Apr 6, 2013


Undoubtedly, the greatest anti-punk, punk dystopian fantasy film ever made, Jubilee (1978) directed by British arthouse maestro Derek Jarman (The Angelic Conversation, The Last of England) is a decidedly pessimistic portrayal of Great Britain of the present that also simultaneously acts as a darkly romantic love letter to English high kultur and the monarchy of the past, while using the subculture it less than flatteringly depicts as the antithesis of everything that was once great and noble in the England of long ago. An unrelenting work of magical realism that is notably less homophilic than most of Jarman's film fare, Jubilee follows Queen Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre) as she is transported to present day England by her royal occultist John Dee (Richard O'Brien) via an ebony-eyed spirit guide in black tights named Ariel (a character from Shakespeare's The Tempest, a work Jarman would subsequently adapt in 1979), only to learn that Queen Elizabeth II was slaughtered in a random senseless mugging, Buckingham Palace has been turned into a degenerate recording studio that is run by an evil Svengali character of the repulsively racially bastardized and megalomaniacal persuasion, the British patriot song “Rule, Britannia!” has been turned upside down as a decadent anarchistic punk song featuring a bombastic burlesque dance and audio samples of Adolf Hitler speeches, violent women-children with orange dyke haircuts murder police in the middle of the street and castrate their cocks, and that the all unholy anti-Christ has captured the heart and soul of once-merry olde England. A rampantly ridiculous realm where nihilism, hedonism, and senseless self-gratification of all sorts have totally replaced art and fantasy and where gender roles have been radically flipped (men lay around with other men in bed while women form violent gangs in the streets), the unhinged UK featured in Jubilee is a place where Moors murderer Myra Hindley is regarded as an artist and a feminist hero, where angelic ballerinas dance gracefully in bombed out streets around a urban bonfire where neo-barbarians burn books, and where law and order have literally been abolished, thus making it a lunatic libertine anarchist’s wet dream, yet director Derek Jarman does not portray such deplorable delinquency and debauchery as something to be esteemed, but the inevitable result of a tired and devitalized civilization in decline that has reverted back to a patently preposterous form of postmodern primalism. Featuring a number of popular punk/new wave icons in leading roles, including Adam Ant, Jordan (a protégé of Malcolm “The Sex Pistols” McLaren), Toyah Willcox, Nell Campbell (of The Rocky Horror Picture Show fame), putrid punk rock tranny Wayne/Jayne County, and Hermine Demoriane (a French tightrope walker), as well as cameo performances by The Slits and Siouxsie and the Banshees and a musical score by Brian Eno, Jubilee makes for an incendiary cinematic work that ironically unleashes an intrepid iconoclastic attack on the iconoclast punks themselves, thus making for an exquisitely idiosyncratic work that manages to synthesize the high camp blasphemy of Ken Russell (whose masterpiece The Devils (1970) director Derek Jarman worked as the production designer for) with the poetic elegance of Shakespeare and Michael Powell and farcical counter-counter-cultureness of Paul Morrissey, while also acting as one of the few truly refined ‘punk’ films. 

 According to a rather butch and bitchy punkess of the mentally deranged sort who goes by the fitting name “Mad” (Toyah Willcox),“The History of England” goes as follows: “It all began with William the Conqueror who screwed the Anglo-Saxons into the ground…carving the land into theirs and ours. They lived in mansions and ate beef at fat tables…whilst the poor lived in houses, minding the cows on a bowl of porridge—whilst they pushed them around with their arrogant foreign accents. There were two languages in the land, and the seeds of war were sown. At first the two sides coexisted meeting only on the racetrack and the battlefield whilst they fought the rest of the world—who they despised more than each other. Now one day, when there was no one left to fight…it dawned on them that the real enemy was at home…and that they should fight themselves. Having grown greedy on the booty they had looted from the rest of the world…they decided to fight with money. But by now this was made with paper, so it was pretty worthless. So, when they discovered this they took to fighting with guns. The rest of the world sighed a sigh of relief to be rid of them…and got on with their own business…and England slowly sank into the sea.” Indeed, while the pre-apocalyptic England featured in Jubilee has yet to literally sink into the sea (as it rightfully should), it is most certainly a seedy and sadistic cesspool of born-again nihilists and amphetamine-addled anarchist prophets whose angst-ridden anger and arrogance is only transcended by their rather wacky need to destroy anything that has yet to tainted by modernity, both in terms of cities and culture and no one, not even her greatness Queen Elizabeth I and her loyal alchemist John Dee can stop the madness of a nation on the brink of the Armageddon. To her dismay, the sixteenth century “Virgin Queen” comes to witness a recklessly wanton and naively nihilistic punk collective of fierce females (and a couple irrelevant cucks) featuring a number of curious characters, including revisionist historian "Amyl Nitrite" (Jordan), boyish "Bod" (Runacre, who also plays Elizabeth I, in an allegorical dual role), manly mute "Chaos" (Hermine Demoriane), kind-of-cute "Crabs" (Nell Campbell), and fecund-free fuhrer "Mad" (Toyah Willcox), after she is transported to the post-industrial wasteland that is the modern day UK. In a subplot, a passive pretty boy named “Kid” (Adam Ant) wants to make a career as a rock star and Crabs, whose name is probably in tribute to some STD she carries, has the hots for him, so she introduces him to a degenerate dictator of a music producer/media moguel named Borgia Ginz (Jack Birkett), who is also a nihilist philosopher of sorts that wallows in his egomaniacal subversion of the world via malignant mass media. According to Ginz, “This is the generation who grew up and forgot to lead their lives. They were so busy watching my endless movie.” Indubitably a pompous prick of the pseudo-princely sort, Ginz has no delusions that the punk music he actively promotes is of a rather poor aesthetic quality and has an equally sterile, if not sickly subversive, social value, summing up the music movement he leads as having the following purpose, “As long as the music’s loud enough, we won’t hear the world falling part.” 

