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|Index||23 reviews in total|
It's surprising more comments haven't been posted for this production which,
at the time of its original release, created quite a stir. Perhaps the
film's failure to create a continuing subgenre of imitators is to blame, but
then, that makes it a one-of-a-kind effort and efforts of this sort deserve
remembering as well.
Looking back on the film from more than a quarter of a century, it seems clear that normal criteria concerning story, dialog, and character simply don't apply here. Instead, one must simply view it as a feverish, almost hallucinogenic fantasy drenched with homoerotic, sadomasochistic imagery that is played out against a sun-drenched dreamscape on the Sardinian coast. Think of it as a high-class photo shoot for an avant-garde fashion magazine specializing in loincloths and Roman military paraphernalia.
Having the dialog spoken in Latin can be dismissed as a "gimmick" but actually it adds to the film's air of mystery and unreality. If only some of the anachronisms could have been avoided!
Considering the possibilities, there's surprisingly little sex here, though it's a subject often discussed and, indeed, the whole film is imbued with an air of desire and yearning. On the other hand, there's a plethora of bondage and torture. Leonardo Treviglio, who plays the title character and who spends most of the movie in no more than a loincloth, is hanged by his wrists and flogged, burned with a flame, staked out spreadeagle-style under the scorching sun, and finally shot full of arrows. Curiously, his most memorable torment is also the simplest. Barney James, playing the commanding officer who's torn by conflicting emotions, takes a handful of sand and grinds it into Treviglio's bare torso, blurring the lines between pleasure and pain, between lust and longing. It's a memorable moment in a movie that is now half-forgotten ... like one of those dreams which fade from the mind after you awaken, even though you try to recall the details.
Not being overly familiar with Bible stories or Christian history (and
the fact that the opening rolling titles are impossible to read), the
factuality of this film will escape me. But Jarman is a visual artist,
and his film has more in common with the many paintings of Sebastian
than it does with factual storytelling. Jarman's ornate decor can
sometimes feel dull and bland -- his films can seem lifeless, bogged
down by the set decoration. This calls to mind "Velvet Goldmine," a
complex film I didn't care for, even though I love Todd Haynes; I want
to like Jarman -- I love his books -- and this is the first film of his
that I've been actively enthusiastic about. It has much more to do with
sex than history; and it's apolitical and political at the same time.
Consider the film's approach to homosexuality. No one is defined as being a homosexual, so that at first seems like a de-politicization of sex -- all there are are acts, and acts are not political. But at the same time, it's acts that are disdained and made illegal, and without the "political" approach to defining (and thereby defending) people as homosexuals, it leaves the acts open to censorship and condemnation -- politicization. As a film itself, though, it is not pedantic or accusatory -- in fact, Sebastian is killed, it seems, because of the lust of Severus, who he refuses. Like the Christian God who Sebastian loves and sees as more beautiful than Adonis, Severus wants Sebastian. But it isn't just condemning lust, either -- Anthony and Adrian are openly lovers, and the abundance of male nudity, and the eroticism of it by Jarman, could hardly be called prudish. In fact, there is a scene at night of the men grabbing each other, their dark-lit bodies, and the soldier pressing his near-naked, muscled body on his lover, that still seems shocking in its passion today.
