by Thomas Michalski
After the release of Derek Jarman’s Jubilee in 1978, Vivienne Westwood, outraged at what she saw as a misrepresentation of punk, took to her then preferred medium, the t-shirt, to express her displeasure. The “Open T-Shirt to Derek Jarman,” with its wordy scrawl, is a rather confusing cultural artifact in that it now seems rather counterproductive. For starters, punk certainly had more important enemies in 1978 than a queer experimental filmmaker and visual artist, a fellow member of the counterculture whether she liked it or not, and what’s more, some of the language seems rather homophobic, being that it attributes the film’s fancier bits to “a gay (which you are) boy’s love of dressing up and playing at charades.” Of course, all of that is to say nothing of the sheer impracticality of using a t-shirt to communicate a lengthy essay. But to be fair, it was a time when what punk meant, what it was trying to say and what it wanted, was a fiercely debated topic, especially in the UK and especially among those who would claim the movement as their own, Still, in hindsight, Jubilee seems to not only encapsulate what was in the air in the late 70s, but also punk’s roots and hints of its future.
Jubilee started life as a planned 8 mm film about the actress/model Jordan, whose outrageous couture and attitude fascinated Jarman, but the project soon grew into something more ambitious, “a film about punk”, before transcending even that broad description. Writing in The Guardian, Stuart Jeffries explains that,