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the Complete Review
the complete review - screenplay

The Derek Jarman Film

Derek Jarman and Ken Butler

general information | our review | links | about the authors

To purchase Wittgenstein

Title: Wittgenstein: The Derek Jarman Film
Authors: Derek Jarman and Ken Butler
Genre: Screenplay
Written: 1993
Length: (144 pages)
Availability: in Wittgenstein - US
in Wittgenstein - UK
in Wittgenstein - Canada
Video: Wittgenstein - US
Wittgenstein - UK
  • The bfi volume Wittgenstein includes
    • a Preface by Colin MacCabe
    • Introduction to Wittgenstein, by Terry Eagleton
    • Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Terry Eagleton Script (see our review)
    • This is Not a Film of Ludwig Wittgenstein by Derek Jarman
    • Wittgenstein: The Derek Jarman Film by Derek Jarman and Ken Butler
    • Numerous stills from the film, including many high-quality colour photographs

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a bit over the top, but an interesting version of Wittgenstein

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Derek Jarman and Ken Butler's script, Wittgenstein, is paired with Terry Eagleton's original version (see our review) in this nice British Film Institute volume. The similarities between the two texts are minimal, more than justifying the inclusion of both here.
       The differences in style and approach begin with the introductory essays that come with each. Terry Eagleton wrote an "Introduction to Wittgenstein". Derek Jarman announces "This is Not a Film of Ludwig Wittgenstein".
       Where Eagleton chose Wittgenstein's Cambridge in the 1930s as the focus of his script, Jarman squeezes in the philosopher's entire life, the lead role becoming so big that Jarman needed two actors to fill it. Eagleton had traditional scenes and settings; Jarman works in front of a black curtain. Eagleton has a handful of characters; Jarman brings the whole huge family in and even half a dozen tutors. Jarman even brings a Martian on board. (Maybe it was worth a try, but it probably wasn't the greatest decision Jarman ever made.)
       In his introductory essay Jarman writes:

My film does not portray or betray Ludwig Wittgenstein. It is there to open up. It is logic.
       To say the film does not portray Wittgenstein seems going a bit far (such a portrayal was, after all, the idea behind the film). As to opening up, that too seems debatable. Jarman presents a vision of Wittgenstein, an interpretation of the man. Visually it is striking (as the stills included in this volume remind readers), but there is also a great deal of manipulation going on here. Not all of which is logical.
       Eagleton sees Jarman's script as "a very English text, for the English love 'a character' but are notably nervous of the intellect." Jarman certainly does not allow Wittgenstein to be presented as the pure intellect he is sometimes seen as; possibly, however, he does go too far in creating his image of the person, of Wittgenstein the man.
       The short scenes are quite well done -- stark, simple, vivid colour on a black background. Jarman and Butler write well and much of this does make good cinema. Some of the film's faults -- the unfortunate choice of actor for the role of the Young Wittgenstein, for example, and the ridiculous space-alien -- can readily be overlooked in the script itself.
       Little has been taken from Eagleton's script, but Jarman's own inventions are -- though short on philosophy -- not bad. Like Eagleton, much of Wittgenstein's dialogue here repeats his actual words, also well-handled by Jarman.
       There is one noteworthy change in a scene repeated in both scripts. The final scene in Eagleton's script has Wittgenstein say that he would like to write "a philosophical work which consisted entirely of jokes", but he doesn't think he can pull it off. Keynes asks him why, and Wittgenstein answers: "I don't have much sense of humour." In Jarman's script the scene is nearly repeated, set not in 1930s Cambridge but rather on Wittgenstein's deathbed. Keynes asks why he didn't write such a work and this time the response is: "Sadly, I didn't have a sense of humour." The change is subtle, almost missed because Wittgenstein is speaking of the past, but his suggestion in Jarman's version that he didn't have a sense of humour allows for the possibility that at that moment, at the end of his life, he now does have one.
       It is an interesting script (and was made into an interesting film), and it is certainly a worthwhile read -- particularly in conjunction with the Eagleton script it superseded.

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Wittgenstein - the Derek Jarman film: Ludwig Wittgenstein: Derek Jarman:
  • Derek Jarman page at The Knitting Circle
  • Nick Clapson reflects on Derek Jarman's work, from Spike Magazine
Other books about Ludwig Wittgenstein under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Authors:

       Derek Jarman was a noted British film director

       Ken Butler was the Assistant Director of Derek Jarman's Wittgenstein

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