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The Guardian FEBRUARY 23, 1978 - by Derek Malcolm
DEREK JARMAN'S JUBILEE
Britain's first film to reflect the punk era possesses a fevered and restless imagination - and the images and music to go with it
Jubilee (X, of course) arrives this week at the Gate Two. Which, in case you don't recognise the cinema, is the former International Bloomsbury, now leased and, one hopes, given a new lease of life by David and Barbara Stone of the Gate, Notting Hill.
Jubilee, directed and part-written with James Whaley, by Derek Jarman who made the successful Sebastiane, is not exactly a punk movie. But it does contain music from Adam and the Ants, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Electric Chairs, and characters with such names as Crabs, Amyl Nitrate, Mad and Chaos. The scent of anarchy is near at hand and the current fad for believing that there is nothing left to believe in is everywhere apparent ("Love snuffed it with the hippies. Sex is for geriatrics," says someone. Myra Hindley is described as a childhood heroine).
Jarman's story looks promising enough. Queen Elizabeth (Jenny Runacre), that historic precursor of modern capitalism, arrives back in a future London (courtesy of John Dee, alchemist, and the Angel Ariel) to find her perfumed garden in total rout. Law and order no longer exist, the old and cherished institutions have finally crumbled and extremists of both left and right are out on the blitz. Royalty is now best represented by Borgia Ginz (Orlando, of the Lindsay Kemp Troupe), a giggling media mogul who gives the people what they want and thus controls them. He uses Buck Palace as a giant recording studio.
The past and future meet on a waste tip in Deptford where Bod (Ms Runacre again) crowns herself Queen as the leader of a band of harpies that include a pop singer, a pyromaniac and a nymphomaniac. Amyl Nitrate (Jordan) has been chosen by Borgia to represent England in the Eurovision with a bump-and-grind version of Rule Britannia! But first an ageing punk star has to be eliminated, and meanwhile Crabs (Little Nell) falls for the Kid (Adam Ant) who gets snuffed by the special branch. And the gang seeks bloody revenge.
Thus, or so the synopsis informs us, the film progresses from black comedy into real terror. Actually it tends to go from somewhere to nowhere very much. This has a lot to do with the thinness of the political and social comment, the disjointed nature of the narrative and some overbearing and/or underskilled playing. Shock tactics alone won't suffice in the cinema, though they may well pay dividends in box office returns.
But one thing the film does possess is a fevered and restless imagination, and the images and music to go with it. Brian Eno's score is first-class, and the general feel of a world hideously out of joint (vide the Godardian burning pram sequence) is well maintained. Jubilee may not be a very good film. But the fact that it exists at all is a kind of justification in the present circumstances. Besides, I'm inclined to think that the humour behind its pretension ("Piss, I've broke me Winston Churchill mug") might just be the saving of it. That and Mr Jarman's genuine talent for confounding expectations.