Derek Jarman Interview
by Akiko Hada & Rieko Fujii, 8 April 1981
This must have been one of the, if not *the*, first occasions I had met Derek. Genesis P-Orridge had put me in touch with him, and I had been to a preview screening of "In the Shadow of the Sun" prior to this interview - where I witnessed a couple of journalists falling asleep!
It's rather embarrassing to read these naive questions about film-making now. This was before I started working with the moving image myself, and I had no idea yet of of the process of film making or of the London underground film scene. Of course, within a few years I'd be working with some of the young filmmakers close to Derek - most notably with John Maybury, whom Derek talks about in this interview - and be able to observe his working methods through them, as well as through working directly with Derek on a couple of pop promos, but I didn't know that at this point. Funny how life turns out...
I still hope the below interview is of some interest to the readers. Anyone who's met Derek knows he was a great talker. This interview ended up being longer than originally planned - my notes mention "3rd cassette", so well over 2 hours. I have edited it down a little bit, but here is most of the main contents. Apologies for the few gaps, where I just can't make any sense out of my original transcript.
I took the photo below at his flat about a month after this interview. There are a few more - possibly better - images on my Music Photography page, in case any of you are interested.
Our appointment is at 6pm for 1 1/2 hours, at Derek's 4th floor, 1-room flat on Charing Cross Road. A metal sphere can be seen from outside, that helps identify his flat in this anonymous looking block.
Cups of delicious Algerian coffee from a shop in Old Compton Street, and chocolate wafers, along with some Japanese sweets "Milky" that we brought along, on the table.
|Chaos:||Chaos... (laughs)... most of my friends.|
|Energy:||I am certainly lacking it (laughs) .|
|Death:||I think about it every day, particularly at the moment. That what happens... well, it doen't really associate with anything in particular. Certainly my friends' death. I think about it an awful lot, I mean, we are living at the end of the world.|
|Death:||I think about it every day, particularly at the moment. That what happens... well, it doen't really associate with anything in particular. Certainly my friends' death. I think about it an awful lot, I mean, we are living at the end of the world.|
|[The telephone rings. It's Jordan. She'll ring back in three quarters of an hour.]|
|Flower:||Camellias... They've got bright green leaves, and they are red and pink and sometimes white. They come out at the wrong time of the year, almost in winter, and they look as if they should be tropical. They are a most tropical looking flower you get around here. When you see them in the spring here... such a surprise, they don't look as if they should be here. They're wonderful.|
|Kinship/Family:||Oh, definitely my mum, and my grandmother. I don't really like families, I find them rather terrifying. So, fear. Yes... (laughs).|
|Fog:||There isn't any left in England. We don't have fogs like we used to have. We used to have wonderful fogs in London. I mean, people die in them, they are so strong (laughs.) Probably you can see them in a room, you can look across the room and actually see the fog in the room. When they stopped burning coal, fogs really stopped as well. Los Angeles... it's another thing which reminds me of.|
|Volcano:||Kenneth Anger. He put volcanoes all over his new film. They are wonderful, they are all over the film.|
PASSION, FILM, PAINTING
What is your passion in life?
Oh, I don't know. I think it alters. When I was a kid, I was passionate about flowers, butterflies - I used to collect butterflies - and paintings. And when I grew up a bit, I became passionate about music at that period, and theatre. And then I changed again. I'm not so passionate any longer, I am too old for passion (laughs). The Romans used to think passion as a madness. I'm not passionate any longer, am I, James?
[His friend and producer James Mackay is sitting on his bed, reading a magazine.]
Film... Am I passionate about films? When I see the old movies I made 10 years ago, it's fascinating to see my friends 10 years before. I think the older the film is, the more fascinating it gets. The first photographs are really fascinating, and the first films are really wonderful to watch. I think a film gets more and more extraordinary when it gets older, and having been doing it for 10 years, some of the things I have done are old and have that feeling, for me anyway.
Do you like 30's Expressionist films?
Yes, very much so. [Dr. Caligari?] Yes. Also, some Japanese films of that time as well. Mizoguchi's wonderful films... I love his films, those are my favourite films.
I feel your films are not a kind of a media for giving some concrete message through them, but more for creating an interesting imagery. Do you agree with that?
