Stormy Weather: Derek Jarman's The Tempest
Diana Harris and MacDonald Jackson, University of Auckland
British filmmaker Derek Jarman died in February 1994. Any comprehensive account of his achievements must include a revaluation of his 1979 screen adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, which anticipated many of the distinctive strategies of Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books (1991). Greenaway's film is hi-tech, with lavish crowd scenes and a kaleidoscopic profusion of images created with the aid of the "digital, electronic Graphic Paintbox."1 Jarman's film was low budget, employing an orthodox mix of "masters, mid-shots and close-ups" (Jarman 194).2 Yet, in their vastly different idioms, both movies dwell on the original script's obsession with the interaction between life, art, dream, and play, subtly shifting through different planes of reality and representation. In filling the frame each director draws on a rich European artistic heritage. Greenaway recalls Piranesi, Bronzino, Da Messina, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Veronese, Rembrandt, Bellini, and others. Jarman playfully alludes to Velázquez's "Las Meninas" and composes candle-lit shots with the balance and beauty of paintings by Caravaggio or De la Tour.
Where Greenaway adds a postmodern self-consciousness about the relations between signifiers and the signified, and the ways in which text, as it is inscribed, conjures a world into being, Jarman's contemporaneity is more "social," the product of an exotic sensibility rather than of a modish intellect.3 Jarman's films have been widely perceived as "statements of the late-1970s and early 1980s British counterculture, intended for punk and gay audiences" (Vaughan and Vaughan 209), and his version of The Tempest certainly re-imagines the play, foregrounding the same-sex relationship between Prospero and Ariel, desentimentalizing the romance of the young lovers, Ferdinand and Miranda, with comedy and burlesque and fun, and emphasizing dream as a Jungian search for self-hood.
Jarman jettisons the bulk of Shakespeare's dialogue and re-orders most of what he keeps. The remains of the play's speeches may be scattered over several film sequences. Gonzalo's amiable garrulousness, for example, is enhanced by being protracted in this way. After Alonso's group arrives on shore in a dinghy, they trek through sandhills toward Prospero's mansion, and Gonzalo's Pollyanna-like chatter as he attempts to cheer the king or expounds his vision of Utopia percolates through three of the sequences showing this journey. We gain the impression that Alonso has an idée fixe, about which he cannot stop talking. Shakespeare's long expository monologues, in which Prospero, in scene ii, tells Miranda of historic grievances, risk an audience's boredom and are thoroughly uncinematic. Jarman avoids tedium by dispersing them over several episodes, extending well into the middle of the film. Like Zeffirelli in his recent Hamlet, Jarman repeatedly breaks Shakespeare's scenes into smaller units, which he interweaves. The effect is to compress the time-scheme of a play that is already one of only two in which Shakespeare preserves the Aristotelian unities,4 and to suggest that several related events are happening at the same time. The film's closing wedding-masque sequence assembles the whole cast and draws all the threads of the plot together.
The opening tempest is itself a challenge to a director. Shakespeare creates it through his dialogue, with the aid of a few primitive sound effects. On the modern stage, designer pyrotechnics and the electronic speaker system are apt to obliterate the words. In the cinema we expect to see a frothing ocean and a masted ship foundering, but may regret the loss of Shakespeare's evocative language and the metaphorical link between the storm and Prospero's inner turmoil. Jarman's solution to the practical problem becomes a key to the main significances of his film. In Prospero 's Books, Greenaway has Gielgud as Prospero speak all the dialogue. Jarman had toyed with this idea: in his "first cut-up of the text . . . a mad Prospero, rightly imprisoned by his brother, played all the parts" (183). But in the final version it is only during the opening sequence that Prospero (in voice-over) utters other characters' speeches.
