Monday, July 4, 2011

Simon Fisher Turner and Derek Jarman

Simon Fisher Turner (SFT) has come up in the media for two main reasons lately. First is his scoring of the soundtrack to “The Great White Silence” and the second is the recent release of “Super 8” a 3xCD set on Fench Art Label Optical Sound which also links to the cinema of Derek Jarman.

“The Great White Silence” is a film made by Herbert Ponting and first screened in primitive form in 1913, but not assuming its more finished state until 1924. It is part fact, part fiction and part documentary, recording the fatal journey of Robert Scott to the South Pole between 1910 and 1912. Ponting was the official photographer and documenter of the expedition, but luckily did travel in the last leg due to age and the difficulty of the journey where he would otherwise have met his end. Therefore, parts of the film were essentially fictionalised by editing in pre-recorded footage or restaged later.

The original film was of course silent, but in the most recent reissue, the British Film Institute (BFI) has commissioned a soundtrack from SFT. SFT has had a long and distinguished career as both actor, artist and musician, releasing on labels like Mute and Creation under his own name and the King of Luxembourg, as well as once being a short-term member of The The.

In this incredibly fascinating mini documentary of the making of the soundtrack, SFT describes the inherent difficulties of scoring a film full of silence and long scenes of animals and ice and also the level of detail taken to produce an authentic and respectful piece of music.

The second news piece of news relating to SFT is the release of a 3xCD set that pays varying level of tribute to much celebrated English film director and gay-rights activist Derek Jarman simply entitled “Derek Jarman Super 8” with the subtitle “Soundtracks for Derek”. I have not heard the music yet and the available information does not distinctly say to what level the sound material is lifted from Jarman’s films. The CD is also dedicated to Coil's John Balance and Peter Christopherson.

The first piece entitled “I’m ready for my close-up” is credited as including “Derek talking and studio sounds from his film "The Garden"”. An unusual feature of the first disc is that SFT appears to be manipulating a track by Terre Thaemlitz aka DJ Sprinkles who may have himself included the source material from Derek Jarman in his piece (originally entitled "A Crippled Left Wing Soars With The Right (Steal This Record Remix by DJ Sprinkles)). Terre Thaemlitz is himself a fierce gay-rights activist and has consistently spoken out about related topics such as transgender issues and AIDs education.

The short second disc has a title that pays homage to Jarman’s short 1973 Super 8 film “Stolen Apples for Karen Blixen” (Karen Blixen is of course the Danish author who wrote “Out of Africa”). The third disc contains another long piece entitled “Their gods are dancing” and the only information is that it was recorded during the last World Cup while England were losing to Germany.

SFT and Derek Jarman have a long relationship, however, extending back far more than this collection. SFT scored Jarman’s seminal film “Caravaggio” from 1986, one of the few he made on 35mm film, which he found limiting compared to the more portable and experimental potential of Super 8.

“Caravaggio” was also notable for the role played by Tilda Swinton who subsequently collaborated with Jarman on several other projects including “The Last of England”, another film scored by SFT. The following scene from the film features Tilda Swinton in addition to excerpts from Diamanda Galas’s terrifying “Saint of the Pit” album which in itself the second part of The Plague Mass, a triptych that also attempted to raise awareness for AIDs since her brother had also succumbed to the disease.

 SFT also scored “The Garden” a film made at Jarman’s cottage with some difficulty as Jarman who had begun to suffer serious health problems due to AIDS.

Jarman’s break appears to have been as the Production designer on Ken Russell’s 1971 film “The Devils”, starring Oliver Reid and Vanessa Redgrave, collectively based on the book by Aldous Huxley “The Devils of Loudon” and the play “The Devils” by John Whiting. Russel’s film has just been rereleased, but is still regarded as one of the most controversial films ever made.

 Jarman’s 1979 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” which featured much nudity, mostly male, was a likely inspiration for Peter Greenaway’s much maligned adaptation “Propsero’s Books” from 1991.

But more musically, Jarman has played a key role in connection experimental music and film. In the late 70s and early 80s he captured footage of many key groups and made several important music videos.

Amongst these include early footage of the Sex Pistols, Throbbing Gristle and Marianne Faithful. In recent years, Throbbing Gristle have performed live to some of Jarman’s short films at venues like the Turbine Hall of the TATE Modern.

More recognisable perhaps was his work with The Smiths during the recording of “The Queen is Dead” album (excerpts of this footage went to become the video for the single “Panic”) as well as Marc Almond, the Pet Shop Boys and Suede.

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