So – an Index of the Flowers in filmmaker Derek Jarman’s book Modern Nature. The immediate and I think reasonable reaction is, oh god why? The only answer that I can give to that involves giving you a brief history of how I fell down this particular rabbit hole.
The thing about Derek Jarman’s work is that, as awesome and endlessly inspiring I find it to be, I freely acknowledge it is not easy. This is probably why writing on his work comes pretty much exclusively from serious queer and film (and queer film) historians – so I need to start out by saying that that isn’t really where I’m coming from. His films are beautiful but not always pleasant to watch and there are films I’ve got to admit have am still unable to get through Sebastian, for example, is hugely important in gay cinema and I still haven’t finished it. (I did make it through the initial orgy but I had to turn it off at ‘Beat him harder, Severus!’ and haven’t been able to go back to it.)
I first encountered his work through the time-honored tradition of trying to impress someone I really liked. The incredibly cool girl I finally came out for at 18 was a big fan of the 20th century logician and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. When she expressed excitement over having actually found a movie about Wittgenstein, naturally there was nothing I wanted more than to watch it with her. (I might not have been able to keep up with her when it came to actual conversations about logical theory, but I could watch a movie!) I wouldn’t say that I had low expectations for the film going into it, but I certainly did not expect to end up falling in love with an obscure experimental filmmaker. Wittgenstein wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen before – and the more details I learned about the film’s production and its director, the more fascinated I became. The many many reasons that Wittgenstein is a great film are a subject for another post, which I do promise to write at some point.
Wittgenstein was Derek Jarman’s second to last film. Modern Nature is a collection of diary entries that he worked on in the last years of his life – including the period in which he worked on Wittgenstein, which is why I first picked up the book. As a life-long city girl I was immediately slammed with more names for flowers than I had ever seen, and certainly than I recognized. It was frustrating – in these flower names there was an entire visual vocabulary that I was completely unable to parse. I can't say that I was particularly surprised that I would find Jarman's diaries difficult given the trouble I've had with some of his films - and yet, I really wished that the book had come with a floral index for the nature-ignorant, like myself. Eventually, I gave up on hoping that someone else would do this and I decided to put one together. I’m working on that now, and will be putting this onto a page on this blog - you'll see a link to that page on the right called 'Derek Jarman Flower Index' that will take you there. Technically it won’t be a full index with every page a plant is mentioned on listed – but eventually it will list every plant that Jarman references and link to a definition and a picture – in the hope that this will help anyone picking up the book get a better sense of what Jarman’s talking about, and give better access to the visuals of Modern Nature.