Glitterbox: Derek Jarman x 4

The Angelic Conversation (1985)        Caravaggio (1986)

Wittgenstein (1993)           Blue (1993)






The Angelic Conversation (1985): Jarman's painterly eye and technical ingenuity are utilized to good effect here in this characteristically elliptical film that uses 12 Shakespeare sonnets (narrated by Judi Dench) as its starting point. With stop-motion effects, strange tableaux of eerie landscapes and a similar slew of Jarmanesque imagery, the black-and-white pictures processed on video lend the film a translucent and romantic air that is perfectly complemented by Dench's rich velvety intonations.

Excerpt from Channel 4 located HERE


Caravaggio (1986): Derek Jarman struggled for seven years to bring his portrait of the seventeenth-century Italian artist Michelangelo da Caravaggio to the screen. The result was well worth the wait, and was greeted with critical acclaim: a freely dramatised portrait of the controversial artist and a powerful meditation on sexuality, criminality and art - a new and refreshing take on the usual biopic.

The film centres on an imagined love-triangle between Caravaggio, his friend and model Ranuccio, and Ranuccio's low-life partner Lena. Conjuring some of the artist's most famous paintings through elaborate and beautifully photographed tableaux vivants, these works are woven into the fabric of the story, providing a starting point for its characters and narrative episodes.


Wittgenstein (1993): Jarman's biopic brings to life the seriously eccentric philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: Viennese millionaire's son, schoolteacher, WWI infantry officer, hospital porter, gardener, naturalised Briton and homosexual. Initiated as a small-budget educational TV programme, then produced for the BFI by one-time Trot Tariq Ali from a script by Marxist professor Terry Eagleton, it hardly sounds enticing. But thanks to genuinely engaging performances by Johnson and Chassay (as Ludwig, man and boy), as well as a witty script and economical direction, this turns treatise into treat. It's shot on the simplest of sets against black backgrounds, with all the money spent on costumes, actors and lights, and framed like dark Enlightenment paintings. If it ranges wide rather than deep - the philosophy is either dropped into conversation or presented like a blackboard primer - Jarman still manages to capture the spirit and complexity of his fascinating subject. Of the entertaining cameos, Quentin's epicene John Maynard Keynes (in a delightful series of pastel shirts) and Gough's miffed Bertrand Russell are the most telling.

Excerpt from TimeOut Film Guide located HERE


Blue (1993): Blue, Derek Jarman's final film, was made as he was dying of AIDS and blind, his vision hijacked by constant blue light. For its entire duration, the screen is filled with the color blue and nothing more, while Jarman, with voice contributions from frequent collaborators Tilda Swinton, John Quentin, and Nigel Terry, weaves a poetic, angry, wistful, and sometimes humorous account of his illness and impending mortality. He speaks of having become a "walking laboratory," taking up to thirty pills a day, of the chore of hospital waiting rooms, of the brusque indifference of medical personnel, of the hypocrisy of charity, and of the color blue. Jarman's voice is commanding. This is not an informal affair. He often speaks in verse, augmented with music and sound by Jarman's regular composer Simon Fisher-Turner, as well as Brian Eno, Coil, Momus, The King of Luxembourg, and others, forming an atmospheric wall of sound that is the film's imagery and is constructed in a highly cinematic way, with abrupt shifts in texture and tone. (The short-lived ambient sketch-comedy radio program Blue Jam created a similar mood.) Jarman invokes a sense of journey within the viewer, and the effect is hypnotic and moving. You walk away from it with total identification with Jarman, and once your eyes return to the corporeal world, it's as though sight has been restored. In terms of form, this movie is as bold as anything Jarman has done.

If the 1990s was largely defined by the mainstreaming of AIDS, Blue is a key film from that decade. Like Wim Wenders' Lightning Over Water, about the dying of Nicholas Ray, Blue is a naked portrait of a dying artist, although it is perhaps more intimate in that it originates from within. Blue goes further toward demystifying AIDS than straightforward documentary content has done, and Jarman is not nor was ever shy about retaining his sexual identity in spite of the stigma of his disease, the politics of which he address here with frank combativeness. In an ideal world, it is Blue and not the contrived and didactic Kids that would have made a splash as a provocative document of the modern epidemic—although, in an ideal world, neither film would be necessary. The fact that Jarman's final film hardly registered a dent is evidence that the medium of cinema has failed.