Very much so, because I was a painter, I came to film from being a painter. I've never worked in the film industry as such, I've never worked in television. What I am looking at is always important in my films. I have also worked as a designer, of course, I worked for Ken Russell as a designer, so that influenced me as well. I suspect my weakest spot is having to write my own script as well. But they [the films] are all visual, that's what interests me.
What is the reason why you work on both feature films and experimental films?
It is really one grown out of the other. I started as a painter, as I said, and I rented a super 8 camera from my friend, and I went and took a lot of super 8 films. As the time I was still designing for Ken Russell, and still painting, and slowly films took over. And I've never stopped making my own super 8 movies, but after doing that for 5 years, it is also exciting to make a feature film. And a situation occurred where it was possible to make Sebastiane in 1975. We made it with very little money, a friend of mine got a loan against his house, and we went away and made that film. In fact, all my roots are painting and home movie making, the underground area of film making, on the whole, rather than the commercial cinema.
What is the difference, in terms of your ambition, between feature films like Sebastiane and Jubilee, and those experimental films such as In the Shadow of the Sun?
That was a very private film in a way, because I was working with friends, it was just made for my friends. We never expected that film to go further than my studio, maybe shown to friends or Co-op [London Film-Makers' Co-op] or something like that. All those films in those days were really made in our own cinema, a group of people who were living in studios, we all lived in a close proximities to each other, so we were making a sort of bigger home movies. That's what those films are, and I actually rather like them. They are very private films compared to the feature films.
What kind of paintings did you used to do?
[Pointing to a painting on the wall] That's the last one I did, those little ones there with a star in it, there in a black picture. It's a sort of landscape, but it is difficult to ascertain that, it's a sort of apocalypse picture, rather like John Martin's, a 19th century painter. I started painting landscape, and these became very abstract. In fact, for a long time I was doing rather big abstract pictures, sort of influenced by American painting, then I stopped, but I still work on these.
Do you still paint then?
I do a little bit, every now and again. They start off like that there, and I do a bit each day, but they are like drawings rather than paintings, they are very simple. I don't do any big pictures, I don't have any room. I need to work in this room, it's not just big enough for paintings. it's only 15 square feet at most [he must have meant 15 x 15 feet], I think. So I have to move my desk to paint, that's why they are so small.
Talking of painting, when and how did you get interested in Caravaggio?
It was suggested by a man who commissioned this film, called Jackson. It wasn't an idea that I had myself. He came up to me at a gallery opening about four years ago, before I did The Tempest, and asked me whether I was interested in writing a script, and he sat me down to write a script for three months. I've left it for a while as I worked on The Tempest, and then re-written it again in the last month or two. We've set up an office and I hope we'll start filming at the end of this summer. But like all these things, you just never know. Because of the situation here in London, to actually get organised... [is] very hard.
OTHER DIRECTORS' FILMS
I heard you had trouble with David Bowie [in regards to the Neutron project.]
No trouble with David Bowie whatsoever. David Bowie was going to do it, but in the end we couldn't get the money together fast enough, so he had to find something else, which was Elephant Man. Then he started Elephant Man and he was working really hard, he was so exhausted by it, so he said to me, "I don't think I can do it next January". That's when we could probably have done it. In the mean time, I was having problems, which I think he sensed, with the company that commissioned it, they were having problems, so we decided to call it off. But I'm certain that I will work with David Bowie one day. I think he wants to work with me, and I certainly want to work with him, just this time it was not quite right.
What do you think of his films?
I quite liked The Man Who Fell to the Earth, I thought he was quite good in that. I liked that film. I didn't see the other one [Just a Gigolo], I heard the other one was terrible. Everyone said it was terrible, so I decided I didn't want to see it. I never go to see films because of the actor, and I only go and see one if people said it was a good film. Everyone said this one was terrible, and I believed them this time. Sometimes I don't believe them, but I believed them about this film.
Any recent films you've seen and liked?
I saw Tarkovsky's Stalker, I thought that was wonderful, a lovely film. It looks so wonderful at the beginning, all that landscape. I went to the Berlin Film Festival, but I didn't see many films I really liked. Most of them that I like are things like super 8 films from New York, Caroline Key and people like that, Scott B and Bess B, more or less underground - I don't know if that's still the right word for it. Honestly, I preferred that sort of cinema while I was in Berlin, though I went to see one or two commercial films.