Throughout his film, Jarman uses blue filters for outdoor scenes. This establishes a night-time, illusory quality, and the opening shot of sea, sky, and clouds is quickly assimilated into the imagination of Prospero as he dreams in a shadow-haunted gothic castle on the Northumbrian coast.5 The ship-master's "Bestir" is an urgent, echoing whisper in sleep; the wind of the tempest merges with the exhaling of breath as Prospero tosses and turns on his bed, his face netted under a gauze scarf. The shouts of the storm-tossed sailors become the anxious disembodied utterances of nightmare. "We split, we split!" (I.i.61) is as much a comment on disintegration of the personality as a reference to the breaking up of the vessel. Through Jarman's montage, the dark-blue shots of the lurching ship, crew scrambling along the rigging, and turbulent seas are linked with the mind of the troubled dreamer. The sleeper is conjuring up not only the shipwreck of his enemies but memories of his own maltreatment by them, when, ousted from his dukedom, he was hurried aboard a rotten bark, which was providentially washed ashore upon the island where he now reigns supreme. "The very rats/Instinctively have quit it" (I.ii. 147-48), recalls Prospero, when later narrating his ordeals to Miranda; and in Jarman's film a white rat, heralded by a squeak on the soundtrack, scuttles across Prospero's bed. A little later a rat's eye glints momentarily through the gloom. More rodent screeches signal the ship's destruction. As the word "aground" reverberates, Prospero gasps himself awake, sits upright, and stares ahead in horror, to amplified sounds of a wave crashing. Miranda in her bed also stirs, as though implicated in her father's nightmare, but sticks her fingers back into her mouth, and curls up again under the covers.
Jarman's transitions from the sleeping Prospero to the stricken ship are very subtle. The bedroom is mostly shot in full colour, but as he cuts back and forth between indoors and outdoors, or dreamer and dream, Jarman sometimes for a split second shows Prospero and his bed in virtual monochrome, which thus mediates between the two orders of reality. At the end of the sequence, Jarman cuts to a shot of Prospero striding toward his study, where he will evoke Ariel. Jarman thus constructs the first half of a frame that encloses Prospero's, Shakespeare's, and the director's fantasy. Thereafter deep breathing is heard intermittently over the soundtrack to maintain the theme, and lines such as Miranda's "'Tis far off;/And rather like a dream" (I.ii.44-45) and Ferdinand's "My spirits, as in a dream, are all bound up" (I.ii.487) are given prominence.
Heathcote Williams is an unusually youthful Prospero, a forty-something "cross between Heathcliff in grunge and Dr Who" (Harris) with a hands-off approach to parenting. His hair recalls Beethoven. But his study is cluttered with the pseudo-scientific equipment of a Renaissance magician like the German Cornelius Agrippa, the Italian Giordano Bruno, or the Elizabethan adept Dr John Dee: there are mathematical and cabbalistic formulae, astrological diagrams, alchemical symbols, Egyptian hieroglyphs, the runic inscriptions of Agrippa's Occult Philosophy, a model of the zodiac, arrays of candles, perspective glasses, and crystal balls. Prospero's wand derives from Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica, "which symbolized the unity of spirit and matter" (Jarman 188). The indoors scenes were shot in Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire, and this crumbling Kafkaesqe pile with its gloomy stairwells becomes the natural habitat of a scholar recluse, mad inventor, master of the occult. It is also well stocked with paraphernalia for play, like a Theatre Costume and Properties Hire shop. An alabaster bust resembling Prospero raises our awareness of questions of identity and mimesis.
Like many Shakespeare plays, The Tempest looks very different to most modern critics from the way it looked a few decades ago.6 Instead of Prospero the benign mage, wise ruler over his island kingdom, stand-in for a Shakespeare who was delivering his farewell to the London stage after having emerged from the anguish of his tragic phase into a mood of reconciliation and faith in natural renewal, commentators find a deeply disturbed protagonist, whose tyrannical and repressive urge to control reflects his own inner insecurities, and who represents that vein of British empire-building which robs the indigenous peoples of their native inheritance in the name of civilization. Nineteenth-century critics accepted Prospero's attitude towards Caliban. Recent critics are apt to sympathize with Caliban's impulse to overthrow the oppressor. The patriarch, imposing his will on others, must take a measure of blame even for his subject's attempted rape of Miranda. The play's keynote was once thought to be "forgiveness"; lately it has more often been seen as preoccupied with "power."
