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The Last of England (Derek Jarman, 1988)

 

    An obviously personal, but seemingly simple assault on Thatcherism, Derek Jarmanís The Last of England is a visually exciting, but somewhat off-putting avant-garde work. In the film, the director mixes together snippets of performance art pieces with documentary and home movie footage with the intention of demonstrating Englandís past promise and present state of decline. In its vision of failed hopes, however, The Last of England manages to be only descriptive instead of prescriptive, and much less still, constructive. Because it uses images of military aggression, homosexual behavior, and street violence to shock the audience and amp up the filmís excitement level, itís a film that rallies against the state of moral decay in Britain as much as it revels in it. When all is said and done, one is left as much with the impression of Jarmanís self-indulgence as of the destructive self-indulgence of the State.

 

    The lack of scenes in The Last of England that utilize direct sound recording and the reliance upon the score to give the filmís sequences form leaves the viewer with the distinct impression that the movie was mostly molded in the editing room instead of conceived beforehand. While thatís not inherently bad, there are only a few instances, such as in the long tracking shots through identical rows of British homes, where the movie justifies a given sceneís duration by making a point that requires a repetitious pattern to emerge. Otherwise, it seems that the film is stretching to turn its disparate images of turmoil into a cohesive statement. At almost ninety minutes long, thereís a lot of visual information to digest here, but thereís also the realization that the information is repetitive and uncomfortably didactic. Foreboding, somewhat obscure narration, which tells of a coming doomsday, and the general depravity of the images the director has chosen to include prove beyond a doubt what Jarmanís political stance on the state of England is. That being said, Iím not sure what real value the unambiguous image of a drunken man having sex with a soldier upon the Union Jack has beyond its ability to shock, and in the context of the film, itís not even that shocking. Those who are patriotic will likely reject this movie as incendiary hyperbole, while those predisposed to Jarmanís politics will already have been convinced of his cause and will be uselessly shocked as a result. Stylistically, The Last of England is quite accomplished and original. It exists in an experimental space somewhere between the early shorts of Kenneth Anger and the late video essays of Godard. Ideologically, however, itís old hat.

 

38 

03-09-04 

Jeremy Heilman