History of Burlesque – Derek Jarman’s Jubilee – Punk Era

While burlesque clubs and the scene in general might have gone underground during this period, there were a few figures employing the essence of burlesque – in the sense of classical style – to get their message across. Here we take a look at Derek Jarman’s somewhat accidentally prophetic Jubilee – released in 1978 and featuring luminaries from the punk scene (Adam Ant, Little Nell, Jordan, The Slits, Jayne County, Toyah and Richard O’Brien). And while some would argue that this is one of the best, and most gritty, films to look at punk for what it is (anarchy and agony), it’s also an excellent ‘burlesque’ on the time to come.

If you recall in the History of Burlesque in Ancient Greece (check it out here), we examined how ‘burlesque’ was the earliest form of comedy (the so-called Attic Comedy, brought to the fore by play writes such as Aristophanes, whose parodied version of a Socrates play resulted in the latter being sentenced to death ) and how humor could be extracted by parodying other well-known plays, political situations, politicians and public figures, how comments could be made on the times that they lived in and influence could be achieved. Derek Jarman’s Jubilee does just this.

1977 was a hotbed of political activity in the UK. It was the Queen’s silver Jubilee – and the first year of the Brit Awards, it was also plagued by power cuts and strike action (those of a certain age will remember their parents keeping a draw full of candles),  people were pretty pissed off, and unlike former generations, they were finding a voice and taking action. (So-called) anarchy was born! And visionaries were inspired -people such as Derek JJennyRunacreBodarman, whose previous films included Sebastiane, a landmark film for gay cinema and – you could also argue – another parody of biblical times (he’s also in Satryicon) of a Roman centurian posted to a remote base, and what might have happened there…

Jubilee is a visionary film on two levels – it follows Queen Elizabeth I as, transported forwards in time to Elizabeth II’s time, she discovered the wreckage of her beloved Britain, burned out buildings, fascist police, her namesake mugged and killed and groups of vigilantes – one group of which are our protaganists, Bod (Jenny Runacre), the new owner of the crown, Amyl Nitrate (Jordan), Mad (Jordan) and co. Everything has been privatised – the church of England (which now serves as some kind of fetish venue for the priests and congregation!) and mogul Borgia Ginz (Orlando) owns everything (including the BBC, KGB, TUC…) – basically a parody of the JubileeAmylpolitical idea of selling off the nation’s assets. There’s even a parody of bingo! But the most memorable statement is that of Jordan’s portrayal of a punk rock Britannia (Britain’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest – Jarman’s dark humor keeping this tradition going while the whole country has gone to the dogs!). Cheeky but aggressive and definitely making a statement about the whole country we call Britain.
Follow this link to see Borgia’s strangely futuristic (for that time, anyway) commentary on ‘the generation who forgot to live their lives’ and Britannia (note the intended sounds of invasion in Suzy Pinn’s soundtrack)  https://youtu.be/RlL0D5BF2Ok…

If you can get hold of the film, it really is worth the watch and unintentionally provides a prophecy for future years, with a large helping of burlesque black humor… We cannot say how much of a visionary Jarman was!



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