Derek Jarman: A Biography

By Tony Peake
Overlook Press/New York City

The works of British filmmaker, artist and author Derek Jarman, who died of AIDS in February 1994, offer a cascade of imagery so luscious and baroque that its lack of attention to narrative detail and even coherence is easy to ignore. So it’s bizarre that the new biography of Jarman by his literary agent, Tony Peake, should so insistently pile fact upon fact about the auteur’s every affair, acquaintance and vacation -- even his penis size -- complete with comprehensive endnotes. Amid the intimidating clutter, however, an intrepid reader can find an interesting portrait of Jarman and his work. Peake’s insidery account chronicles the brilliant, often-messy processes by which the filmmaker used classical sources to explore contemporary struggles against homophobia and AIDS in Caravaggio, Edward II and Blue. To the film scholar, this volume provides a useful exploration of Jarman’s life, work and painstakingly enumerated loves. But to most of us, its sheer bulk is likely to prove daunting.