I can tell you films I hated, that's very easy. I hated Elephant Man, I thought it was absolutely awful, unbearable. I can give you the reasons which are specific. I think it was [?? - illegible] the way the English life was set up; it was very conventional, made like a television documentary; had a certain style of acting that I didn't like. I thought the only nice thing about it was the photography, which was beautiful, wonderful, but everything else was absolutely haywire.
I hated Long Good Friday, it was so boring I nearly went to sleep in it. In fact, there is a whole area of English cinema which are so terrible. Alan Parker is another one. Fame and that dreadful film called Midnight Express, which is so nasty because that man had his head beaten up, and all the audience were cheering for it. That is the English yawn cinema. I call that a "yawn between two long adverts".
But there are English directors who are interesting. People like Chris Petit who made Radio On, Ron Peck who made Nighthawks, and there are others as well. There are underground film makers, there is a young super 8 film maker called John Maybury who has made a film recently, which is absolutely wonderful, and he's going to show it at the ICA this summer.
Have you seen any of Julien Temple's films?
Great Rock & Roll Swindle? I liked that, I thought it was fun, light-hearted and funny, like the English Carry On films of the 1950's.
Yes, I think Julien likes those films.
Absolutely, so do I. Julien Temple is another one who could probably produce very interesting films. Jim Sharman, though he's Australian, I don't know. We will see. I don't like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but there is a new one so we'll see what it's like.
Did you like the Rocky Horror stage show?
I didn't like the film at all, the stage version is much more interesting. Somehow the film did not work in England, no one liked it in England, it only lasted for a week. It's only been successful in America.
What kind of reactions do your films get abroad?
I don't know. In Germany very favourably, they get very good reactions in Germany. Different films differently. For example, Sebastiane did very well in Italy. None of them did particularly well in America. It's very difficult to break into the American market, although none of them yet has done disasterously. Considering the budgets, which are all very small, all of the films made profits, which is excellent. I don't know about Japan, I don't know if any of them even got there. I don't think so. The Tempest did very well in Australia, and now Jubilee is also released in Australia. I think Jubilee was before its time, because now it seems people are interested in that film again, it seems to be coming back. I don't know, every country is different. I think the films are most consistently liked in Germany, of all the coutries.
Are you usually aware of what other directors are doing?
I don't know a huge amount about films, I know a lot about paintings. I am brought up as a painter, I have never consistently studied film, I have never been to film school or anything. I think one is aware of other film makers, one is in contact with a lot of people who see films. I do see films, there are hundreds of things one misses. But, for example, going to the Berlin Film Festival for ten days, you see 2 films a day or 3 a day, so you do see a lot of films in places like that, very often the sort of films that I really liked, particularly ones from abroad. I am not very keen on English film-makers. But you can understand it: if one is working in a particular country, one would have to be very critical about the sort of films that are being made around them. I like the German cinema very much. I like Werner Herzog's films, not all of them but I like The Heart of Glass very much. I like Japanese films. Like most people, I seem to like films that come from abroad.
I tell you the one film that I was disappointed by, though - Kurosawa's last film, Kagemusha. Everyone thought it was absolutely wonderful, but I thought it was terrible. I found it unbelievably boring. It had none of the finess of real Japanese cinema, it seemed to be terribly infected by the sort of Western music that I always loved, but I just found it warring. I suppose Japan is like that, Western music is played everywhere. But I found it odd because the film was set back in the past. If it was a film about modern Japan, it wouldn't matter. But it did seem to me that it was muddled, for me it was.
What was that wonderful film, I always forget. There is a wonderful film about a boy who has been painted with in a temple, a singer who is painted with signs and the demon tears his ears off, and he goes off to the graveyard and there is a princess.... That film [Kwaidan] is absolutely wonderful.
What degree of power do you have in the production of the films?
What sort of power? Control of the subject, or...
Do you have an absolute power?
Of course not. The whole thing about film making is so enormous that I don't know how you interpret power, it's a very broad question. I think I've always [used] my own material, or adapted Shakespeare, for a start. I have always made the decision what I was going to make. I haven't made anything that I didn't personally want to make. I don't know if that's power or not.
When it comes to actually making a film, they are made on a fairly communal basis, everyone suggests ideas and things, and I don't work in a way a normal commercial film director does, because we don't have the resources. When you're making a film with very little money, you don't have that sort of power. When you've got millions of dollars, then you can say "paint that house red!", "I want that river to go blue!" and so on. Working with small budgets, you have to improvise all the time.
