Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 7:30pm
Derek Jarman's Caravaggio

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Presented by Leo Bersani

Caravaggio, Derek Jarman, 16mm, 1986, 89 mins

In Caravaggio, Derek Jarman portrays the Italian painter’s life as that of a hardened street artist and hustler whose formidable talents and erotic prowess allow him to infiltrate one of the most powerful institutions of his day. The story is presented as a series of flashbacks from the deathbed of the 40-year-old Caravaggio (Nigel Terry), as he is tended to by his devoted, mute assistant, Jerusaleme (Spencer Leigh). Beginning his career as a strapping teenager working the sidewalks of Rome, Caravaggio tempts a middle-aged would-be john into his flat after trying to sell him a painting, disrobes, then chases him off with a knife, laughing at his sweaty desire. “I am an art object and very, very expensive,” he taunts. “You’ve had your money’s worth.” This scene proves prescient, as Caravaggio’s rise into the upper echelons of post-Renaissance society, aided by the concupiscent support of the effete Cardinal Del Monte (Michael Gough) and his peers, plays out through a complex interdependence between the ambitions of art, the sexual charge of patronage, and the pains of love, all quickened by the exchange of gold. Once established as a successful artist, Caravaggio himself falls prey to his yearnings, for both the handsome thug Raduccio (Sean Bean) and his prostitute girlfriend, Lena (Tilda Swinton, in her first film role).

Jarman received high praise for the design and cinematography of the film, which evokes Caravaggio’s art meticulously, including a dusky color palette and light streaming in from the left side of the frame. But like his screen portraits of St. Sebastian, King Edward II, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jarman works freely with anachronisms—Ranuccio tinkers with a motorcycle, a banker uses a pocket calculator—just as Caravaggio populated his Biblical scenes with contemporary details. Both the art world and the Church hierarchy are given a queer makeover: painters are shown socializing with whores and cross-dressing buskers, and the Papal court is depicted as a claque of bitchy mandarins. In making the film, Jarman wrote that he was “obsessed by the interpretation of the past” yet noted that he was “not trying for reproduction but rather seeing through the spirit of our fictional subject.” True to the director’s love for symbols and hermetic secrets, Caravaggio includes sly references to heretical occultist Giordano Bruno and Jarman’s The Tempest; even the unassuming pots in which Jerusaleme mixes Caravaggio’s pigments were from Jarman’s studio, used to create colors for his own paintings. As Jarman remarked in his diaries, “Behind each detail of the film lies another reality.”

Tickets - $7, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.