Interview with Marc David Jacobs about Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane

Marc David Jacobs introduces Derek Jarman’s first feature film Sebastiane, a sexually explicit controversial queer reworking of the Christian myth of Saint Sebastiane. The film screens at Glasgow Film Theatre, October 2, 7:30-9pm.

Why is Sebastiane screening now in SQIFF?
Everyone loves round numbers, right?  It’s 40 years since Sebastiane was made – the same year as Terence Davies’ Children, which we also considered screening.  Apart from their anniversaries, both films also seemed connected to two other films in the programme: When We Are Together We Can Be Everywhere and The Surface Tension Trilogy.  All of these films have to do with manipulations of queer histories, whether personal or public.  In many ways, Sebastiane foreshadows both these works.  The Surface Tension Trilogy takes historical figures and creates new queer backstories for them – or maybe side stories would be more accurate: inventing home movies for fictitious lovers Leni Riefenstahl and Eva Braun, for instance.  If Sebastiane is the first piece of cinematic slash fiction (and it definitely is), Liz Rosenfeld’s trilogy is definitely in the same tradition.  When We Are Together We Can Be Everywhere goes one step further, with Marit Östberg taking her own history and manipulating it, turning what was intended as a literal documentary into something more personal, more nostalgic and mournful and thought-provoking.  Perhaps it’s better related to Davies’ film – but then again, the sheer sex of it is definitely more up Jarman’s street.

Derek Jarman was one of the first out gay filmmakers in the UK to be on TV. What are your thoughts about the possibility of a film like Sebastiane – in Latin, sexually explicit, and exuberantly GAY being  screened on TV in 2016?
I wouldn’t be surprised.  For all its shock value, Sebastiane is pretty friendly (it’s about a saint, for heaven’s sakes) and, in 2016, it’s queer cinema twice removed: ancient cinema’s idea of ancient Rome.  It might as well be a queer(er) Spartacus – or any of the Cecil B DeMille films it makes little Latin jokes about, only with more cock.  When they start showing Madame X or Seduction: The Cruel Woman or Je, Tu, Il, Elle on UK television, then we’ll talk.

Where do you see the descendants of Derek Jarman in terms of UK film in terms of queer boldness and desire?
I don’t see them, because the descendants of Derek Jarman don’t know or don’t care about the festival circuit.  They’re the trans kid who gets miserable at the thought of watching a Derek Jarman film because they tried The Last of England once and fell asleep for most of it because they found it boring and irrelevant.  They’re the college student failing their exams because they stay up all night making a series of pansexual orgy films alone in their bedroom, playing all the parts, dubbing it afterwards so they don’t wake up their flatmates.  They’re the genderqueer teen who gets strung out on new software that lets them layer a series of gifs on top of each other, and uses it to try and express themselves in a way they never could before.  They post their videos online and no one watches them and they don’t really care.  If we’re lucky, a friend of a friend of theirs sends us a link to their work without them knowing and we watch it and one day we wallpaper an entire fucking foyer with their film.

Jarman collaborated with The Smiths and The Pet Shop Boys on music videos.  He was an artist who worked on many platforms.  What can contemporary queer filmmakers learn from him about being fluid in terms of their portfolios?
One of my favourites of Jarman’s music videos is his one for Bryan Ferry’s Windswept.  The song’s a car crash of ’80s-era Muzak and prefab classical guitar – not Ferry’s finest moment.  And it’s from 1985: the year of The Angelic Conversation, which couldn’t sound more different.  But the resulting video is 0% Bryan Ferry and 100% Derek Jarman: the perfect example of a filmmaker who’s been given an entirely free hand by someone who knows their collaborator knows what they’re doing.  To me, it says something about taking on jobs that may not be what you’re expecting, and seeing what comes of them.  Never assume off the bat that something is not for you.  Sound it out – see what you can contribute.  And it’s also about being both Derek Jarman and Bryan Ferry.  It’s extraordinary to work with people who let you get on with things and allow you to express something which is your own through the material they give you.  But it’s also about working with people whose work you admire, and letting them express themselves with the things you can give them.  Am I answering this question?  What the actual fuck am I saying?  I’m saying that I think the best – or at least the most interesting – way to create a fluid portfolio is to let its content be decided by the people you want to work with.  Seek out talented people whose work you admire, support them, learn from them – and, above all, trust them.  Collaborate and listen.

Queer films in the 80s vs Queer films in the noughties? Why?
Safe dangers vs dangerous safety.  Modest muffs vs over-the-top outrage.  Blankets vs pillows.  Gold vs silver.  Fruit vs veg.  Which is which?  I’M NOT TELLING.
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