Derek Jarman's films are, already, such a naked, passionate, intimate portrait of their creator and his ideas that one wouldn't expect that Jarman would have had much energy left over to pour into written autobiography. Nevertheless, Jarman was a prolific writer as well as a filmmaker and artist, and his creative pursuits in multiple artistic forms constitute a unified body of work; the books are every bit as essential as the films to those who wish to understand Jarman. The University of Minnesota Press has thus done a valuable service in reissuing three of these books: Chroma, Jarman's collection of writings on color, his 1989-90 diary Modern Nature, and At Your Own Risk: A Saint's Testament, a loose autobiographical book that traces Jarman's experiences of society's reactions to gayness.
At Your Own Risk is a very angry book, and rightfully so. Jarman was writing in the last years of his life, as he entered the advanced stages of AIDS-related illness, starting to go blind as many of his friends died from the same disease that he knew would soon enough claim him as well. Moreover, he was writing from within a culture that had, throughout his life, consistently restricted and tormented homosexuals, legislating their behavior and, with the onset of HIV/AIDS, all but ignoring the problem until it dawned on everyone that heterosexuals were being affected too. Jarman's book is structured by decades, from the 1940s to the then-nascent 1990s (the book was written in 1992, two years before Jarman's death), and in each decade-spanning chapter, Jarman chronicles how gays were treated by society and how his own dawning understanding of his sexual identity developed.