EmptyOpened June 9 (Normal Films)
Representing a loving tribute from one cinema maverick to another, "Derek" is director Isaac Julien's ("Looking for Langston") impressionistic portrait of the late iconoclastic British filmmaker Derek Jarman. While the sketchy film -- written and narrated by Jarman's frequent star and artistic muse Tilda Swinton -- will frustrate those who are not already familiar with his work, it provides a vivid reminder of the daringness that went into such controversial features as "Sebastiane," "Caravaggio" and "Wittgenstein."
The film is awkwardly structured around a tribute titled "Letter to an Angel" that was written by Swinton and published in a British newspaper. It is here read aloud by its author while she is seen traipsing through various locations in London and the British countryside, but unfortunately, what have seemed poetic on the page here comes across as more than a little pretentious.
The film's other central element is a lengthy filmed interview with Jarman that was filmed in 1990, four years before the filmmaker died of AIDS. In it, he provides frank and articulate reminiscences of his privileged childhood; his immersion into the art scene in London in the swinging '60s; his idiosyncratic film career, which also included music videos for the likes of the Pet Shop Boys and the Smith; and his eventual HIV-positive diagnosis, which led him to political activism during the socially conservative Thatcher era.
Although numerous film clips are presented, including early experimental Super 8 efforts as well as his more adventurous features, little context is provided. Although "Derek" clearly was not intended to be a definitive biographical or critical study, a little more information for the relatively uninitiated would have given it much more accessibility.