Derek Jarman looks at Sebastian and sees what Botticelli (and Perugino, Reni and Mishima) saw, the lambent space between spiritual and sexual longing. The bacchanalian opening (a painted Lindsay Kemp writhing at the center of a mock-circle jerk, a harlot in nylons cattily acknowledged) gets Fellini out the system, the better to switch to Pasolini in rocky Sardinian expanses, where Roman soldiers are stationed in codpieces. Sebastian (Leonardo Treviglio) rises from bed "like dew in a spider's web" and pours water over himself in a jubilant queer version of the gratuitous shower scene; Severus (Barney James) the smitten centurion marvels at this passage and then storms away, frustrated. The warriors spend their hours fondling swords until the young Christian outcast refuses to take part in gladiatorial games, and the martyrdom (out of Billy Budd, Un Chant d'Amour, Querelle) commences. His body is flogged, doused with milk, tied in the sand, yet Sebastian stays cool, off in a reverie that mingles faith and narcissism ("The doors have been opened," he tells his own reflection in the water). Jarman relaxes and drinks in the homo spectacle, he employs earthy Latin very humorously ("You're worse than a Greek," goes one taunt) and painterly effects very fluently (the handheld camera adopts the bound martyr's POV underneath the blasting sun, and suddenly you've got a Mantegna). Above all, he candidly summons forth the gay spirits submerged in the Hollywood Biblical epic, contrasting the mockery of the first tableau with dance-like caresses by the river. Each man kills the thing he loves, though Severus ordering Sebastian's execution also suggests the consummation of his desire for this saintly tease -- penetration finally takes place via arrows, Jarman sends his saint into religious and erotic iconography in a fisheye vista. With Neil Kennedy, Richard Warwick, Donald Dunham, Ken Hicks, and Janusz Romanov.
--- Fernando F. Croce