O Blue come forth
O Blue arise
O Blue ascend
O Blue come in
That is a thread of incantatory address from Derek Jarman’s “Blue” (1993), a movie consisting of sound and music but also an insistent field of blue placed on celluloid, winding past bright projected light.
The brilliance of Jarman’s original embodiment of the film is the slow decay of the 35mm print with each seance; film prints are unique organic manifestations, each copy differing in its processing, an artifact of local water and artisanal chemistry, and its care, accumulating scratch and dust and hair and decay with each run through the projector. Digital copies are clones: an unceasing square stitched together from hundreds of thousands of miniscule electrical signals, where the blue remains a uniform color like a monitor between moments.
Jarman pored over the notion for years, but from the start embraced the unified luminous blue that he identified as “Yves Klein blue,” a standardized color also known as “International Klein Blue,” after that painter’s use in minimalist paintings of a thickly applied paint that is heavy on the ultramarine.
Klein has been widely quoted as saying these fields offer an “open window to freedom, as the possibility of being immersed in the immeasurable existence of color.”
Jarman was also thinking of blindness, his loss of sight as complications from HIV and AIDS grew in his body. “Strange feeling, disembodied eyesight; there is a distinct falling off of vision on my left, a gray area that comes and goes, the whole visual field is a will-o’-the-wisp,” he wrote.
Klein spoke of “the admirable austerity of the void,” while in 1987, Jarman wrote, “The monochrome is an alchemy, effective liberation from personality. It articulates silence. It is a fragment of an immense work without limit. The blue of the landscape of liberty.”
But now, the sky.
Nothing deeply philosophical today about these eternal Midwestern blues within scorching skies, taken for granted not so much by artists and photographers and filmmakers and the litany of other visual artists but by everyone who wakes here, this blue haven.
Chicagoans on this prairie beneath a luminous, even numinous, sky. It must be taken for granted; it’s the weather! It’s the sky! You look out the window, you raise your head to the heavens, you are clutched by, transported within, buffeted by that bold, rushing, relentless tumble of atmospheric conditions.
I watch the blues and recently considered how much blue there is. Taking photographs, for a book, or prints, or merely placed on Instagram, the blues are there, so many permutations, and of course pliant through possibilities of digital manipulation from photographs taken across a day’s time, across the course from early to later, to late-late.
The study of optics, the consideration of chroma, what sparkles while residing in the atmosphere: different in every place, constant in each place.
Look! The sky.
The transition from the pale orange of sodium vapor light by night to the gaudy, punchy LED of the constructed environment runs parallel in the urban consciousness: like the blue of daylight, it is a constant whether neglected, ignored or simply unnoticed.
We move through blue.
There is an intense pre-dawn blue, which filmmaker Lana Wachowski characterizes as unique to Chicago and as “Alexa blue,” after the sensitivity of the digital cameras that filmed “Jupiter Ascending” (2015) all around the city.“Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits,” Jarman wrote, which challenges the image capture of sensors I use each day—iPhone, Canon DSLR—and lightly calibrated laptops—versus the eye, naked, the subjective, worn eye that sees something subtly different from anyone else’s.
David Cronenberg recently joked that he should revise the color of “Crimes of the Future,” as he has, at the age of seventy-nine, augmented his hearing aids with implants to correct cataracts, “new eyes.” To make photographs, or to paint, or work in other visual forms, one accepts one’s retina as a given, the device to observe and draw out the world.
Every artist’s and technician’s eye down the line: What did Michael Mann see when Robert De Niro as, by night, fathoms the limitless sea in “Heat” (1995); what did the colorist for this summer’s restored 4K edition see? Blue. Their blue. Personal blue. Capturing the elemental act of looking out the window at the sky and seeing blue, blue, blue. The gesture of acceptance takes much for granted, whether at the window to capture or as a window onto the world.
The narration near the conclusions of Jarman’s ultimate film is blue, too, taking only endings as the true and highest given: mournful, sorrowful, warm, grave.
Bliss in my ghostly eye
On the lips
On the eyes
Our name will be forgotten
No one will remember our work
Our life will pass like the traces of a cloud
And be scattered like
Mist that is chased by the
Rays of the sun
For our time is the passing of a shadow
And our lives will run like
Sparks through the stubble
I place a delphinium,
Blue, upon your grave
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.