Do you get much influence from people you work with?
Yes I do. I work with people I know, people I have known for a long time. They are people I know quite well outside of the film, and whom I listen to normally, so one is listened to when one is making a film.
Obviously, if we are going to get the film together, the last decision is going to be mine, but you can see, it's sort of reciprocal. I've been working with highly intelligent and articulate actors, for instance in The Tempest, Heathcote Williams who knows much more about Shakespeare than I do. So if Heathcote says in the morning, "I think this line should be put it back again" or "we should cut it out", I will listen. That's how we work. I don't work in the dictatorial manner, I don't think. But I have a very firm idea what I want to do before I go filming, and this is a question of setting up. You see, if you get all the right people in the beginning, you never have to ask anyone to do anything they don't want to do, because you have worked out what people would want to do in any case. That's where the art is, finding the right people before you start, and when you start, everyone does just whatever they want do do more or less. That's how it's worked.
What relationships do you have with your actors?
They are all different, obviously. Some are friends and some are friends' friends. There are very few people who don't come out of my circle of friends. Nearly every one of them knows someone else on the film, or someone on one of the other films. Although they are not all great friends of mine, maybe, and I don't see them often, they are all people whom I'm likely to bump into in the course of ordinary life. I probably see Jordan once every month, or somewhere or other I go and say hello to her. I've kept in contact with most of them, not all of them. Just like life, some of them go away completely. But they are all people whom I know or they know friends of mine.
SPIRITUALITY, RELIGION, ETC.
Have you had any spiritual experience?
It's very difficult to know about it, isn't it? Have I seen ghosts and have I seen angels? I don't think I have.
Any memories of funny, strange or shocking experience?
I have hundreds of funny, strange or shocking experiences. I have hundreds of them, I don't know where to begin. Talking about religious experiences, I have got a very strange experience which, I don't know if it will mean very much to you because obviously you come from a very different culture, but ancient Greece is the root of Western culture, and in Delphi, which is sacred to Apollo, where the sacred well was that used to speak prophecies, and it still exists. I was hitch-hiking through Greece when I was much younger, I was hitch-hiking down to Delphi to see the famous bronze of Charioteer. It was a group of three of us, and we got in very late at night. The lorry which took us stopped before we got to the village, and we had to walk to it at night. There was this waterfall, and it was very hot, obviously in the middle of summer in Greece, and we decided to sleep out by this waterfall. And when we woke up very early int he morning, because the sun came up at four thirty in the morning, we found a sort of ravine where water came out of a cave, and there was a big stone and we cooked our breakfast on this stone and washed all our clothes in it. Then a little later, at about six o'clock, several people arrived, looked at us very strangely and disappeared, and about twenty minutes later, about 100 policemen in 4 police vans arrived. I've never seen so many policemen in so few vans, just hundreds of them everywhere, arrived and arrested us. It turned out that we had washed our clothes in the sacred well of Apollo, the well that gave you prophecies, and we cooked our breakfast on the altar. We didn't know that we'd done it, it was completely innocent, but obviously, it was one of the most awful things you could possibly do. Afterwards I thought it was rather wonderful, it was almost a religious experience. There you are. It is the answer to both of your questions - it was religious experience and a funny story . And we never saw a thing in Delphi, we were thrown out of the town, they wouldn't let us back in. They took us out and said, go away.
What does religion mean to you?
I have no organised religion whatsoever. I was bought up in the Church of England, and there was nothing I could learn from the Church. I have a totally secular view of life. I mean, in a way, I believe in this fatalism but it is nothing to do with organised religion. If I got my hands on England, I'd make them all read "Tempest" instead of the Bible. I think they would learn more.
Are you interested in the religions of the East?
I have been, but not deeply. There was a huge fashion in England about 10 or 15 years ago. As a young student I almost reacted against that, because I was slightly younger, you can imagine the situation. I am much more interested in the Art of the East. One of the great influences of my life was a man who had deeply known about the Japanese art, who'd been to Japan. He had always told me the stories of things that happened to him in Japan, and he had a Japanese tea bowl. I've still got one of his Japanese tea bowls, up there. It's a rather nice one, I love it. It's not a very old one, apparently it's 19th century, but it's beautiful, isn't it? I think it is. Perhaps it's very ordinary to you. I think it's wonderful. It is used, I'm afraid it's used for very English tea instead.
IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUN
We thought In the Shadow of the Sun was very spiritual and ritualistic.
It is ritualistic. It is in an Apocalyptic form, it is like those pictures. It's dissolution of fire. It's really about fire. Fire is everywhere, every single frame has got smoke, something burning in it. What fire means, it's a very spiritual thing. It's something that destroys and creates. It's a very elemental film. I don't know, at the time, whether I knew what I was doing. It's strange, we've just done it. We just went out, there were no plans, it wasn't something that we wrote down and said, "we are going to do this." It was just improvised. Sometimes people were just down in the studio, and I dressed everyone in very abstract clothes, dinner jackets and things like that, fairly anonymous, all in black or white.
Did you add the colour effects afterwards?
No, it's all original. All of that was made in a home movie camera, with a Nizo super 8 camera.
What did the clothes in the film signify, especially the women's?
They're all wearing dinner suits, there was no real reason. What I wanted was that kind of costume. They were very cheap, you can buy these in a jumble sale, those kinds of suits. I bought a lot one day, six or seven of them. So whenever anyone came down, I put them in a dinner suit. But a strange thing was that, at the time, Luciana, one of the girls in the film, was wearing a dinner suit in any case as fashion, she was wearing men's suits as part of the way she was looking.
Are you obsessed with blood or pain?
I don't think I'm obssessed with either of them, I hope not. Jubilee maybe.
The dead girl in In the Shadow of the Sun has her mouth covered in blood too.
It's a sort of sacrifice, yes. It's beyond pain in any case.
Do you think the image of blood has religious connotations?
I think it's a very powerful, elemntal image. It will be an essential image in all art. I don't think a certain thing is particular to those films, I think if one looks at any film, it's there. Do you think it's very strong?
The use of it in your film was very strong and beautiful, impressive.
It's not something I actually thought about. Something that, perhaps, one didn't have to think about. It just happened in that way. It's just like waking up in the morning, one just does it, do you know what I mean? One cannnot know why one wakes up in that particular moment. Certainly that image is there, it's very difficult for me to analyse it, therefore it remains a mystery.
Do you think films show the image one has subconsciously?
When the film is made like this, I think they do. The more commercial the film becomes, the less it shows that. I think that's why films like In the Shadow of the Sun is very private. Obviously, half the audience is not connected at all, the imagery does not touch their mind, and other people will, and there will be one or two people in showing of that film - always one or two - who say it was a most wonderful film, because for some reason all those images echo in their mind. It is very much like that. The strange thing is that a lot of people liked The Tempest and told me so, and hardly anyone walked out of it, in England in any case. With In the Shadow of the Sun, you lose people, people walk out, people would be bored, and then you get certainly always one person in the audience who comes out and goes completely crazy. The first time I've ever shown it - I've shown it twice now - a German lady came up to me and said it was a most wonderful film she'd ever seen in her whole life, completely like that, almost speechless about it, and at least half of the audience had left. Then, in Berlin, someone came up and said the film is absolutely wonderful and it's what he thought cinema should be like, but other people had left, so it has that effect. That soft of private film making, it's something very introspective, someone's mind happens to coincide with yours, so they love it, or they hate it. I find that whole area of film making fascinating, that's why I haven't given up doing it.
There is a scene where a man claps his hands, and a lot of dust comes with that action. To me he looked rather scientific. Could you tell me what he signifies?
He was a sort of scientific person, he was a sort of magician. I put talcum powder on his hands, and when he clapped, I thought it might look like smoke. It didn't really look like smoke on film, but it did create something. It's a strange image that, isn't it? That image could be interpreted in so many ways, everyone sees that image in so many ways, it's amazing. Someone came up with an interpretation which I had never thought about, but when they say it to you, you realise that it could be seen that way.
Does it matter to you what kind of people your films are shown to?
There wouldn't be any particular kind of people, there are the audience and the film. I don't mind who comes to see my film, I would be pleased if every one came but they don't.
With films you don't get as much direct feedback as you do with music.
