Here we have the very first usage of Brian Eno’s music in a motion picture. “Slow Water” opens Derek Jarman’s cult classic about Queen Elizabeth I time traveling to 1970s London and experiencing all sorts of curious things. In a word, the film’s weird, but in that special, experimental, “only in the ‘70s” way. Punk visuals and Shakespearean pageantry collide in Jubilee, and it rides the line between absurdist trash and baffling mystery, but Eno’s elegant, rueful “Slow Water” prepares viewers right at the start for what will be an unforgettable, episodic ride. Eno’s music bonds Jarman’s unclear motivations very early, so while it may take viewers a moment to understand what the hell the film’s getting at, at least Eno becomes a through-line. His music often has a way of doing that.
Eno served as Jubilee’s composer, but the film utilizes existing Eno music from Music for Films. While one can easily argue that his music was ready-made for movies, it’s not just because of the sounds and style. Eno absolutely wanted to get into the biz. 1978’s Music for Films was a masterstroke on his part. Originally concocted as a limited-edition LP in ’76, Eno sent the album to film directors. One can only imagine directors scratching their heads at the elongated and seemingly aimless album. The album had no orchestra, no traditional themes, and sounded at the time decidedly anti-cinematic. The music didn’t elicit direct emotional cues, so much as explored the world of sounds possible within a film. Eno was playing, imagining things with the album. His analogue experimentation on Music for Films proved fruitful for years to come, appearing in several Jarman films, the Breathless remake, and John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow, among many other films.
Good to see Eno’s music getting used exactly as he intended.
Bonus: It needs to be mentioned that “Slow Water” was used again in 1995’s [SAFE] from Todd Haynes. The track is used as reinforcement for main character Carol White’s (Julianne Moore) emotional landscape, and it’s divine.