The late British filmmaker Derek Jarman initially envisioned his film Blue as a meditation upon the artist Yves Klein’s work with the color blue. Alas, that personal cinematic vision never came to be, as Jarman’s physical vision became impaired by AIDS. Jarman would instead sublimate this personal tragedy into a singular cinematic achievement, a prescient self-threnody captured on celluloid.
One lone International Klein Blue still frame provides the only image throughout the film’s entire 79 minutes. Staring into the monochromatic rectangular image mesmerizes the viewer, not only in an emotive but also in an abstract sense. That is, the blue rectangle provides such intense purity that it stultifies the viewer into an uneasy emotional state, not unlike the one that Jarman himself faced while lying on his deathbed. And at the same time, the color blue, especially when represented within the severe geometric shape of a rectangle, symbolizes many abstractions. Think of the word “blue” in its various denotative and connotative meanings. It represents nature in its most basic and vast forms as the sea and the sky. The word and the color can also connote a profound sense of sadness. Yet, it can also connote sexuality and cheekiness.
And Derek Jarman himself embodied all these things, an artist in touch with his melancholy but also with his sexuality and sense of humor. The absence of moving images also approximates Jarman’s loss of sight. We experience what Jarman went through, and we empathize. Jarman did not go gently into that good night but instead gave us in his final struggle one of the most calming yet radical works of cinema.