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Screen Queen Presents: Caravaggio

Derek Jarman

Screen Queen Presents is a Monday night queer film series hosted by Josh Vogelsong at Suns Cinema. Guests can expect to see a wide range of both mainstream & underground selections, working to cover the entire film & queer spectrum. Join us for JarMANuary every Monday night in January! We will be screening our favorite films by the iconic and influential queer director, Derek Jarman!


Caravaggio is probably the closest Derek Jarman ever came to making a mainstream film. As it reveals the seventeenth-century painter’s complex life—his brilliant, nearly blasphemous paintings and flirtations with the underworld—it is also a uniquely complex and lucid treatment of Jarman’s major concerns: violence, history, homosexuality, and the relationship
between film and painting. Caravaggio incorporates the painter’s precise aesthetic into the movie’s own visuals and uses the style and mood of his paintings to reflect his life. The result is Jarman’s most profound, unsettling and astonishing reflection on art, sexuality and identity.

In some ways, Jarman’s CARAVAGGIO is as much about the artist Derek Jarman
as the early seventeenth century painter who was so influential yet so
scandalized his contemporaries with both the controversial nature of his art and
his resistance to the social mores of his time. Having worked on various draft scripts for
several years together with Nicholas Ward-Jackson, friend and art dealer, whose idea
the project had originally been, Jarman found that he had begun to work elements of
his own life into the script. At the same time, his interest and experience in filmmaking
had been developing during this period and Caravaggio’s revolutionary use of light and
dark (‘chiaroscuro’) made him a highly appropriate subject for a film. Caravaggio could
indeed be described in retrospect as the inventor of cinematic lighting. It was the first
time that dramatic lighting had been used in painting although now, of course, it is a
central concern of every cameraman and filmmaker.

Marginalized by the society in which he lived, the story of an artist whose life has only
really been ‘rehabilitated’ over the past twenty to thirty years (through the ability to talk
openly about his probably homosexuality) held an irresistable fascination for Jarman.
On the evidence of his paintings alone, most modern critics would agree that
Caravaggio’s homosexuality, with its accompanying sense of guilt and isolation, was
central to his life and art. His life was more akin to Genet and Pasolini than to a
picaresque Renaissance painter such as Cellini.

Caravaggio was a poet of the low-life. While his paintings reflected an increasingly
profound and original religious awareness, his private life was fraught with brawls,
duels, arrests and even a libel case, culminating in 1606 in murder. This polarity was
paralleled particularly in his religious paintings by the depiction of sacred figures using
prostitutes, pimps and street urchins as models. Several altarpieces originally
commissioned by the clergy were rejected on the grounds of impropriety. The tradition
of the time was to paint abstracted and idealized figures and Caravaggio’s dynamic
‘realism’ was considered scandalous. Yet, ironically, these paintings were eagerly
snapped up by the most influential Italian patrons. Once he had been accepted into
their world, he was fiercely protected, even after being found guilty of murder, by the
most powerful figures of our time.


  • 1/14 | 8:00PM
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