The Last of England (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
August 13, 2012 by Dennis Amith
“The Last of England” is not an easy film to recommend because it’s cinema that is not to mean to be fully understood. “The Last of England” is cinema that is meant to be experienced. No doubt that Derek Jarman’s “The Last England” will probably be remembered as his most personal, innovative film in his oeuvre.
TITLE: The Last of England
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1988
DURATION: 91 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:66:1), DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, Color
COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber
RATED: Not Rated
Release Date: July 24, 2012
Written and Directed by Derek Jarman
Produced by Don Boyd, James MacKay
Associate Produced: Yvonne Little, Mayo Thompson
Music by Simon Fisher-Turner
Cinematography by Richard Heslop, Christopher Hughes, Derek Jarman, Cerith Wyn Evans
Edited by Peter Cartwright, Angus Cook, John Maybury, Sally Yeadon
Production Design by Christopher Hobbs
Costume Design by Sandy Powell
“Spring” Mark Adley
An apocalyptic roar of a movie, Derek Jarman’s (Sebastiane) dizzying THE LAST OF ENGLAND is a lament for the country he once knew Âand what he feared it would become.
One of Jarman’s most experimental and overwhelming works, he has OscarÂ® winner Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton) stalk through the remnants of industrial England, encountering visions of fascistic slaughter and sacrifice. These nightmares are cut together with his family’s idyllic home movies, a link with the past soon to be severed, all overlaid with bleak quotations from poets like T.S. Eliot and Allen Ginsberg, read in the stentorian tones of Nigel Terry (Excalibur).
A kaleidoscopic view of his country’s culture and history, filled with rage at Margaret Thatcher’s conservative reign and haunted by the continuing scourge of AIDS (with which Jarman was diagnosed), the movie is both deeply personal and grimly historical, and is undoubtedly one of the most important British films of all time.
During the 1980’s, there was a prevailing sense of anti-Thatcher that was permeating through youth culture but also among adults who have had enough of what England was becoming.
From the music of the Clash to The Smiths, to the punk music of the Sex Pistols, there was a feeling that England has gone awry and chaotic.
For filmmaker Derek Jarman, he was a man who felt that English culture was dying and he has had his feelings of the descent of English cultures as early as the 1970’s. An experimental filmmaker who wanted to inject a synergy to art cinema but also to use his films as a platform to show his fight for gay rights and homosexuality, his personal disdain towards English culture was the subject of his films.
From his 1978 film “Jubilee” featuring Queen Elizabeth I of England being transported to a wasteland, Jarman created the first punk movie. But through the ’80s, Jarman felt that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was hurting England. From high unemployment to a recession that was hurting the poor, Jarman felt it was the death of his country. Ever the polemic and outspoken individual, Jarman would go on to create the short “The Queen Is Dead: A Film by Derek Jarman” in 1986.
His work would reach international status when he directed The Smith’s music video “There is a Light”.
In 1988, Derek Jarman felt the decaying of would create a film on super 8mm titled “The Last of England”, that would showcase the increasing decay of his country. A way to open the eyes of people to show a world that has been hurt by greed, people who have been oppressed by their government.
And now, “The Last of England” has been released on Blu-ray via a remastered edition.
“The Last of England” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:66:1 aspect ratio). Before I comment on the overall picture quality, it is important to emphasize that this film was shot on Super-8 mm, before being printed on 35 mm. Because of its original source and the various transfers, the film has a grainy appearance and it is a film that captures the dreariness of its message. For those familiar with Jarman’s work, his shorts to his feature films were works of art, not necessarily a work that would be seen as looking impeccable on Blu-ray.
With that being said, one should not go into this film and thinking it will look incredible. It looks better than any previous video release of the film but the film is surreal, utilizing various film sources and is mean to look frenetic. Its age, its grainy appearance lends to the post-apocalyptic nature of this film and as jarring and surreal and soft, as the picture quality may be, it does lend to the films efficacy.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“The Last of England” is showcased in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The narration is clear but its music can be dark and even freakishly poignant. For example, during a scene which features actress Tilda Swinton with scissors cutting up her dress, the music evokes a shreek that is not only jarring but effective. It is a front channel-driven lossless soundtrack but the dialogue and music is clear but because there is so much being spoken during the negative, I wish English subtitles were included on this Blu-ray release.