It's more like a lyrical tone poem, and Brian Eno's New Age-y score goes well with that. Jarman isn't a bully, and when the crucifying comes around he doesn't bludgeon us -- first we see a close-up of his face, as arrows pierce through Sebastian's skin, silently with the exception of the wind, and Jarman gives us one final distorted image to meditate on the death of the one we can't have. 9/10
Remember seeing this film on the big screen in an art film house in Ottawa while I was a student in Visual Arts two decades ago. Absolutely loved it and have pretty clear recollection of most of it, it's amazing! I was a bit blinded by some of the homo-erotic content and had no idea that Jarman would go on to make a number of art-house films, many also dealing with homosexual texts such as Carravagio, a painter I absolutely love as well as Edward the Second, film version of Christopher Marlowe's play of the fay king of England. The acting in Sebastiane may seem stilted but that also might be due to the fact that many of the actors were amateurs; the Latin for me also lent an aura of authenticity since I studied Latin in high-school for five years. The historical accuracy of the life of Sebastian, the saint, was more correct than most of the hagiographies of his life. The settings were perfect, the depictions quite accurate, the drunken scenes were real because they really were drunk. The hand held quality of the film was a pioneering method of filming that also lends to the realism of the period. All in all a wonderfully creative, even innovative, stylised film that I remind to those who enjoy auteur and art-house plus homo-erotic movies. The sound track was done by Brian Eno and was released separately as "Music for a Movie". This is the only part of the film that strikes me as incongruous but somehow the moody style set by Eno's pioneering electronic music does work. Needless to say that Jarman's short filmography is to my mind very impressive.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's funny how only now, over twenty years after coming out, I've been
able to have access to SEBASTIANE, the movie that once upon a time in a
sheltered country such as Dominican Republic, was, aside from MAURICE,
the ice-breaker that would identify two gay men to each other in a
non-gay environment. Seeing it now I can understand how in the mid-80s
(or when it came out in 1976) this would have been one of those films
so controversial even the act of lifting the sleeve off the video shelf
meant (if you weren't out) you first had to look to the left, to the
right, and over your shoulder to make sure no one was looking. Such is
the power of a film like this: no disguised theme, no hints of the
"other sexuality" -- this is homosexuality at its frankest and
The story of the love-hate relationship between Sebastiane and a Severus, a Roman centurion, and its consequences. It's shot in an entirely realistic setting even when it bears a loose plot thread, but this is Derek Jarman's tendency to focus on style over substance. While there were times when I wondered what would the purpose of such a story be the theme of unrequited love/lust wasn't lost on me: Sebastiane is an outsider, with brooding looks, and an aura about him that sets him apart from his fellow comrades who spend their time engaged in trivial hedonism. Severus is smitten by him, lusts at him from a distance, and then decides to submit him to torture after torture because of the indifference, then rejection, he suffers. (This is a reflection of a dance sequence seen at the start of the film in which a dancer is "sacrificed" to the lust of a group of dancers.)
Derek Jarman's movie seems to be less a straightforward narration instead of a contemplative poem of a homo-social society where women are absent, and men are allowed to engage in intimacy with one another. It's on occasion a slow movie because of this and by today's values could even be considered a little cheesy here and there, especially in the slow-motion sequence when Severus observes Sebastiane take a shower. Is Sebastiane provoking him by showering like that or is this Severus' gaze taking in all of Sebastiane's body? One wouldn't know had it been for another scene, that of Anthony and Adrian, lovers in the open, again observed by Severus's point of view. These two scenes make Severus less a flat villain and closer to a man desperately love with a man he cannot have, a man who is, essentially, a tease.
Not a movie that will appeal to everyone, but one that has, due to its release and presence in video stores, and due to its director's prominence, opened the doors to more films of this kind which have their own audience and acceptance whether they are contemporary classics or exercises in homoerotic cheese. Derek Jarman accelerated conscious, gay film-making by decades at a time when a "gay presence" was little more than a shadow or something to be laughed at or pitied (as with the advent of AIDS and AIDS-themed films). You have to admire a man who, having died of the disease, decided to "get up and do something" instead of wallowing in maudlin. There hasn't been anyone quite like him, but hopefully, that will change.
I just found in a Spanish DVD shop this movie. I had seen Edward II and found it odd, but yet interesting. Sebastiane was made in Latin, because Jarman thought strange to be watching a movie about Romans that spoke English. I think it was wise and seductive. The story runs in a smooth way, as if someone with a camera (perhaps thanks to a Time machine,)was hiding to catch those moments. I can't find the scandalous issue here. I find quite natural that between a bunch of men exiled from the city of Rome, violence and desire could rise. Love (and love resistance, and violence and non violence. These are the arguments. I think Jarman made a beautiful movie, sensible, of religious meaning in the case of Sebastiane, and of love and frustration in the case of the Captain. The film reminds me absolutely Golding's "Lord of the flies", as the situation is similar. The film probably lacks passion or interior force, but this was only Jarman's first movie. I recommend this movie as I would Pasolini's "Edipo": I think both movies or perhaps the two director's sensibilities are in touch here.