Paul Haynes




Theatrical Releases: Various from 1985 - 1993

  DVD Reviews

DVD Review: Zeitgeist Films (4-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC

DVD Box Cover

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Distribution Zeitgeist Films - Region 1 - NTSC
Time: over 4.5+ hrs. total on 4 discs

The Angelic Conversation







Audio English (original)
Subtitles English, None

Release Information:
Studio: Zeitgeist Films

Aspect Ratio:
All Original Aspect Ratios - 1.33,  1.85 

Edition Details:

The Angelic Conversation:

• Interviews with producer James Mackay and production designer Christopher Hobbs
• Derek Jarman in conversation with Simon Field (1989, 32 mins)


• Interviews with Tilda Swinton, Nigel Terry and production designer Christopher Hobbs
• Feature commentary by cinematographer Gabriel Beristain
• Filmed and audio interviews with Derek Jarman and others
• Gallery of storyboards, production sketches and Derek Jarman's notebooks


• Introduction by film historian Ian Christie (4:24)
• Three interviews (30:00) by Tilda Swinton
• Behind-the-scenes footage (24:54)
• Alexis Bistikas Short film "The Clearing" 


• Glitterbug (53:13 / 4:3)


18-page liner notes booklet

DVD Release Date: June 24th, 2008

Custom case (see image above)



These are all single-sided, dual-layered DVDs but each of the four transfers are from unconverted PAL sources. I can confirm this as we have reviewed 3 of the four from PAL standards and I own the fourth. See the BFI edition of The Angelic Conversation covered HERE, Caravaggio, also by BFI, HERE and a comparison with two UK editions of Blue HERE. The running times in our reviews will bear this conclusion out.

Now whether the system you are viewing displays the inherent ghosting/combing and related incorrect standard artifacts, basically the image quality is highly inferior to transfers from the correct standard. This might be especially infuriating for those sensitive to 4% PAL speedup as it will still exist in these editions (I don't believe anything has been done to rectify pitch). This is unusual for Zeitgeist as I have found them to be aware of this inferior digital production practice but I'll guess it is a result of the source material they were given and/or they didn't find it cost-effective to properly upgrade the transfers.

The 4 main features of this boxset are housed in a custom case (see above image) which looks quite nice and it appears as though only Caravaggio and Wittgenstein are being sold separately by Zeitgeist at this time (as Special Editions).  All four features are coded for region 1 in the NTSC standard and all features are anamorphic (where widescreen) in their original aspect ratios. I believe that Zeitgeist have some sort of agreement with BFI in place with other duplicate film examples in their past.

Each have original English audio and options for English subtitles in a clear and clean white font with black border (see samples below).

Image: Visually none of these four films stack up to their UK DVD counterparts for the main reason mentioned in the first paragraph. They are softer although colors appear equally strong. It seems such a shame to have them dual-layered and 16X9 enhanced (where widescreen) only to have this fatal flaw of an incorrect standard marring their NTSC 'SE' debut. The Angelic Conversation still looks rough and I now think I see chroma along with its 16mm pragmatic roots. Bottom line is that there are superior transfers existing for all 4 films, but the reasonableness of the price of this set should be a consideration.    

Without going into extensive detail - supplements are fabulous, but all (or almost all) are already on the 3 BFI editions ( interviews, Swinton etc. on The Angelic Conversation, Caravaggio and Wittgenstein) and the Artificial Eye of Blue (also has the, almost hour long, Glitterbug). I don't see anything significant that is new aside from the 18-page liner notes booklet.   

Overall impression: Well obviously we don't fully endorse with weak image transfers and no spanking new supplements from existing editions. Jarman's works can be difficult for mainstream viewers to embrace but I definitely encourage those with an open mind to see these films if you can. If you are region 1-locked (why are you?) it would be one group to suggest purchasing as the collection price is pretty sweet considering all you are getting - 4 Jarman films and the extensive extra features. It is our job to notify you that there are better, albeit highly expensive, editions available at the present time. I am honestly disappointed about the ghosting/combing.             

Gary W. Tooze

DVD Menus




The Angelic Conversation (1985)

Screen Captures

BFI Region 2- PAL (reviewed HERE) TOP vs. Zeitgeist - Region 1 - NTSC - BOTTOM





Caravaggio (1986)



Screen Captures


BFI Region 2- PAL (reviewed HERE) TOP vs. Zeitgeist - Region 1 - NTSC - BOTTOM




Like all the releases in this boxset combing/ghosting is readily visible...



Wittgenstein (1993)


Screen Captures


BFI Region 2- PAL TOP vs. Zeitgeist - Region 1 - NTSC - BOTTOM



Like all the releases in this boxset combing/ghosting is readily visible...



Blue (1993)

Screen Captures




DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

Distribution Zeitgeist Films - Region 1 - NTSC


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