Certainly The Tempest bears some relation to the Renaissance revenge play. Prospero is like the wronged avenger-hero, who now has his enemies at his mercy. An emotional and psychological struggle within him between passion and reason, vengeance and forgiveness, can introduce "a sense of dramatic conflict necessarily lacking in an action moving at the will of an omnipotent being."7 Modern critics have explored the conflict within Prospero—and behind him Shakespeare—between his need to see himself as humane, benevolent, and forgiving and his innate aggression, resentment, vindictiveness, and rage.8 The plot itself moves toward Prospero's recognition that "the rarer action is/In virtue than in vengeance" (V.i.27-28), but his anger surfaces in the verbal details: the threats with which he controls the recalcitrant Ariel and Caliban, his mouth-filling descriptions of the cramps and convulsions to be visited on Stephano and Trinculo, the relish with which he pretends enmity toward Ferdinand. Against his brother Antonio he wields his forgiveness like a shillelagh: "For you, most wicked sir, whom to call brother/Would even infect my mouth, I do forgive/Thy rankest fault—all of them" (V.i. 130-32). Jarman brings out Prospero's unacknowledged rancour through some striking images. As he addresses the spellbound Antonio he holds a rapier point just below his treacherous brother's eye. Approaching the sleeping Ferdinand, he raises an axe, as though about to behead him, but smashes it down into the chopping block that Ferdinand is thus implicitly commanded to use. "The concept of forgiveness in The Tempest attracted me," wrote Jarman (202), who exposes the strain with which Prospero subdues his animosity and achieves that compassion which Ariel says he would feel were he human: "if you now beheld them, your affections/Would become tender" (V.i. 18-19). Jarman's tricksy spirit utters this key speech as a wistful face peering out of a bundle of straw; his expression registers pleasure as Prospero resolves to forgive.
Toyah Wilcox's Miranda, a neglected child turned adolescent, is obviously used to creating her own entertainment. She invents herself with the help of a fertile imagination and a chest of clothing. Her hairdo, dreadlocks adorned with whisps of thread, is even more outlandish than her father's. She tries on hooped petticoat and bridal veil, blows a handful of feathers from a balcony, and arranges larger ones in her hair. She has the air of a self-absorbed but engaging urchin, with an infectious sense of fun. But she is also a curious, adventurous, sexually awakened young woman. Ariel sets her on the path to marriage with Ferdinand by intoning the wedding-masque verses forecasting fertile union, "Honor, riches, marriage-blessing" (IV.i.106), as he rocks astride her old rocking-horse, his motion lightly hinting at the consummation to come, while the toy itself serves as reminder of the child now poised on the verge of womanhood. In response, she mimes being a princess with airs and graces as she descends a flight of stairs to a xylophone accompaniment, but slips over on her backside and has to start again! Recapitulating Ariel's benediction, she herself recites scraps from the masque during her play-acting. She appears to treat Ariel as a familiar playmate, but he has cast himself in the role of nurse or surrogate mother, supervising her maturation. But she remains a lively teenager with a gleeful chuckle, playing battledore and shuttlecock with Ferdinand before their game of chess.
