthetic with Jordan’s ballet dancing around a bonfire in a wasteland one of the most memorable. The camera speed varies and Ian Charleson stands naked in the background wearing the mask of a classical figure. A longhaired rocker approaches and cuts his own hair as if experiencing a punk conversion… as John Peel once said “make of that what you will…”

He also said, “that’s the one boys and girls, that’s the one!” after playing all of the Banshees debut LP on his show. I don’t think Jubilee is The One for Derek Jarman but it’s a funny, challenging and unsettling film all the same.  What it means is up to you, in a very punk “bring your own meaning” sense but there are certainly more than a few frisons with contemporary culture: its time hasn’t passed it just gets closer.

Jordan dances and the Ian watches wearing only a mask...
Dusty Verdict: One for old punks and those of us who chanted along to Complete Control, Something Better Change and Anarchy… it’s lasted better than many of those songs. Jarman was criticized for his portrayal of the punk movement and he criticized back over its appropriation of fascist imagery – both moved on though and the best of punk quickly became solidified into new wave with more thought-out politics and better music. For every Sham 69 or Cockney Rejects there was a Wire, a Magazine or a Joy Division.

Toyah is also amazingly good – so much troubled fury that I’d never seen from her wanna be Siouxsie pop-punk: respect. Jordan also shows hitherto unknown talents and she can dance too - her real name is Pamela Rooke and she now works as a vetinary assistant.

Brian Eno’s score is also near timeless and like Elizabeth, he seems plugged into the future.

Ultimately this feels like a film to read rather than watch but if Elizabeth I was to visit England now would she feel any less depressed??

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