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Derek Jarman’s Silva Sacra: Language and Time in Sebastiane

Strand Campus, London

Tom Sapsford, Assistant Professor in Classical Studies at Boston College, presents a new perspective on Sebastiane, the 1976 film by Derek Jarman, as part of King's Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures research lecture series.

In a feature for the magazine Films and Filming on his first full-length motion picture, Sebastiane, Jarman states that his decision to have the dialogue spoken throughout in Latin afforded him ‘license for deliberate anachronisms.’ While on a surface level this choice allowed for much play in the coining of new slang words (e.g., Bristolibus/breasts) and jokes retrojecting personalities from the 1970s back into ancient times (e.g., Maria Domus Alba/Mary Whitehouse), this paper argues that there is a deeper significance in Jarman’s use of language and temporality in his graphically gay portrayal of the Christian martyr, Sebastian. Jarman’s untimely mention of the genre of cinema as the 'silva sacra' within the film itself serves as a significant juncture point between the role of drama and spectacle as Roman forms of ritual worship and Jarman’s own conception of the ‘silver screen’ as a medium suitable for spiritual expression.

All King's staff and students are welcome to attend.

[Seminar co-hosted with the Department of Theology and Religious Studies & Queer@King’s]


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