Miranda has very little fear of Caliban, as portrayed by the blind harlequin Jack Birkett, "The Incredible Orlando." This Caliban is more "mooncalf than "monster" (Vaughan and Vaughan 210). He is slack-jawed, camp, very physical but hardly a sexual threat to Miranda, who regards him as a voyeuristic nuisance. After her first encounter with him, he flaunts his open flies as she hurries away. Later he bends over and makes farting noises. This merely amuses her. Bald, shambling, baring his ugly teeth in vacant grimaces, he cackles and leers, a drooling natural. He is like a giant baby, so that the bizarre flashback showing him sucking at the breast of his grotesque mother, the hookah-smoking witch Sycorax, seems strangely appropriate. On his first appearance his hands are rummaging in a still-life platter of bruised fruit and stale vegetables in search of a raw egg. Finding one, he breaks it with his teeth and sucks the contents with slavering relish. He lisps and whines and croons. Prospero treats him with sadistic contempt, trampling on his fingers, as though corporal punishment is the only language he really understands. Caliban often seems like the embodiment of some despised element of Prospero's own psyche, an incarnation of the Freudian id; he lurks, motionless, in the background, like some dark shadow-self, while Prospero informs Miranda of past happenings. He is indeed a "thing of darkness" that Prospero must acknowledge as his (V.i.275-76). But he is clothed, as he sweeps the stairs, like an old-time Deep South butler. Drake, Purchas, or Raleigh might have called him a "mulatto." Racially unclassifiable, this Caliban might be the modern commentators' colonized native of disputed origin. His broad North Country "This island's mine by Sycorax my muvver" (I.ii.331) brings specifically English considerations of class and regionalism into his characterization, and he is vehement in his accusations that Prospero has robbed and enslaved him.
The inset of Sycorax is one of a sharply contrasting pair. With her mountain of naked flesh, lurid lipstick, and short peroxided hair in Medusa ringlets, Caliban's dam looks as though she belongs in the seamiest kind of 1930s Berlin night-club, where Ariel suffers, rather than enjoys, bondage: Sycorax hauls him towards her by a long chain attached to his metal collar, while Caliban watches and sniggers. These images accompany Prospero's reminder to Ariel of the torment from which the mage had freed him. Jarman similarly illustrates Prospero's assurance to Miranda that during their sufferings at sea she was "a cherubim . . . that did preserve me" (I.ii.152-53): through an enchanter's scrying-glass Prospero shows his daughter a curlyheaded blonde cherub, smiling as though lifted from some pastel-tinted Shirley Temple postcard; the adoring father, a spruce young aristocrat, beams with pride as she shyly parades in her Sunday best to music-box tinklings. Both flashbacks—to decadence and to innocence—have an air of camp excess that includes a hint of parody, but they are effectively antithetical nonetheless: cherubim as opposed to sorceress, preserver to torturer, virgin to whore.
Ariel (Karl Johnson) is a fascinating counter to Prospero. Dressed in a white boiler-suit and gloves, he is the technician for Prospero's research. This Ariel fits Jan Kott's conception of the character as like "a laboratory assistant working at an atomic reactor" (206). Yet he manages to convey a curiously disengaged quality that makes him more authentically a "spirit" than many conventional Ariels. He is like Prospero's Jungian anima figure—the mysterious "other" who complements him. He seems already to have gone through the angst that plagues Prospero, is more worldly wise, more cryptic, older even, and unsurprisable. He wears a pearl in his left ear-lobe, and, without the least suggestion of stereotypical homosexual mannerisms or the conventional androgyny, he comes across as knowingly and securely gay. His pallor is other-worldly. Spotlighting emphasizes it, especially when Prospero sits in contrasting shadow. The relationship between Prospero and Ariel is ambiguous, homoerotically charged, and sometimes tortuous. The dynamics of power are held in balance, often slipping or oscillating between them. We are aware that master can become slave, and slave can become master. Prospero's dominance is most evident when he pins Ariel behind a glass screen; both Prospero's vision of Ariel and Ariel's of Prospero are shown as consequently blurred. Williams's lines are spoken softly and sensitively, "not bawled across the footlights" (Jarman 194), and Ariel's delivery is flat and impassive, and sometimes droll. He crouches in the long marram grass of the dunes, as he sings (in Sprechgesang style) "Full fathom five" to Ferdinand or "Awake, awake!" to Alonso and Gonzalo; the effect is to indicate his affinity with sea, sand, and sky, rather than to hint that he is potentially visible to the courtiers.