You don't get as much as music, but a great deal more than you do as a painter. That's the difference to me. You never know what people really think when you paint, although they always say it's nice. But with film you can always feel if the audience like it or not. You can actually make the audience clap, it is possible. Like in The Tempest when Elizabeth came in, they did clap. I was really thrilled with the first audience. Whether they laugh and think it's just silly or... you just don't know before you have shown the film. When they actually laughed and enjoyed it, it was wonderful. It's the first time I've actually made the audience really laugh, the whole audience laughed so much and they actually clapped. It happened in Edinburgh, then it happened quite often when we showed that film, that reaction. It was wonderful.
Did you know Throbbing Gristle before you filmed them then?
I've known Genesis for about a year by now. He came to see The Tempest and really liked it. It surprised him. Then we actually met and we got on really well together. I really like him very much, and I think he quite likes me, so we found we have a lot to talk about, which was great. It was nothing to do with music or films particularly, generally we got on well talking about the weather probably. And then he brought his tapes around but I never listened to them, and he said, "you never listen to my tapes, I know you don't!" and I admitted. Everyone said they were loud and noisy. And then I said to myself, I really must listen to his tapes, and I sat down and listened to them all, and I discovered they were absolutely wonderful. Then I said to him, "I've listened to your tapes and I like them, they're not loud and noisy as I thought." Then he did the film music for me - I thought he would be ideal because I actually liked his music and he was keen to do it - so he made the music for me, and I did a little film of them. I hope we'll go on working together. I mean, you can't tell what the future holds, but I hope so. We've survived these two small collaborations, and we all like each other as much as we did before.
Did you find anything common between your work and TG's work?
I don't know. I haven't really thought about it. Maybe. There must be. I don't think our work has anything in common, but as people we seem to get on, so we must share a certain look of the world. I suppose that's the common denominator.
PUNK / NEW ROMANTICS / JUBILEE
What did Punk mean to you?
Punk was the most vibrant thing that happened at that time in England, in terms of art and music. That's what it was. Although I was of another generation, I could... you know, it's a thing that recurs, it shows in different way, never the same, but there is always something new happening, and Punk happened to be the newest and the most interesting thing then.
What are you interested in now?
I'm very introspective, because The Tempest was a very introspective film to make, and the last two years I haven't been out very much, I tend to stay here and work very much in a quiet way. There are some very good things going on, like the John Maybury film that I told you about. I think John Maybury would hate to be identified with those New Romantics, but probably he is, do you know what I mean? That's his generation. We will see, that's probably the way a lot more people will look like. I think Punk transformed into that. I don't think it's got the energy that Punk had. What I liked was that energy of Punk, it was out to alter the world, but I don't think the New Romantics are out to alter the world. In a sense it's more gentle and quiet, sweeter and nice. I quite liked that edge that Punk had to it.
Everyone looked more sexual.
It was all that. It was more involved in the street as well. I think the New Romantics is really a extension of Punk, a lot of people who used to look like Punks now look like New Romantics, not a new generation but the same generation just transforming itself slightly. I think it will take another 10 years or so until something completely new happens. It tends to go in that way with generations, really.
The New Romantics engage themselves with historical looks. Are you interested in the historical costumes too?
That is very much in The Tempest, isn't it? The Tempest, I suppose, is a New Romantic film. In fact, one of them said The Tempest influenced them a lot, and I'd never thought about it, it was completely unconscious. The costumes in that film were some modern ones, some old ones, none of them was New Romantic and they didn't look like they look, they were all in different periods, it was a mixture.
Do you feel happy when you influence people like that?
I am not particularly. No, I prefer not to influence people, not at all. That was a connection someone else has discovered, someone young who was involved in design in that world, and told me that. No, honestly, I don't want to influence anyone at all. Everyone should have their own life. There is a lot of things that I love that I'm not influenced by. I really like my Japanese tea bowl but I have never tried to make one, I just look at it.
In one scene in Jubilee there was a guy speaking in German...
Because he was meant to be Hitler. He had retired in England.
What was he saying?
He was just saying, "oh, look at those golden coach for the Jubilee! It's fantastic, I've never seen anything so wonderful. I really appreciate it" (laughs). Then he says, "in any case, I was the greatest artist of this century, greater than Leonardo da Vinci", looking at all the rest of them (laughs). I had a whole sequence with him, but it's been cut. We decided the English were so sleeping that he might have retired here and nobody would have noticed who he was (laughs).
You used Adam & the Ants and the Banshees in Jubilee. You know, everyone says they are into Nazism.
