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Jubilee - Criterion Collection

The Criterion Collection // Unrated // May 27, 2003
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by James W. Powell | posted June 2, 2003 | E-mail the Author
Call it the tale of two movies. First there's the film you actually watch, then there's the film you think back on. In the case of Jubilee, the first is a mediocre freak show, while the second is a thought-provoking masterpiece.

The London of Jubilee is one where law and order have been abolished and anarchy reigns. Girl gangs rule the street and Buckingham Palace has turned into a recording studio. Sounds fun. Instead, it's Clockwork Orange mixed with The Rocky Horror Picture Show and a bag of hallucinogenics. And I don't mean that in a good way. It's so fragmented, I'm still not entirely certain there's a narrative.

The film starts with Queen Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre) being shown the future of her kingdom, one in which her antitheses Bod (Runacre) leads a girl gang that includes Mad (Toyah Willcox), a pyromaniac psycho; Amyl Nitrate (Jordan), an alternative history writer with crazy bleached hair; and Crabs (Little Nell), a nymphomaniac whose only goal seems to be to screw the next big actor or singer. They have nothing to do in this chaotic urban wasteland, so their boredom and their anti-establishment feelings drive them to violence.

This feeling of punk rock and rage is lost on me, but perhaps this is due to the chaotic feel of the film that doesn't allow for emotional attachment to any character. Director/writer Derek Jarman created this in the time the punk movement was nearing its zenith and apparently didn't feel the need to explain those repressed feelings of anger to audiences, which creates an emptiness in the picture. I kept asking myself why? Why are they mad? Why are they killing this bystander? Why am I still watching this?

One thing that is explained is the overwhelming resentment of the media. Borgia Ginz (Orlando) is evil personified, but it's in Ginz that the true heart of Jubilee comes out. Unfortunately, during the film I found myself thinking it was too heavy handed, as if I was being force fed Jarman's political views and his thoughts on media. But after the film ended, and after some inspection of my own thoughts, the film truly spoke to me.

"As long as the music's loud enough, we won't hear the world falling apart," says Ginz, the man who controls this post-apocalyptic world. Although the views are a bit over the top, Ginz all but states that movie stars and singers and other pop culture icons are all that matter and that media is the only reality. In other words, stardom is all that's important. Instead of living their own lives, kids worship stars.

Yet some try to become stars themselves and live the life they see on TV and in movies. Kid (Adam Ant) is an upcoming musician who can't wait for a record deal, but his friends warn him that Ginz only wants to package him, and that soon all the singer will be is "another face on a cover."

Jubilee does a fine job of representing the current state of politics and media in today's society, even though it was filmed in the late 70's. Unfortunately, this quality shines only after the film has been viewed. While the disc is actually spinning away in the DVD player, any quality is wasted on a disconnected and unbelievable story.

Criterion presents Jubilee in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. This anamporphic transfer looks pretty nice considering the poor 1977 print. Although many instances of dirt, debris, and scratches were removed, a few still remain, just not often enough to be a major distraction. The darker scenes show the most trouble, with some mosquito noise and general softness evident throughout.

During day and well-lit scenes, the film looks great, with nice sharp images and impressive, vibrant colors. Mad's orange hair and bright vest really stand out. Skin tones seem correct and only slight halo effects stand out during the high-contrast scenes.

All in all it's a decent transfer. I'm sure it's never looked better.

Presented in 1.0 Dolby Digital sound, Jubilee sounds as it did in 1977, minus pops, crackles, and clicks. This track sounds fine, but the film all but begs for an improved soundtrack with a little more oomph. There is no low end sound here, and of course, rears aren't used. Although the voices sound crisp and clear, the in-your-face music lacks the power of a more amped presentation.

The people at Criterion really know how to put together an impressive DVD experience. The only thing lacking here is a commentary, but with all the other in-depth extras, that's not as big of a sour note as I expected. Along with the original trailer, this disc also features:

Jubilee: A Time Less Golden, a new documentary created just for this disc that features recent interviews with members of the cast, the production designer, art assistants, and filmmaker/critic Tony Rayns. Running at nearly 38 minutes, the documentary shows viewers what it was like during filming, both for the production and as part of the punk movement.

Jordan's Dance, a spooky and weird short film Jarman shot on Super-8 in 1977. It features Jordan, dancing in a tutu around a bonfire. Shown without sound, much of this short film was seen in Jubilee. Jarman offers a brief introduction on the second audio track.

The shooting script, which is a cool little scrapbook that features pictures, script revision, written ideas, and an assorted eclectic items from the filming of Jubilee.

Images of costume sketches that show how production designer Christopher Hobbs envisioned Queen Elizabeth and her crew to appear on screen. Surprisingly, many of the costumes are quite different than those that appear on screen.

The continuity stills are simply Polaroids from the shooting of Jubilee.

Finally, A New Wave Movie presents fanzine and newspaper clippings, a Jarman letter about Jubilee, and many pictures from the set and from the premiere of the film. Even without audio or moving pictures, this feature is one of the best on the disc because it truly represents the times that surrounded the premiere of Jubilee.

Although the political and media views represented in Jubilee certainly stand up in today's society, they will most likely be lost on the modern world of rap-invested music and computer generated action movies. Even though I can't recommend this film to most, anyone interested in a commentary on the state of a media-driven world, and any punk rock fans (I know you're still out there), will most certainly enjoy this disc.

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