Ariel's nervousness about reminding Prospero that he has promised him his freedom is brought out by the way he rehearses his brief rebuke, accompanying his words with hand gestures mimicking the playground power-game "Scissors-Paper-Stone," where the aim is to anticipate the opponent's counter-move. He is curious about Prospero's knick-knacks. Corpse-like himself, he toys with a miniature skull, clicking its jaws as he clicks his own, as though puzzling over what makes him different from mere mortals. When he recounts his escapades with Ferdinand, he appears, greatly diminished in size, as a floating projection on the wall above the mantlepiece in Miranda's bedroom, and at another point he goes to open a door, finds it stuck, glances at Prospero, shrugs deprecatingly, and with a snap of his fingers disappears. This looks almost like a parody of the antics of screen fairy folk, including the BBC Ariel, with his trick exits.9 In general this Ariel's non-human nature is established in more subtle ways. His first arrival is genuinely spooky: as Prospero repeats his commands, "Come away, servant, come; I am ready now" (I.ii.187), a doorknob turns, chandeliers sway and tinkle, a spider scuttles across a prayerbook open at the communion service, a beaker of red wine (adjacent to "The Thirty-Nine Articles") falls on its side, and Ariel's voice is heard, as at a seance, before he materializes in person in a lightning flash and a clap of thunder. Madam Blavatsky could not have managed a more effective spirit entry. Jarman's cuts back and forth between close-ups and medium or long shots are perfectly calculated to produce the required frisson.
Sometimes you might half wonder whether there is anyone corporeal inside Ariel's overalls. With several other characters there is a contrasting emphasis on the body. The shipwrecked Ferdinand, for instance, wades to shore in blue-filtered light, a male Venus emerging from the waves, and staggers to Prospero's castle, to sleep naked in the straw of Caliban's lair before a blazing fire. There he is discovered by Ariel, who is joined by Prospero, Miranda, and Caliban in turn. After Prospero's feigned threats and accusations, Ferdinand, standing face to a wall, is manacled and made to wear a white uniform, while Caliban grinds out a merry tune on a hurdy-gurdy. The disjunction between the carnivalesque gaiety of the music and the pathos of Ferdinand's humiliation is unsettling. Miranda feels only pity: the next shot shows her weeping as she gently handles a dead butterfly. This aligns her with Shakespeare's other compassionate maidens, such as Marina, who in Pericles "never kill'd a mouse, nor hurt a fly" and wept when she "trod upon a worm" (IV.i.77-78).
Judging that "if one deals with unconventional subject-matter, experimental camera work can push a film over into incoherence" (194), Jarman restricted himself throughout to an orthodox repertoire of shots, but his masterly editing creates a remarkable visual poetry, with rhythms that enhance a sense of mystery. The skull-clicking episode, for example, begins with a closeup of a hand swinging a small glass pendulum, cuts to an extreme close-up of a wan-faced Ariel intently staring diagonally downward as he clicks his teeth, tilts slowly down his boilersuited torso to settle on the object of his gaze, the miniature skull whose jaws he opens and shuts, and only then moves to the long-shot overview that reveals Ariel in the foreground with Prospero in the background sitting at a table, each engrossed in his business; the holder of the pendulum turns out to have been Prospero. Ariel drops the skull on the table as Prospero addresses him. Through the ordering of the shots, which reverses the normal progression from master to close-up, we have been made to share Ariel's puzzlement, sense his strangeness, meditate on mortality, and deepen our understanding of the relationship between spirit-servant and sage.
The soundtrack is no less inventive. The whirring of wings may signal Ariel's arrival, departure, or unseen presence. Frogs croak as Alonso's benighted group heads for the castle. The sound of marching feet serves as a backing to Prospero's tale about the usurpation of his dukedom. Seagulls cry as Ferdinand wades ashore or Caliban plods along the strand. An owl hoots as Prospero performs his night-time rituals. Drum beats or a synthesized rolling hum, blending with the sough of wind, intensify foreboding, mystery, or menace.