I don't think they are. It's like with David Bowie, isn't it? David Bowie was meant to have given a Nazi salute. I don't know. I don't think they were. If I knew they were, I certainly wouldn't have had them anywhere near it. I think there was a confusion in the early part of Punk, when Vivienne was scrambling symbols, crosses and swastikas and all that muddled up all together. She was using all those images and some people thought she was a Neo-Nazi, and some of the bands who wore those clothes might be. But I don't think they are. I don't know much about Siouxsie and the Banshees. I simply asked her to be in the film, but she didn't want to, because she didn't want to be in competition with Jordan, obviously because Jordan would be a lead, and she didn't want to be a second. So she was never really in the film, I videoed her, just briefly one afternoon, she was just on the TV [in the film] briefly for 2 seconds. I wanted to put her on much more, but she wasn't interested, and I wanted to release her song on the [soundtrack] album. She was the one person we had a problem with in the film, she was the only one, really. I think it wasn't her, it was her manager. I don't think she disliked the film or me, really. I think he was pushing all the time. I don't know much about the Banshees. Kenny I know, he's another member of the band I got to know. He's left the band and now he's taking up films, with a super 8 camera. Very nice.
What aspects of history interests you?
History interests me, I think it should interest everyone, actually. That's something I'd recommend to everyone. It never repeats itself, you can't learn particular lessons from history. But I think it's fascinating to see how people would have dealt with particular situations historically, in their time, whether they were successfull or not. I think that, by just involving oneself in those problems, one might have a broader view of the way to act now. I think it's very important for people to read and know about history.
Do you have any heroes in history?
I don't have any real heroes. Who I would like to have met is very much different, because some of them would be anti-heroes (laughs). I'd like to have met some of the really unpleasant ones as well, I'd quite like to have met Cleopatra (laughs). I'd love to have been in Peru or Inca, that sort of place. And I always find the Japanese fascinating, so I think I'd like to have met someone in Japan... Lady Murasaki, who wrote the Tales of Genji. I think it's quite fascinating to have met someone like that, it seems so exotic, you see. I mean, Japan seem so perfect to Westerners, it seems so ordered and perfect. I suspect it doesn't look like that to you, but it does to us. I'd actually like to settle in one of those Japanese rooms (laughs). I think you can learn from that sort of politeness and [calm?] that are in those historical Japanese thoughts. I know it's a quite violent society too, but it seems that that violence is sort of ritualised in the society, and it seems very much contained. It looks like that in any case when you watch a Japanese film from the Western point of view. They've got real perfection, minimal perfection.
So which period in history are you most interested in?
In English history I'm interested in the Elizabethan period, the 1600's, which was when the whole culture changed. It was the period that all the things that happened since were formulated, whether they were good or bad. So it was a very important moment. Elizabeth I of England was the most interesting monarch, even her enemies thought she was wonderful. She obviously was one of our most sophisticated rulers, and she lived in a very, very difficult time when there could easily have been a civil war, but there wasn't because of her. When everything could have been destroyed, she was very [?? - illegible] and diplomatic, she managed to keep everyone happy. It must have been due to some personal magnetism, because even those people who fought against her somehow valued the differences. There must have been something extraordinary about her.
EROTICISM / SEXUAL POLITICS
What's your idea, or definition, of eroticism?
I'm trying to think if there's any very erotic films... I think Jean Genet did a very erotic film called Un Chant d'Amour, an extraordinary film. I think Cleopatra could be in a very erotic film, but she never has been. She is in Shakespeare's play of her, that's erotic. Again, I think the art in Japan deals with the erotic much better than in the West. I think Christianity had an influence on that, on the Western culture and society.
Is there any specific symbols of eroticism that you like?
Not in paticular, I don't think so.
What about that image of Sebastiane, is that part of your...
No, strangely enough, I wasn't interested in Sebastiane so much for the martyrdom or the eroticism as an image of male nudity. It was that which fascinated me, and that's how it started: the fact, in churches, where nudity presumably would not have been shown, suddenly there was this naked figure in the 14th-15th century. That's what interested me initially about it, going around seeing these figures. That interested me more than the actual arrows. I didn't find the arrows erotic. I suppose you can do a Freudian analysis and say they are erotic, they are erotic piercings. But I mean, we put him up there and we fired those arrows, and it was all very unerotic. Actually, I might have originally thought it should be erotic, that maybe he should have an orgasm or something as the arrows hit him, the idea of peple dying in orgasm. An erotic death. But in reality, when it came to it, it was terribly hot and he got burned, and one of the arrows hit him, it just hurt (laughs).