“The Last of England” comes with no special features.
As I revisit “The Land of England” in 2012, there is a feeling of irony as I watched this film during a moment in time where the world is celebrating London for its hosting of the Olympics. It made me think back during a time when the people of England faced economic challenges and its Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was receiving a lot of criticism by the youth movement. But here we are in 2012 and not only is England suffering economically, many countries including the United States are facing major challenges. Not just economically but a lot of issues pertaining to a country’s moralistic view on society or its lack of understanding as people continue to challenge each other on issues of morality.
I wonder to myself, “what if Derek Jarman” was alive today? How would he feel about today’s world. Today’s England.
Back in the ’80s, I was not a polemic individual but I listened to a lot of British music growing up to know that many of my favorite talents of the time, had a problem with England.
My first foray into Derek Jarman’s work was through the Smith’s “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” music video. At the time, I listened to this song repeatedly and until the ’90s, when music videos on VHS tape became popular, I was watching a lot of Jarman’s music video work.
But my first viewing of “The Last of England” was difficult for me to explain at the time, as I was not an erudite on Thatcher’s policies. At the time, I asked myself why is this man stomping on a painting and then having sex with it. Why is there a businessman trying to have sex with a soldier on the Union Jack? Why is there a woman wanting to rid of herself of her wedding dress?
Watching it 2012, I watched “The Last of England” mesmerized by its imagery. At the time, I watched this film in the mid-90’s, I probably saw this film as incoherent, more frenetic and more of Jarman’s frustration of England but also him trying to fight for the rights of homosexuality.
Watching it today, not only do I see it as a fight against England under Thatcher, but I also see this film as a film that is thought-provoking because of England and also the United States interaction on foreign policy, it’s focus on its military while lacking the same focus on its country’s people. England was hurting and entertainment was a major vice for people to release those frustrations.
Maybe not through commercial television closely watched by the BBC, but when it came to music and film, there were people who were not afraid to challenge their government and their prime minister about their ill feelings of the permeating decay of their country.
Although “The Last of England” focuses on a post-apocalyptic world, I liken this film to an artwork that may appear chaotic in nature but it’s not one to fully understand 100%. As incoherent as some parts of the film were back then for me at the time, even today, there are aspects of the film that still leave me grasping at whatever I think is the message.
I see this film not only showcasing its provocation towards the government, the military and police but also British being corrupted by American politics. The visual imagery is sullen, frenetic and trying to showcase violence and despair through the actions of its characters. Visual images of homosexuality encountering the horrors of being screwed by society, screwed by narcotics and overall…people being screwed in general.
It is mean to be bleak.
And while Tilda Swinton is featured on the cover, it’s important to note that this film’s ending features Swinton in a role that takes less than 15 minutes. We watch as Swinton dressed in wedding dress , is marrying am an dressed as a bride. They try to keep their young baby quiet but we watch as this woman is ready to get married, but we see transitions of happiness to sadness. I interpret this as the changing emotional state of humanity. There is no guarantee of a happy life after marriage. There is no guarantee that your baby will have a happy life, especially when they get older and current policies continue to remain in place.
This is a film that is meant to be polemic but through experimental imagery.
It’s not an easy film to recommend because it’s cinema that is not to mean to be fully understood. “The Last of England” is cinema that is meant to be experienced. You can watch it many times throughout your life and you will have something different to say about it or discover something with each viewing.
While the Blu-ray is devoid of any special features, with the film now remastered and presented in HD, there is no doubt that this is the best looking version of the film to date.
For those who enjoy Avant-garde films, while Derek Jarman’s “Jubilee” is well-revered for being the first punk film, Jarman’s “The Last England” will probably be remembered as his most personal, innovative film in his oeuvre.
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