And so the film sets out to recreate the odd confluence of hypersensation and lack of grounding experienced by the suddenly blind. Stripping the visual plane down to a single image of light/medium blue - although necessarily flecked with splotches from the film emulsion - which continues unchanged for the entire film, Jarman whips up a dense aural collage whose sounds, by turns assaultive and comforting, mirror the heightened awareness of the non-visual senses that characterize the filmmaker's condition. The sophisticated density of the sound design reaches an early high as Jarman describes the noises made by several of his household appliances and immediately follows by concocting a nightmare soundscape compounded of the whirr of domestic machinery: the spin cycles of a washing machine, the buzzing of a refrigerator.
Then Blue is nothing if not a good show. Betraying a taste for the theatrical, Jarman's voice-overs - part matter-of-fact detailing of the day-to-day miseries of sickness, part lyrical reverie on friends lost in the past, the nature of image, the various associations of the color blue - reverberate with the authority of a resounding articulation and the film's sophisticated aural collage, set front-and-center in the audio mix, sounds like it's being broadcast over the soundsystem of a first-rate theater. Singing dirty songs with the help of a chorus of long-time collaborators (Tilda Swinton, Nigel Terry) or intercutting his reading of a horrifying list of medication side-effects with a round of obscene circus music, dropping bits of Blake and Shakespeare into his discourse or spitting off happy formulations like "cum-splattered nuclear breeders," Jarman is every bit the showman. Though Blue may approach levels of intimacy rare even in the context of confessional first-person filmmaking, the impression remains of an alternately amusing and heartrending (mostly) one-man stage production.
Of course the stage in question is restricted to the film's audio track. The blue screen may exercise a form of hypnotic draw, but its essential function is to force us to focus attention on the movie's sound design. "Pray to be released from the image," Jarman intones, "the image is a prison of the soul." And so in his film as in his life, the primacy of seeing is undercut. Blue makes apparent how much we tend to rely on the visual as our primary means of orientation in the cinema, but it also shows us that this need not necessarily be the case. And yet, as Jarman notes of his condition,"something is lost" in the exchange. For all the film's brilliantly conceived aural montage - and Jarman's appealing showmanship - it's a very difficult work to find one's grounding in. And that, quite clearly, is the point. Blue defies critical judgement as much as it does rigorous analysis; as a final testament, it confirms for all time the joys of artistic invention; as a work of cinema, it is thrillingly, maddeningly sui generis.