Do you know Yukio Mishima?
Yes, absolutely. He dressed himself up as Sebastiane, that photograph of him as Sebastiane, yes.
Do you like Mishima?
I don't really know much about him, I haven't actually read anything.
Oh, you should. And he's also made a film of his novel, Yukoku (Patriotism), but it was burnt. He only had one print and that was burnt.
[In fact, his widow burnt the print after his suicide but had kept the negative safely, which was discovered after her death and a DVD edition was released in the 2000's.]
How important is sexual politics to you?
I think they're very important, That's at the centre of a lot of work I do, in a way. It may not be the actual centre, but they're very much involved in it. I think women's politics is physically important at the moment, and homosexuality is important, in the West in any case. The whole history of homosexuality has ben a sort of battleground. Now it's been liberated a great deal in the last ten or fifteen years, which has made a lot of people's life a lot easier. It was very difficult to live with this huge [?? - illegible] from the society here, but now that has changed. I mean, it's still there, it's still very difficult for a young kid who grows up somewhere in the provinces. But having made the sort of decision himself, it's slightly easier. Once the decision is made, I think it's slightly easier than it used to be. It's still very difficult. Liberation of people's sexuality is extremely important, it's very repressing in the West. The Church has such a punitive influence in the West. It's going to take a long time to alter that. It's like anything else, it's going to take generations, it'll take a couple of generations before it gets better, or it might get worse (laughs). There's that possibility.
DREAMS / POETRY / TRIVIA
A completely different question. Do you have a favourite dream? Any interesting or impressive dreams you've had?
When I was a child I always used to dream of the Wizard of Oz. I used to dream of Oz all the time when I was 7 or 8, and they were terrible nightmares, not as nice as the film. You know the wicked witch in the film? I used to dream of her a lot (laughs). And Oz, and those emerald floors. You remember the floors which were bright emerald green? I used to dream of those.
So it was a colour dream?
Yes, bright green. I've had several colour dreams. What does that mean? Is there a Japanese interpretation? (laughs)
No, but I usually have dreams in colour, especially green dreams.
That was a very green one, went on a lot. I don't always dream in colour, but when I do, I remember them the next day. The last colour dream I had was very strange. It was set in modern Russia, but it had become like old St. Petersburg. It was like Bond Street here or a very expensive shopping street in Paris. There were people wandering around in furs, exquisite, sort of Edwardian, sort of early 19th century shops with wonderful glass and brass, and very expensive clothes. It was ultimately chic, and that was Moscow 1981 (laughs). I was a tourist from England, on roller skates I think - or was it someone else on roller skates? - and it was in colour. Very impressive, and it was like a film set.
Have you ever had premonitions in your dream? What's coming to you, and so on?
No, I don't think I really want to. If I wanted to, perhaps I might. I'd quite like it to be a bit of a surprise. I think it's probably possible. I've got no specific moment that I can remember where my life followed a dream, but no doubt it did. I don't remember my dreams often, only the ones in colour.
Who's your favourite poet?
I have favourite poems rather than favourite poets. I like William Blake, there are several of his poems I love. There's a poem by Coleridge, and I love some of Shakespeare's poetry, obviously... It's difficult. I don't know how easy it is to translate poetry, so usually the poems, the ones I remember, are poems in modern languages. And I don't speak another language well enough to be able to understand poetry in the original.
A little silly question here. What's your favourite colour?
Colour? Oh, that's difficult. I think I like them all. I don't have a favourite one, actually. Sometimes the ones that predominate my picture or something might... no, when I'm painting, I use all the colours, really. The colour that always causes me surprise, particularly in painting, is yellow. When a painting uses a lot of yellow, that gives me a surprise, because it's sort of rare here, not a colour that is used a lot. No, I don't have a favourite colour. Where do we go from here?
Another silly question.
Yes, lots of silly questions.
When is your birthday?
31st of January, 1942.
[The entryphone rings, Derek goes to answer it]
OK, what do you think about drugs?
Drugs? Well, I think they're very useful. [Laughing, he goes and lets his friend in.]
(c) Akiko Hada & Rieko Fujii 1981/2019