In honour of LGBTQ+ History month starting today, third-year BA Film Studies students Lydia Cooper and Aoife Ranyell, are providing a series of weekly reviews that capture this year’s theme of Politics In Art: ‘The Arc Is Long’. First up is Lydia Cooper’s review of Caravaggio (1986).
January 31st would’ve been the pioneering queer filmmaker Derek Jarman’s 80th birthday, and with this in mind I re-watched his 1986 film Caravaggio. Caravaggio was the first film of Jarman’s I saw and it’s still my favourite because, despite not having the outwardly political themes or avant-garde quality of some of his other films, Caravaggio’s style, aesthetic and character add together to make a perfectly composed film on queer art and history.
Caravaggio is an important film in British queer cinema because of its unapologetic portrayal of a historical figure in same-sex relationships. There has been much debate about Caravaggio’s sexuality, so for Jarman to show him as openly queer, without relying on subtextual homoeroticism, was (and, in some ways, still is) ground-breaking.
The film follows Caravaggio (Nigel Terry) as he reflects on his life as a young artist during the Italian Renaissance. The cinematography and framing are spectacular, making the film look like a prolonged series of paintings, bringing Caravaggio’s paintings to life and enriching them with the emotions of the film. Although the film doesn’t contain much dialogue and has a slightly slower pace, the beautiful colour palette evokes everything that extra words could not. The film is filled with striking reds, glistening golds and melancholy blues and purples, depicting the feelings of passion, religion, death, love, sex, loneliness and isolation shown throughout the film, and Caravaggio’s life. Jarman blends the past and the present to create a queer classic that evokes equal parts art, politics, desire and passion while breaking conventional film form to create a more radical take on the classic historical film.
All reviewed films are available to stream via Kanopy, where as a UWE Bristol student your membership is free.
Further viewing on Kanopy
Jubilee (1978) – Dir. Derek Jarman
Wittgenstein (1993) – Dir. Derek Jarman
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