The screen is all blue. Derek Jarman tells us, through extracts from his diary read by John Quentin, that he was once in a café with a friend who pointed out that he was wearing his clothes inside out and the wrong way around, so he took them off and put them on the right way - it was just them in the place anyway. He got to thinking about the war in Bosnia that was in the headlines and how, for him, the struggle between life and death were not being played out in the conflict, but closer to home in his own body. Derek Jarman was dying of AIDS.
If there's one thing anyone who has heard of this film knew, Jarman's last unless you count the home movie compilation Glitterbug, was that it was somewhat, shall we say, minimalist in its visuals. In fact, the titles and credits apart all you see in the film is the colour blue, not variations of it but the same hue throughout the nearly eighty minutes of screen time. The work was actually broadcast as a play on BBC Radio 3 at the same time it was released in cinemas and shown on Channel Four and to those less impressed by its creator it was the height of self-indulgent pretension.
Jarman was not long for this world at the time he made Blue, dying early the next year, so this could be seen as his uncompromising swan song. The idea that you could achieve a meditative state of mind by gazing into the colour - the last Jarman's failing sight ever registered - while the mélange of voices and music play on the soundtrack was a potent one, but you might have found your eyes, even your mind wandering; perhaps the best way to experience the film was as a radio production, lying in a darkened room for the full effect. The colour, should you care to pay attention to it, was effective only to a point.
While some may find a transcendent quality to the film, for others Jarman's uncompromising "vision", detailed by him as he was going blind from complications of his disease, made them oddly squeamish and claustrophobic. He doesn't spare the minutiae of the medical side of his sufferings, from descriptions of the nurse trying and failing to find a vein to pump him full of more drugs to a list of the effects he was expected to experience, including such encroaching horrors as shaking, blood in urine and impossible-to-lose sleepiness, all contriving to make his physical state a kind of Hell while his mind was as agile as ever.
If you were ever intrigued as to what it is like to find your body breaking down thanks to AIDS, then Blue is one of the best related documents you could have, but if you are HIV positive then you might want to go easy on yourself and give this film a miss. Yet it's not only Jarman's bitterness that shows through, it's his regret at those he has lost, and his poetry which punctuates the misery of his state. Some of the music is provided by Brian Eno, whose soundscapes are surely the perfect complement to a work such as this, but the overall sense of Blue is of wearing the viewer (or, more specifically, listener) down with the weight of Jarman's troubles. This may make you understand his condition as he left the world, but really what it leaves you contemplating is that any attempts to hold back death are like building a dam against a tidal wave.