Pathway: Fluidity of Gender. by Suzanne Harris

Looking at the adaptations of gender ideas from Woolf's novel to Sally Potter's film.

Original Novel, Photo of front book cover, Orlando, Virginia Woolf, portrait

The cover of the original literature automatically opens up the debates and questions of gender that are explored throughout the novel and the film. Orlando is pictured as an incredibly effeminate looking young man, and though it may have been more customary for the time with their extravagant costumes in high society, it certainly links to the themes that Woolf and Potter explore in their respective texts.

1 x colour slide in transparent plastic hanging sheet, Digital, Film Stills - Scene 4 - (Tilda Swinton) in the film

This image of Tilda Swinton struck me as looking incredibly similar to the picture from the novel shown above. She certainly has an androgynous look about her, and they are both breaking the fourth wall by looking directly into camera. Shows a self awareness of character and about the questions raised by her androgyny.

Page 1 of Orlando's costumes by location. Typed A4 sheet.

I find this costume sheet and the one following incredibly interesting in terms of the effect of costume on constructions of gender. The costumes are in order of location, and as Orlando moves between places and visits them a number of times, both as a man and as a woman it is interesting to see all of the costumes listed together in this manner It is also worth noting how much screen time Orlando seems to spend in bed!

Orlando’s Costumes by Location page 2, Black and white A4 computer printed, Paper

The line of this costume page that strikes me the most is 'stiff, tight, elaborate'. It almost references the nature of the costumery and facade that was always put on by people of that era. It appears that gender as a construct can be considered farcical because a construct is all that it is. As Woolf explores the differences between genders and the fluidity that can occur between them, Potter almost ridiculous the idea of gender entirely, making it something that just doesn't matter at all.

Black and white A4 computer printed with handwritten annotations, bound into book, Paper,Orlando Sally Potter’s Shooting Script page 32 front

I find this moment of the script incredibly interesting. It shows that Sally Potter is making as clear a distinction between sex and gender as Woolf does in her novel. Sex as something biological, and gender as a construct that is a copy for which there is no original. Gender is decided by society and sex is decided by anatomy, but both authors explore both. I find it interesting also that the film shows Orlando sleeping for an entire week, twice. The first time he wakes up, still as a man, he makes a comment that appears to be about the female sex having little to no worth, and the second time she wakes as a woman.

Black and white A4 computer printed with handwritten annotations, bound into book, Paper,Orlando Sally Potter’s Shooting Script page 61 front

This part of the shooting script depicts the moment when Orlando goes to sleep for a week for the second time, and she wakes up as a woman. This is possibly the most explicit moment of the film that explores the interchangeability between gender and sex. As Orlando points out when she wakes up, nothing is different, except her sex. Suggesting that in her adaption between a man and a woman, nothing has changed except for her biology. This gives further merit to the idea that gender is something fully constructed, there is nothing innate about it. Interestingly in the novel there is much further exploration in how Orlando's character changes in line with her new identity as a woman. As she comes to terms with the changes of her body, her world view changes, though she originally believes that nothing is different.
Her attitude towards the female sex has clearly taken a dramatic turn at this moment as well, in contrast to her words when she wakes up after her first week long sleep. She now sees their merits as she sees all of the qualities that she had as a man, are still in tact now that she is a woman.

1 x colour slide in transparent plastic hanging sheet, Digital, Film Stills - Scene 53 - (Tilda Swinton) in the film

This image of Orlando in all her finery running through the maze speaks of her confusion about her gender and identity, she is lost, but there is also more than one place that she could end up and come to a conclusion about what this means for her. It also speaks of the process of adaptation, the journey in a labyrinth or maze is just as important as the eventual end. There are a number of routes in a maze that you can take to get to the same place, getting lost and doing things differently is as much a part of the process as the final outcome.

1 x colour slide in transparent plastic hanging sheet, Digital, Film Stills - Scene 4 - Queen Elizabeth I (Quentin Crisp) in the film

Certainly the casting of Quentin Crisp as Queen Victoria was a controversial move. A renowned cross-dresser and famous criticiser of Diana, Princess of Wales, the choice to cast him as Queen Victoria certainly furthers questions of gender representations in the film. The casting of Crisp in this role could be to do with the legacy Victoria left behind of her nature as a Queen who did not engage in anything amusing which she considered to be beneath her.
By having Crisp play the character in drag it gives masculine attributes to the female sex, his dry screen presence certainly represents Victoria well. Though the costumes chosen are equally feminine and overbearing, Crisp is recognisably male, allowing for questions to gender and power to be raised. Victoria was a powerful Queen, and the longest reining British monarch to date, and the film draws questions of what role her sex and her gender may have played in that. This is not at all explored in the book as the Victoria referred to is the actual Queen Victoria, whereas Crisp's portrayal of the character invites a much richer subtext.

1 x colour slide in transparent plastic hanging sheet, Digital, Behind the Scenes Images - Quentin Crisp in makeup

This image is an interesting insight into the construction of gender on a film set. By being invited into a tiny moment of the process that Crisp would have gone through daily in order to construct himself into Queen Victoria. This leads to further discussion of what it takes to be a woman, as is explored in the film and book at large, but is also layered with this choice of casting. This idea of creating a woman is a process that Crisp goes through daily off screen, but one that Orlando goes through before our very eyes. It suggest however, that there is nothing stopping a man having the gender association of female, biology doesn't get in the way of that.