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A floating marker for a moment in time
on 12 December 2010
Warned off at the time about this film I snuck with friends to watch it at Essex Uni in Colchester where they had a not so secret showing. This was in 1978 and I was transfixed with the violence, the sheer hatred, the squats and the decadence. I missed some of the nuance transfixed by the Early Ants, Banshees and Chelsea.
I was beguiled by the hatred because I wanted to be which was the antithesis of the film's apparent message. Jarman was a snob of high taste aesthetics. To me this represented the alternative to the whacks and commands of the school system, another variation of "If". This was part of the ultimate one finger fightback as my reading of the film went.
Watching it 30 years later and I am split down the middle. It captures the squats, the madness, the middle class vitriol and the decay of the UK. The dialogue a cross between philsosphy and cliche. The film 30 years later failed to move me, although I was also captivated by nostalgia. It just seems so middlebrown angst laden; ladles of it.
Seeing Toyah, Adam et al, is a giggle as they became icons of the era for joining in with the moneyed elite; the commercial sell outs. This filmic stance was all just a pose, like watching adolescents pull each others hair at a school disco. As Thatchler took the reins of the state, she drove the war chariot harder and faster than the fearsome women depicted in this film. These feral amazons and spartans hitched a ride on her entrails. Adam was in a royal variety performance within 5 years of making this film. Toyah went on to make mock gothic artefacts for people who missed out on punk. They became the caricatures mocked within the dialogue with no apparent psychological unease at the volte face. Adam stands at the top of the building and is asked whether he would sell his soul. The answer is yes of course he would and look what happened. Faustus took his mind.
This is a period piece, a marker of life before Margaret, just before the Rotherhithe, Bermondsey, Isle of Dogs were transformed with huge amounts of money into sterile bleak moderne places for the middle brow to re-enact Friends. This film rests on a polarity with this piece of urbane angst.
The precedents were already festering within this film as the virtiol and anger is too forced to be maintained. The sex turned into Shortbus and the hankering for breaking sexual taboos became "heaven". The world segregated itself into classes, sexualities and genders with each fighting their corner in a will to power.
Is it still worth watching if you were not there? I don't know is the answer. The dialogue is heavy with Elizabethanesque middlebrow flourishes. There are some golden moments contained within it. The take on the modern media is true. The svengali who manipulates public taste with music is prescient. The collapse of Communistic belief predicted in the film was clairvoyant along with the plunge of the dollar.
The rise of X Factor has shown music played loud enough stops the noise of the world falling apart. The cracks can no longer be heard. Perhaps this film is a beacon for a moment in time. Nietzsche is right about the eternal return, not in relation to human reincarnation but cultural re emergence. They do happen again. Maybe in six months this will be a six and then in ten years it will be completely forgotten.
This is the power of this film; vacilitation.