August 18, 2009

Bowie, Jarman and Neutron

ONE: The fantastic version:
There’s another anecdote about the Star’s fear of other people magickally using things he touched, coming from a more serious source, and directly this time. In 1983 and 1984, the late Derek Jarman wanted to do a film called Neutron. Prospects looked good financially, as he had lined up an impressive cast-list and who else than David Bowie wanted to play the lead. The two had a meeting in Jarman’s apartment and everything seemed hunky-dory. But then Bowie suddenly started chain-smoking and Jarman noticed that his guest was getting more and more nervous and was shooting furtive glances at one of his bookshelves, plus some drawings on the wall. Then suddenly, in the middle of a conversation, Bowie stood up, made a lame excuse, and left. Twenty minutes later Bowie’s driver and bodyguard came back to the flat and said that the master had forgotten something and then proceeded to remove the cigarette stubs from the trash ... Needless to say, Bowie backed out of the project, which then collapsed. Jarman never did have the time to explain that his John Dee books and the Enochian squares on the wall were souvenirs from the time when he made Jubilee, a film in which Dr. John Dee (1527-1608), Elizabeth the First’s astrologer, had been one of the main characters. Dee’s “Enochian” system of magic, with its complex magical diagrams, was an important part of the Golden Dawn and also of Aleister Crowley’s teachings. Angels had communicated their knowledge to Dee in a strange language, Enochian, referring to Enoch of the Old Testament, who spoke with God. Here is one of Crowley’s “secret teachings”: “All bodily excrements, such as cut nails and hair, should be burnt; spittle should be destroyed or exposed to the Sun; the urine and faeces should be so disposed of so that it is unlikely that any other person should obtain possession of them.” Yet still, in March 1987, Bowie was insisting: “I never was in the occult”... but for years he sang about the “Jean Genie” who “keeps all your dead hair for making up underwear.”
-- From "The Laughing Gnostic: David Bowie and the Occult", by Peter-R. Koenig, Ultraculture Journal One, 2007.

TWO: The prosaic version:
Robert Phoenix: While we're on the subject of film, weren't you going to do a film with Derek Jarman called Neutron?
David Bowie: Neutron, yes, absolutely. I still have the script and Derek's drawings. It's so sad that things get left behind. I tend to want to do too much. I want to approach his family at some time to see if we could do something with it. I have his script and his drawings. I even know down to the music how he wanted to have things done. And it would be lovely posthumously to do his piece. It would be fabulous. A wonderful script -- very scary piece of work. How did you know that anyway? Very few people know that.
Phoenix: Well there's another part of the story I want to ask you about. The guy that I heard it from said that you had left a pack of Marlboros at Jarman's and that word had gotten back to you about your cigarettes being there and you stopped the project because you thought Jarman was practicing sympathetic magic on you.
Bowie: No, absolutely not!
Phoenix: Urban legend?
Bowie: God yeah. I would've given my arm to work with Jarman. My remembrance of the thing was that, as usual, he couldn't get the funds to actually make the movie. It had some quite spectacular scenes in it. It did require proper sets. There weren't existing properties around London. He went back to his set designing ideas for it and came up with these amazing Neo-Fascistic buildings for it. I don't think that anybody was willing to put up the bread for it.
-- Robert Phoenix interviews David Bowie, 1999, at Getting It.

THREE: Neutron:
In Kicking the Pricks, Jarman said that Neutron was based on Carl Jung's Aion, "researches into the phenomenology of the self, the self measured in the life of Christ". It has also been described as "a trailer for the end of the world", post-nuclear sci-fi allegory, a Blakean mirror film to the earlier Jubilee. One story had Malcolm McDowell attached but Bowie seemed more definite.
Jarman tried to get the film made in the early 80s (one website calls it "an unrealised project from 1981-83"), when apocalypticism seemed to be in the air, the constant and dominant subject. Pages from Revelation set the agenda: "You are the first and last, over and out." While unmade, much of its apocalyptic atmosphere is preserved in Jarman's 1987 allegorical masterpiece The Last of England.