I first saw this when it came out in 1976 & had almost forgotten it.
Derek Jarman's first feature film & one of his superlative creations.
Intensly erotic and shot with loving attention to the beauty of the
male body. The seemingly endless stretches of white sand create an
idyllic & almost dreamlike atmosphere. However it also acts as a stark
backdrop, that forces our attention onto the only too realistic actions
& emotions of this isolated group of soldiers.
The characters are complex and cannot be just categorised into "good" & "evil". Even Severus has repressions which have festered into hatred by being internalised. Saint Sebastian shines on his journey towards piety & to the iconic image of his body pierced with arrows. But Jarman always retains the realistic humanity of this playful, loving and courageous character.
Don't want to harp on the bodies beautiful, but as a general comment it is a rarity to be able to enjoy the male nude. Male film-goers are oversupplied with boobs, bottoms & pubes, while women (half of humanity) usually have to make do with "tastefully posed" shots. Thank God for directors like Derek Jarman, Ken Russell, Pasolini, Fellini & most European film-makers who don't believe the audience will be struck dead if they see a penis.
Atmospheric, lyrical, experimental, and with a distinctly queer gaze,
Sebastiane is a must for those interested in gay cinema. The film
explores the myth behind St. Sebastian whose paintings and imagery have
always been linked to queerness as he was one of the only male figures
to be sexualized, a rare occurrence, with his naked arrowed chest.
Sebastiane, a Christian, is exiled to a remote sort of military camp. The emphasis as has been said is clearly on the visual.The air permeates and oozes of sexual desire and longing. Soldiers are half naked throughout, often wrestling, joking, and talking a lot about sex. Sebastiane, stands apart because of his Christian beliefs, and the film explores the sado masochism inherent in martyrdom, the pleasure the pain brings, further strengthening his convictions. Sebastiane believes strongly in a higher power and the film itself seems em bused with a spirituality in its slow contemplative shots of nature. The film also deals heavily with unrequited love, both Justin and Severes have an eye for Sebastiane but express it in very different ways. There is also a gay couple among the soldiers whose love is tender and natural. Jarman has a distinct "voice", his films and imagery feel deeply personal and are generally in my opinion fascinating to watch.
While not his strongest film, Sebastiane is classic Derek Jarman. The
movie captures the potential for violence and lust in a small group of
exiled young soldiers. As with all Jarman, the visuals here are more
important than any dialog, and they wash over the viewer in waves of
longing and fear-inducing power. The film meditates on intersections of
longing, desire, faith and obsession, especially as they play out
between Severus and Sebastiane.
Sebastiane's "obsessive" Christian faith rivals the lustful obsession of Serverus for this unattainable man. The movie doesn't flinch from showing how brutal desire can be; it is a hard master for both Serverus and Sabastiane. What I came away from the film with is the powerful question: What horrors and debasements will we all put ourselves through for the object of our lust?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A clever re-telling of the pious legend of the Martyrdom of Saint
Sebastian, favourite homo-erotic subject of Italian Renaissance
A small detachment of Roman soldiers guard a tower in some desert setting, under the command of one officer. Boredom and lust simmer under the desert sun, especially as the officer, Severus (hahaha) develops an obsessive, wine-soaked craving for the strange, un-soldierly Sebastianus, who refuses to be had.
Under the mask of Christian chastity, Sebastianus is playing a searing game of Sado-masochism, in which his "chaste" refusal only exacerbates Severus' desire to the point of madness.
The physical tortures to which the thus-maddened Severus subjects the more than willing Sebastianus turn, in the end, into a hot snuff story.
This little incident is told in a manner emblematic of the 1970s. Any of these images could have happened on the beach at Fire Island... They remind one of Fellini's Casanova, Hair, Oh, Calcutta, the Gore Vidal Caligula, Jesus Christ, Superstar and other flower-child epics, complete with skinny, scruffy men in lusty Afros dancing in the buff. All that's missing is the poppers.
The Roman soldiers are rather laughably British-looking (they resemble the Bee-Gees) except the Sebastianus, Leonardo Treviglio, who looks comically Italian. He has the skinniest legs of all.
