Jarman presents us with a quirky and playful biography of the eccentric Austrian-born philosopher. As told through a series of dioramic sketches, Ludwig Wittgenstein (Karl Johnson) flees the expectations of his family and peers in order to develop his landmark philosophies of logic and language.
Set against stark black backdrops, the titular thinker wrestles intellectually with the likes of Bertrand Russell (Michael Gough) and economist John Maynard Keynes (John Quentin), as well as a green martian played by Nabil Shaban. Modelled after a rewritten screenplay originally penned by noted literary theorist Terry Eagleton, Jarman drolly depicts the life of a tortured genius while presenting his foundational ideas with great efficacy.
Wittgenstein represents another important collaboration with the great costume designer Sandy Powell as well as Tilda Swinton, who plays a comic role as Russell’s mistress. A British-Japanese co-production originally conceived as part of a Channel Four series of 12 films dedicated to life and ideas of various philosophers, it was produced by prominent political activist and writer Tariq Ali.
This feature is paired with three of Jarman’s music videos, each intimately connected to his background in Super 8 filmmaking. The Queen is Dead (1986) 13 mins – Unrated 15+ is a dizzying, visceral lexicon of small-gauge techniques, subverting conventional British, teenage and pop star imagery across three landmark songs by The Smiths, resulting in a masterpiece of the form. Easterhouse: Nineteen Sixty Nine (1986) 5 mins – Unrated 15+ sees similar images of ruin applied to a song by one of jangle pop’s most political bands. Wang Chung: Dance Hall Days (1983) 4 mins – Unrated 15+ largely features World War II-era home movies shot by Jarman’s own father (including footage of the director as a child) set to the enduring hit song.
– Guillermo Ignacio, Melbourne Cinémathèque committee member