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'Blue' is raw, painful, angry... and a film I'll never forget

Liam Daniel © 1993 Basilisk Communications Ltd.

One night some time back, my partner was going to see some of her friends for the evening, leaving me at home to do what I normally do on nights like that: watch a movie. On this particular occasion, her friends asked her what I was doing, and she told them, “He’s at home watching a solid blue screen.”

This was true. But it wasn’t just any solid blue screen. What I was watching that night was Derek Jarman’s Blue, the artist and filmmaker’s final feature, released just a few months before his death from AIDS in 1994. Jarman’s birthday was last Tuesday, which made the film pop back into my head, although in truth, I think about it more than I think about most other movies.

Blue is newly available on the Criterion Channel, along with some of Jarman’s other films. And it is, indeed, a solid blue screen—specifically the color is International Klein Blue, if you were curious. And for about 80 minutes, we hear narration over that screen from Jarman and some of his frequent collaborators, including Tilda Swinton, as we first explore the nature of the color blue, and then move into Jarman’s life as a gay man living with AIDS, and soon to be dying of the disease, which he very much knew. The concept is something Jarman had been thinking about for a number of years, but it’s given even more weight by the fact that by the time he actually made the film, he had also been rendered partially blind by his condition, sometimes only being able to see the color blue.

The effect is such that the film draws you fully in—with the blue there to envelop you, this is far more immersive than, say, simply listening to an audio file on your headphones. But more than that, this is one of the most raw, painful, angry pieces of art I’ve ever witnessed. Jarman was looking straight into the eyes of his own death, living in a society that actively hated him and had barely shrugged at the deaths of everyone around him. He expresses his anger directly, fully, and poetically. I’ve never seen or heard anything else like it, and I’ll never forget it.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.