The comedy surrounding Trinculo and Stephano, escapees from a Butlins Holiday Camp, is reduced to a few giggled phrases, supplemented by visual gags—funny walks and drunken dancing—though the conspiracy against Prospero, like that of Sebastian and Antonio against Alonso, is retained, together with some effective sorcery as punishment, with Ariel in close-up snarling and howling like a bayhound, dwarves screeching and clawing at the offenders like angry cats, and the contents of Prospero's costume room, with its skull-masked dummies, taking on a life of their own. The rocking-horse whinnies and snorts as it pitches back and forth to the soundtrack's excited hunting scene. Later Ariel pants with his tongue hanging out, an exhausted hound, but also resembling an epileptic whose fits confer a psychokinetic power. There are also suggestions of postcoital lassitude. Over the whole episode there hangs a vague air of erotic exhilaration. Sex, domination, magic: Jarman's Prospero is no Alister Crowley, but there is more than a smack of eros in his "so potent art."
The plan to murder Prospero is always patently doomed to failure. Events are so arranged that Jarman's Prospero is never distracted into forgetting about it, and he has the clairvoyance to keep track of all his enemies.
The pièce de résistance is Jarman's stunning wedding-masque finale, the "vanity of his art," to use Prospero's phrase for his show of spirits (IV.i.41). Alonso and his entourage have finally reached the castle. Warily treading its dark passageways, they hear unexpected sounds: "What harmony is this?" asks Alonso; "Marvellous sweet music!" exclaims Gonzalo (III.iii.18-19). We catch, muffled behind closed doors, the strains of a dance band and the shouts and laughter of convivial party-goers. Turning an engine that resembles some primitive forerunner to the orrery, Ariel weaves cobwebs to symbolically envelop the courtiers and transports them spellbound to the ballroom, which is garlanded in coronation splendour. Before the loving couple arrive—Miranda gorgeously attired as a cross between Scarlett O'Hara and My Fair Lady—Prospero instructs Ariel to go to the king's ship and rescue "the mariners asleep/Under the hatches," waken them and "enforce them to this place" (V.i.98-100). "Presently," urges Prospero, meaning "immediately," and the room is forthwith invaded by the whole ship's company of sailors, miraculously dressed in modern naval uniform as if on leave from H.M.S. Pinafore and dancing a speeded-up hornpipe in a hilarious send-up of chorusline revues and spectaculars from Gilbert and Sullivan on: Hollywood blockbusters, Esther Williams/Busby Berkley productions, and perhaps the Reinhardt-Dieterle film of A Midsummer Night's Dream.10 It is a joyous celebration of male bonding. In fact it is also a gay injoke. In his autobiography Dancing Ledge Jarman describes a party for Sir Francis Rose, where Jean Cocteau brought twenty-one sailor boys as a gift to Francis for his twenty-first birthday. After the dark-blue outdoor and chiaroscuro indoor scenes, the blaze of light that fills the room is itself invigorating, and the music is witty and cheerful to the point of frenzy. Ariel, MC in white jacket and bow tie, remains an onlooker but seems close to contentment amidst this bevy of sweating men. Shakespeare's nautical concerns are brilliantly fused with Jarman's homoerotic theme. If this Tempest is Prospero's dream, the dance routine is the symbolic fulfilment of repressed desire. It is liberating and parodic at the same time. But it is also an apt enough entertainment for a Miranda who has been isolated from humankind and now bubbles over with delight. "How many goodly creatures are there here!" indeed (V.i.182).
Next to appear are Caliban and his fellow conspirators, with Trinculo, dressed as a drag queen, eliciting wolf whistles from the sailor lads. In Shakespeare's play Stephano and Trinculo do in fact don the "trumpery" by which Prospero has diverted them from their murderous scheme, but Jarman gives their frivolity a characteristic twist. Then Ariel's wizardry plucks down a shower of rose petals, which becomes a deluge when supplemented by the contents of the sailors' upturned hats. We view the beaming bride and groom through this confetti, until down the florally carpeted corridor formed by the naval guard of honour walks Iris, Ceres, and Juno rolled into one—Elisabeth Welch, Sycorax's antitype, a black woman in the sophisticated garb of twenties chanteuse, golden as a sunflower. With feathery imitation cornstalks in her hair, she conveys the promise of the harvest goddess and the reminder of pain from the "brave new world": the pain of racial difference in a world of slavery, the pain of sexual relationships in a world of inconstancy. The text of Harold Aden's "Stormy Weather," in Welch's marvellously soulful rendition, harmonizing music and tempest, resonates with echoes from the rest of the film and from Shakespeare's play:
Don't know why, there's no sun up in the sky,
Stormy weather, since my man and I ain't together,
Keeps raining all the time.
