Blue

 

In a grey room, at a grey table, on a grey day in February: I see Blue.

 

I am sitting with some friends

 

in the grey room, at the grey table. A blue rectangle is projected above us. A man’s voice addresses us:  

 

Look left
Look down
Look up
Look right 

 

Blue flashes in my eyes.

 

Blue is a seventy-five-minute film, made from a single shot of bright blue. It was made by a man who was losing his sight. He was English, he was gay, he had AIDS, he was a gardener.

 

The sound of a gong, a woodwind instrument…

 

You say to the boy open your eyes
When he opens his eyes and sees the light
You make him cry out. Saying
O Blue come forth
O Blue arise
O Blue ascend
O Blue come in

 

…the sound of a coffee machine frothing milk, the clattering of cutlery, a muffled conversation - a bomb.

 

Tania said 'Your clothes are on back to front and inside out’.

 

…the roar of traffic, a bicycle bell…

 

I step off the kerb and a cyclist nearly knocks me down. Flying in from the dark he nearly parted my hair.

I step into a blue funk.

 

Blue is a movie made for Yves Klein. It is a ‘blue movie’ made by Derek Jarman. The idea was an old one, one that returned, as his eyesight deteriorated and he began to see the world, as if through a blue filter.

 

Before I saw Blue, I saw a photograph of Derek Jarman’s cottage. It was projected above us, in the grey room. It was black with a yellow trim and sat on a flat, treeless, windswept coast in Kent. Apart from the cottage, the only thing above the horizon, was a nuclear power plant. Radiating out from the cottage was Derek Jarman’s garden. It had sculptures made from twisted metal and drift wood. It had flowers:

 

fennel, foxglove, dog rose, sea kale, poppy, hyacinth - cornflowers.

 

On the 19th of September 1993, four months before his death, Derek Jarman’s Blue premiered on Channel 4 television. BBC Radio 3 had a simultaneous broadcast, so Blue could be heard in stereo.

 

24 years later, on a grey day in February, Blue was screened in a room in Helsinki. Nine people were present. It was the last thing before lunch. I spent that lunch, trying to compose myself in a toilet.

 

On the 7th of October I saw Blue again. It was in Tate Britain. Again it was projected. I was alone. My friend had left. He had been there too, on the grey day in February, in the room in Helsinki. He didn’t like it in the gallery. He didn’t like it being in there. It belonged outside, on TV, many TVs – transmitted out, into the world from which it came.

 

John Berger stands in front of a blue screen, talking with his hands about images:

 

As you look at them now on your screen, your wallpaper is around them. Your window is opposite them. Your carpet is below them. At this same moment they are on many other screens, surrounded by different objects, different colours, different sounds. You are seeing them in the context of your own life. They are surrounded not by gilt frames but by the familiarity of the room you are in and the people around you.

 

There are lots of rooms in Blue. Waiting rooms and bedrooms. Rooms full of people and needles and magazines. Rooms connected by corridors. Rooms with blinds drawn; where a man eats a packet of biscuits and the sound of footsteps travels past the door.

 

On the 20th of November I saw Blue again - an illegally downloaded, digital file of the Italian version. I connected my laptop to my TV and turned off the lights. I sat on my blue velvet sofa and put my feet on the coffee table.

 

A blue rectangle floats in my living room. It appears to be coming toward me. Digital noise makes lines on the image. The lines start to move. They flatten out across the surface, then sink and shift and rise again; outside turning inside, inside turning outside; shrinking and expanding, into two competing surfaces, one that I know to be there but can no longer see and one that is perceptible only through sound.

 

I try to remember what it looked like the first time I saw it. Even in the Tate it had black spots and scratches. It had - noise.

 

 

In the grey room, at the grey table, on a different grey day, Brendan was complaining that music was increasingly over produced. Someone asked, if he meant, that it used to be better ‘when it let the room in?’

 

The last time I saw Blue, was on a DVD. Once again it was in my living room. I did not dim the lights. I left them as they were, which was just a lamp with a shade that looked like a fez and sat on a speaker to the right of the television. Blue bathed the room in blue light. It was reflected on the coffee table. A tube of throat lozenges and a book on Frank Stella were caught in the rectangle’s reflection.

 

Blue is a movie about many things. It is about love and sex and sickness and death. It is funny but also deeply sad. For a movie, supposedly devoid of image, Blue is incredibly full.

 

My eye was drawn to the edge of the blue rectangle. I forced it back to the centre. After a while, it drifted back to the edge of the screen and out of the frame, following the blue light, into the room. I looked down and saw that the T-shirt I was wearing, which was white, was now blue.

 

I didn’t know Derek Jarman. I never will and it’s not important. But I know Blue. I see myself reflected in Blue, as Blue is reflected on the walls of the rooms in which it plays.

 

On the morning of the grey day in February, in the grey room, we were reading a book. It was white and weird and causing disagreement. What did we think the author meant, when he said, that art was a form of friendship? There was a bit in the book about walking and camping and stocking and provisions; about the traces we leave behind, for people we do not know.

 

 

 

Published in Constellations 2017 edited by Fergus Feehily & Johanna Vakkari