The language of the film is college-professor Latin, stiffly rehearsed by the actors in any number of classroom-variety pronunciations. Treviglio's is a kind of French-flavoured, softly-inflected Italian Latin. Very seductive.
The form Sebastiane, by-the-by, is the name Sebastianus in the Vocative case, the case used to call or invoke. Thus the title of the film would be translated, Oh, Sebastian!shadows of Oh, Calcutta!
An enjoyable, sexy period piece.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I first saw "Sebastian" in my early twenties, eager to witness a film
of the gay canon, but I was mostly disappointed: specially the ending,
with its fish-eye distortion, was way too 70's for me, at the time a
derogatory term in matters of cinematic taste.
I watched the film again today, some ten years later, and was hesitant whether it would be a philological, or an actual experience; it turned out the latter, even if of a mixed variety.
Right from the first shot Jarman informs us about - and with - his punk sensibility, mixing it with a sure, queer hand; but we should be quite attentive that this word - queer - is a complex matter for Jarman.
The film revolves around two unnerving short-circuits if you pay attention for it to become an apologetic - in the two senses of the word - piece of queer hagiography.
The first is the man with the leopard skin, to call him that. In his most striking appearance, he comes while Sebastian is delirious, arguably after a sun-stroke, about God's love, exemplified by the sun's caresses. I don't know if the text he recites is some sort of quotes, I am not informed on Sebastian's sayings and doings, but his sensuous, Christian speech strikes an uncanny note with the fact that the man in the leopard skin is a common depiction of Dionysus; is this a Nietszchean short-circuit between Apollo (who Sebastian names as the sun) and Dionysus, or a farewell to his pre-Christian past? We do not get an answer and this is poetically just.
The second is the more lighthearted and sly one. The gladiator-without-a-nose, seething with repressed homosexual feelings, apart from serving as a catalyst for Severus' own feelings, gets an unexpected treatment: in the scene where he babbles about Fellini's Satyricon and DeMille's decadence (and this is the actually pure and queer sensibility of the film) we sense Jarman makes a short circuit between garrulous film-goers interested in a gossipy manner in films and repressed gays. This is accurate and hilarious.
These two instances evacuate the film from any easy sense of queerness, or what actual side, if that matters, its maker is on. Is it on the side of lust? No, as Sebastian himself says and exemplifies: "Do you think your drunk lust will equal the love of God?" This is eloquent enough. But then, is it some sort of apologia for Christianity among deviant, bored, querulous soldiers? The Billy Budd turn does not elucidate matters either. For all it being obviously borrowed from Melville's story, it makes sense when we add it up to Max's, the gladiator-without-a-nose, seething repression (perhaps because he is the spineless spine of the film). Even the notorious slow-mo of the two lovers playing/fighting in the water is not that sensuous, but has an odd, generic quality about it; as if they were lovers out of being bored soldiers. I argue so because that scene was also patterned on a previous model, namely the groundbreaking "A very natural thing" appearing two years before Jarman's film, with the same aquatic play between lovers; only there it had a sense of paradise regained, not that suspending ambiguity (note also that these two lovers are dumbly obedient in performing Sebastian's tortures).
It is Sebastian himself, that I take as Jarman's misstep, and by that I do not mean in casting that specific actor as much as directing him into, to put it that way, passivity. He is too passive in order to validate his ordeal; we do not connect actively with him. Recalling Pasolini's naturals but not as engaging, he also has the wrong physique to convince us he is a lover of the sun.
On the other hand, even if it smells a bit too metaphysical, jumping a bit on our backs, the final, distorted shot is a master-stroke, in the best tradition of Mannerist painting, and succinctly says what it has to: now that Sebastian has died, we can look at everything, at a 360 degrees angle, and see nothing; now that his spirit is gone, Jarman conflates it with the gaze as object, to borrow a phrase from current film studies. Looking at everything at once is inscribed with a distortion, a grimace of the real. This distortion coincides with us looking from his position, and it is the conflation of the gaze and the holy body that gives the film its richness.
Eno's soundtrack with its spare, evocative tintinnabulation is apt punctuation for the film's genuine, gesturing spirituality.
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