 Utilizing actual real rubble from buildings that were never repaired after the London Blitz, as well as a number of real-life London ghettos, Jubilee features a Great Britain that may have officially won the Second World War, but never politically nor economically recovered, thus leading to subsequent generations of disillusioned Brits who have nil respect for nor understanding of their nation’s history and culture, and this youthful nihilism and aimlessness certainly reaches its apex in the artistically vapid form of the punk rock subculture. In Jubilee, hatred merely exists for hatred's sake and rampant boredom can only be appeased via sadomasochistic group sex and lust murder, hippie-like group homosexuality and violent lesbianism, stealing cars, playing half-naked games of Monopoly, killing trannies (out of shallow jealousy of 'her' popularity) and cops, carving ‘bloody’ words into friends' backs, watching mindless music videos on the telly, polishing lawn gnomes, partaking in duels in apartments, and setting the world aflame via all-out (and all girl) guerrilla terrorism. When the males of the punk collective are murdered coldheartedly by a fascistic policeman who relieves himself by pissing in the street during broad daylight, the less than ladylike punkettes of the group drown their sorrows in alcohol and take to the streets and castrate the cock of a cop that committed the cowardly crime, but they don’t stop there as they maliciously murder another man in blue via Molotov cocktail, shouting the punk rock cliché “NO FUTURE” as they commit the act of ultimately worthless terrorism. In the end, Mr. Big Borgia Ginz is still at the top, and he moves to Dorset, England, which is now a communist dictatorship and apparently “the only safe place to live now,” where he moves into a mansion (he “requisitioned”) that used to be owned by aristocrats, thus symbolizing the death of the aristocracy and high culture, and the reign of mass-man, who the evil record producer chronicles via his artistically vapid music. 

 In a question Nietzsche answered, Queen Elizabeth rhetorically asks herself: Is God Dead? Indeed, judging by Jubilee, one can certainly assume Derek Jarman thought so, with the new dispiriting spiritual guides of the modern world being metaphysically malevolent media moguls like Borgia Ginz, who has the audacity to admit like a true egomaniacal false messiah of the technocratic age that under his insidious influence masses of automatons, “The media became their only reality and I own their world of flickering shadows. BBC. TUC. ITV. ABC. ATV. MGM. KGB. C of E. You name it. I bought them all…and rearranged the alphabet. Without me…they don’t exist.” Indeed, while satirizing the punk movement as a natural, if not nasty, symptom of a sick society that promotes such a shallow pseudo-culture that was spawned by the very same group of people its members claim to be fighting against, Jubilee, not unlike Paul Morrissey’s equally anti-punk/anti-capitalist/anti-communist romp Madame Wang's (1981), out punks the punks, thus proving their way of life and non-philosophy is nothing but banal bunk, so it should be no surprise that director Derek Jarman sired hatred in Britain’s bourgeois anarchists, including fashion designer and business woman Vivienne Westwood, who rose to riches and popularity after her clothes began being sold at a boutique owned by Malcolm McLaren (the man who invented and named the punk rock boy band The Sex Pistols in a manner not unlike New Kids on the Block and The Backstreet Boys). Sharing aesthetic attributes with the films of Ken Russell, Paul Morrissey, Ulrike Ottinger, and Slava Tsukerman, but synthesizing it with aesthetic salutes to Shakespeare, English high kultur, and the monarchy, Jubilee brings a certain poetry and prestige to the punk world that it never saw before and would never see again. Indeed, if the punks were right about anything, it is the classic defeatist punk motto (as referenced sardonically in Jubilee, but also many times before and after the film’s release): “My generation’s the blank generation.” 

-Ty E

1 comment:

Phantom of Pulp said...

I love JUBILEE. First saw it at the movies when I was a teenager. "banal bunk"? You bet!