Saturday, March 10, 2007

Derek Jarman in EastEnders!

Couldn't believe my eyes yesterday... and it wasn't just from overwork!! I was half eating my dinner and half watching TV (soap drama EastEnders) while allegedly marking student essays... yes, I know, it's multi-tasking at it's worst but I still do it... then I realised the scene I was watching was set in Derek Jarman's garden at Dungeness.

So why is that so weird, for those who don't know Jarman's work or watch EastEnders?

Derek Jarman died in 1994 from AIDS related illnesses, a gay film maker whose work, though very influential, was avant-garde rather than Hollywood top-of-the-box-office material. He spent years when he was diagnosed as HIV positive, in the late 1980s, creating a garden at a cottage on the Kent coast at Dungeness, near the nuclear power stations. The bleak setting influenced the nature of the garden, making use of plants that grew in those conditions, but also materials such as shells, driftwood and stones found in that area.

EastEnders is an early evening soap drama, one of the two most popular on UK TV, set amongst so-called ordinary working-class folk in a fictional part of East London. It's fairly populist and broad in it's storylines rather than avant-garde, presumably to relate to it's general target audience and pull in the viewers.

This particular episode featured one of the characters (Phil Daniels/Kevin Wicks) a month after he'd run away from London to think about life and stuff. He was standing around in the Jarman garden, berating someone else he'd just met and telling them to have a bit of respect for the lump of driftwood they'd been waving around like a light sabre, as it belonged to Derek Jarman, a film maker who made the garden when he knew he was dying. It just seemed a bit... incongruous... someone in EastEnders mentioning Jarman and claiming to 'like films'.

I'd love to know how many EastEnders viewers knew what the hell he was talking about, or thought garden?? What garden... it's just a load of old shingle... it's not the typical English Country Garden type of thing. Or how many viewers had even heard of Derek Jarman, but maybe I'm underestimating the general populous! Or maybe not, thinking about the soapstar magazines in the supermarkets...

I appreciated The Clash's London Calling playing quietly on the pub jukebox in the same scene, a nice bit of original punk! Though Joe Strummer's dead too, of course... hhmm, lots of death and memory in that episode. I wonder whether the scriptwriters were just having a bit of fun, working obscure, personally meaningful references into an episode, even though it didn't really matter to the overall storyline if the viewer noticed them or not. I'm glad they do these things though, it's much more interesting!

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