Twenty years ago yesterday, Derek Jarman succumbed to AIDS. Around the time that he was first diagnosed of the illness, in 1986, Jarman starred in a student film by Julian Cole about the last days of Pier Paolo Pasolini. Pasolini, was one of the few homosexual cinema icons Jarman could look to for inspiration, his grotesque murder in Rome in 1975 was a blow for film lovers all over the world.
In 1985 Jarman published a movie treatment, never realized, with the title P.P.P. in the Garden of Earthly Delights that spanned Pasolini’s life from the shooting of the final scene of Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom through to his death. (Reminiscent of Jarman’s Caravaggio, the treatment apparently drew in the works of Hieronymus Bosch too.) The extent to which that treatment influenced the development of Ostia, Julian Cole’s 25-minute homage to Pasolini (named after the site of his death), is not entirely clear, but the fact is that Jarman agreed to appear in the movie as Pasolini. (According to John Houghton, Cole found Jarman’s acting to be at times so atrocious that it was a considerable challenge to edit around it. Oh, well.)
In the final volume of the director’s journals, Kicking the Pricks, Jarman relates the following reminiscence:
Last year Julian Cole asked me to play Pasolini in his graduate film Ostia. Getting murdered and buried in freezing mud at 4 am as an uncertain sun came up was gruelling, but there was compensation in a trip to Camber Sands where we filmed a desert sequence in the dunes. I took my Super 8 with me and one shot from that day, my shadow racing across the sand, ended up in The Last Of England.
London and the coastal stretch of Camber Sands were never going to pass comfortably for Rome, but to my eye Cole did a pretty good job pulling off the switcheroo. (The spiffy Alfa Romeo helps.) Ostia is purest experimental moviemaking of the mid-1980s, which means it ain’t the easiest thing to follow, but the final chunk depicting Pasolini’s death can’t help but be profoundly affecting.
Jim Ellis comments in Derek Jarman’s Angelic Conversations:
As Jarman’s words [meaning the P.P.P. treatment] indicate, there are profound sympathies between the directors that go beyond the biographical similarities, and indeed, it’s difficult to name a film by Jarman that does not contain some echo of Pasolini, from Sebastiane, where Jarman comes closest to emulating Pasolini, to Blue, which calls to mind the all-blue painting made by the son in Teorema, after a homosexual affair has stripped away his bourgeois pretensions.
If you’ve seen any of Jarman’s movies, you won’t be surprised to learn that Ostia is also strictly NSFW.