Life is bare, gloom and misery everywhere,
Stormy weather, just can't get my poor self together,
I'm weary all the time.
When he went away, the blues walked in and met me,
If he stays away, old rocking chair will get me,
All I do is pray the Lord above will let me
Walk in the sun once more.
I can't go on, everything I had is gone,
Stormy weather, since my man and I ain't together,
Keeps rainin' all the time,
Keeps rainin' all the time.
There is something in "Stormy Weather" for each character to recognize. Caliban hears the sound of slavery and resistance in the classic twelve-bar blues, the sound he unwittingly echoed in his own stumbling slave song, "'Ban, 'Ban, Ca-Caliban" (II.ii.184). Miranda and Ferdinand hear the complexities of lovers' relationships exposed. Ariel acknowledges the pain of losing Prospero: "Since my man and I ain't together/Keeps rainin' all the time." A touching close-up shows a sad and pensive Ariel, forefinger brushing his lips, as those lines are sung. Ferdinand and Miranda reassure each other with a tender kiss.
"Can't get my poor self together": the theme of psychic integration is touched on even here. "I can't go on"—"unless I be reliev'd by prayer" (Epi. 16): Prospero will renounce his magic and retire to Milan "where/Every third thought shall be my grave" (V.i.311-12). "Everything I had is gone"—"The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,/The solemn temples, the great globe itself (IV.i. 152-53).
A blues number is the ideal twentieth-century song form to encompass love and hate, vengeance and forgiveness, estrangement and reconciliation; to acknowledge how hard it is to limit desire, proscribe sexuality, exact penitence, or contain suffering. And what song could be more apt to the tempest conjured up by Prospero's so potent art than "Stormy Weather," with its refrain echoing Feste's wistful coda to the reunions and marriages that end Twelfth Night: "the rain it raineth every day."
"When he went away, the blues walked in and met me," sings Welch, and the blues have indeed walked in and complicated the jollity. At the end of the song, after Welch's yellow head-dress has momentarily drenched the screen in sunshine, this world is plunged back into blue-black night. Ariel picks his way through the deserted ballroom, which looks, now that the lights are out, oddly like an autumnal woodland dell, littered as it is with confetti, streamers, and faded flowers. He clambers onto the vacant "throne," looks toward Prospero, slumped asleep in a chair, gives a rueful smile, glances sadly about the room, falteringly sings "Merrily, merrily, shall I live now" (V.i.93) in a doleful voice, tiptoes past his master, pausing for one last lingering look, runs up a flight of stairs, and vanishes to the sound of beating wings. It is a poignant moment. The camera focuses on a close-up of Prospero, whose breathing serves as background to his sleeptalking voice-over:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors
(As I foretold you) were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air . . .
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Although Jarman maintains an interest in power relations, and the shipwrecked nobles sport the regalia of evangelical imperialism (admiral's cap, scarlet ecclesiastical robes, war medals, military uniform, pendant crucifix), there is, finally, more of "Shakespeare's farewell to his stage" in this film than of "an allegory of colonization." Prospero's release of Ariel and abjuration of his art throb with our knowledge that Shakespeare's genius would soon cease to manifest itself in the creation of new scripts for the London theaters and that his life itself was nearing its end. While the relationship between Prospero and Ariel is at the emotional centre of Jarman's Tempest, Miranda's guileless teenage response to Ferdinand's courtship and her unaffected joie de vivre may also touch the heart. Greenaway's Prospero's Booh bombards the ear and eye with stimuli and teases the intellect, but it remains emotionally sterile. Jarman's movie, though often bizarre, engages the feelings; it is genuinely moving, and the emotions it arouses are essentially those aroused by Shakespeare's play. It captures many key aspects of the original, being particularly deft at hinting at the element of psychodrama involving the central trinity of Prospero, Ariel, and Caliban. It raises questions about body and mind, restraint and liberty, freedom and control, desire and fulfilment; it balances joy and sadness, innocence and experience, hope and despair; above all it powerfully conveys a sense of the shifting boundaries between illusion and reality, waking and dreaming, the playful and the serious, life and art. Jarman's anti-establishment style challengers or mocks "the designs of empire," gender stereotyping, and other forms of ideological policing. But, as every actor of Prospero knows, the speeches that, through their poetic richness, most move an audience are those conveying the playwright-magician's sense of mortality and the impermanence of all earthly things. A memorial to Jarman's mother, as the final frame announces, his Tempest stands both as a memento mori and as a monument to a filmmaker of idiosyncratic flair.11
1 Greenaway's term in his book of the film, Prospero's Books.
2 Jarman notes that most American reviews of his Tempest "saw it as deliberately wilful, and the New York Times mounted an attack which destroyed it in the cinemas there" (206). Frank Kermode slated the film in his review in the Times Literary Supplement, 16 May 1980, 553, but granted that "it sustains a mood" and "has a dreamlike, underwater quality, cold, dimly magical."
3 The sensibility exhibited in Jarman's Tempest bears a close relation to that defined by Susan Sontag in her "Notes on Camp" in Against Interpretation and Other Essays (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1967): 275-89. "Camp" is not "homosexual," but there is considerable overlap. Recent theorizing of gay literature and film, as by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in Between Men, Epistemology of the Closet, and Tendencies, has potential application to Jarman's films, but our interest in his Tempest is as an example of "Shakespeare on screen."
4 The other is, of course, The Comedy of Errors.
5 Jarman shot exteriors on the Northumberland coast near Banburgh Castle, where the viewer assumes the interiors to be, though they were actually shot in Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire. See Samuel Crowl, Shakespeare Observed: Studies in Performance on Stage and Screen (Athens: Ohio UP, 1992): 77. Crowl gives a brief, mainly positive, account of Jarman's film.
6 Two major editions, Frank Kermode's Arden (1954) and Stephen Orgel's Oxford (1987), mark the shift in critical thinking.
7 Review in The Times (London) of Peter Brook's 1957 production, as quoted by Hayman 178.
8 Especially Bernard J. Paris, "The Tempest: Shakespeare's Ideal Solution," in Norman N. Holland, Sidney Homan, and Bernard J. Paris, eds., Shakespeare's Personality (Berkeley: U of California P, 1989): 206-25.
9 However, the BBC/Time Life version of The Tempest was released in 1980, after Jarman's film had been made.
10 The connection with Reinhardt and Dieterle is made by John Collick, Shakespeare, Cinema, and Society (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1989): 98-103. Collick discusses Jarman's film in rather different terms from ours. David L. Hirst offers some brief observations in his "Text and Performance" booklet on The Tempest (London: Macmillan, 1984): 41-60 passim.
11 We are grateful to Maggie Taylor for allowing us to see her notes taken from the Jarman archives in the British Film Institute, London.
Greenaway, Peter. Prospero's Books. London: Chatto and Windus, 1991.
Harris, Diana. "Stormy Weather: Three Screen Adaptations of The Tempest." ANZSA Conference. Perth, Feb. 1994.
Hayman, Ronald. John Gielgud. London: Heinemann, 1971.
Jarman, Derek. Dancing Ledge. London: Quartet Books, 1984.
Kott, Jan. Shakespeare Our Contemporary. London: Methuen, 1964.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974.
Vaughan, Alden T., and Virginia Mason Vaughan. Shakespeare's Caliban: A Cultural History. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991.
Source: "Stormy Weather: Derek Jarman's The Tempest," in Literature/Film Quarterly, Vol. 25. No. 2, 1997, pp. 90-8.