Pathway: History by Abigail Stevens

My pathway engages the theme of history in both the novel and the film. The four centuries through which Orlando lives provide an evocative and symbolic background for the story.

1 x A4 black photograph album; 34 vellum pages; 24 x colour prints, Mixed, Presentation book containing Sally Potter's notes on the film and colour photographs of Tilda Swinton at Hatfield House

It was this introduction that first made me consider the importance of history to the story of Orlando, and in particular, the importance of English history. The "quintessentially English way" in which Woolf writes the novel serves to highlight it's 'Englishness' and to emphasise the important historical events that Orlando lives through. It is also interesting to consider how this historical transcendence is explored in the novel and in the film, and here we are shown a glimpse of how Sally Potter envisaged conveying this on screen: "It is the dream-like pace and structure of ORLANDO which makes English history visible in new ways. Each era is characterised by intense climactic changes and a sensual, visual feel." Potter writes of the underlying themes of the book and how they "are all manifested visually and symbolically in a feast of imagery and ideas that are grounded both in action and recognisable historical facts." I feel that the four centuries of English history presented in 'Orlando' provide a perfect background rich in perfect visual and symbolic imagery, and I love the idea that the underlying themes of the novel are both highlighted by this yet at the same time, like the character of Orlando, transcend it.

Video file, Digital, Selected Scene Commentary by Sally Potter

Here Sally Potter comments on selected scenes of the film. She says the film was "never intended as a historical documentary but rather the exploding of a nostalgic myth; England's imagined history of itself, exploding it from within, looking at it ironically. Visually that was done by taking an imagined essence of each period, with clues from paintings and artefacts from that time, and blowing it up." This somewhat nonchalant approach to historical accuracy ensures that the history that surrounds the character of Orlando remains just as a backdrop for the story; the themes of the narrative are deliberately foregrounded. Also, the manner in which Potter approaches this (aiming to "explode a nostalgic myth") is "quintessentially English" - just as Potter herself described the way Woolf wrote the novel (see the Introduction to Presentation Book - above): the film itself is fittingly "rich in self-irony and allegory." The first scene in the film, in which Orlando appears under an oak tree (which Potter comments on here), obviously foregrounds the 'Englishness' of the film and the history it presents. This is not the first scene of the novel, though the words of the voice-over are taken from the first page - merely the setting is changed. This is obvious evidence of the process of adaptation - the essence is perfectly conveyed though not through strict fidelity to the text; and the change to perhaps a more visually engaging setting speaks of the differences in medium of novel and film. Potter also comments of Swinton's direct address to camera. As well as this acting as a device for transferring Woolf's direct address of the reader to film, it also brings the viewer "right out of the historical period into the present." This is another interesting comment on how such universal themes as that of the novel/film can transcend history.

1 x colour slide in transparent plastic hanging sheet, Digital, Film Stills - Scene 4 - 's Father (John Bott), Queen Elizabeth I (Quentin Crisp) and 's Mother (Elaine Banham) in the film

This picture shows Quentin Crisp as Queen Elizabeth. The elaborate banquet setting is evidence of what Potter described (in her commentary - above) as historical "paintings and artefacts" that make up the visual imagery of each particular period. At the banquet in this scene of the film the assembly eat flowers - this was (as Potter explains in her commentary) a particular Elizabethan affectation; which is also an example of how historical fact is used to visual effect, and how history is somewhat used as an aesthetic base for the themes and story of 'Orlando'. In her Introduction for the Presentation Book (above) Potter writes that "major historical figures appear as incidental characters in Orlando's life"; which is a feature that is apparent in the novel and the film. Crisp's Queen Elizabeth is an example of such a character, though it could perhaps be argued that The Queen has slightly more influence on Orlando's life than many. Though the character and her role remain the same in both novel and film, casting a man to play such a female role is something which obviously could only occur in the film; though the possibilities and connotations of gender transcendence that it comments on highlights the theme of androgyny that helps characterise the novel. Hence Potter's film not only transfers the story to the screen, but recognises the spirit of the novel and takes it further; it takes the underlying themes and builds upon them. Crisp's Elizabeth is further evidence of the transcendence of both history and gender that pervade both novel and film.

1 x colour slide in transparent plastic hanging sheet, Slides, Photographic Slides of Hatfield House location recces, interior and exterior

This is a picture of an interior of Hatfield House, where some of the film was shot. It is both historically accurate (or appears to be) and aesthetically pleasing. It successfully evokes the historical period depicted in the novel while foregrounding its aesthetic qualities to achieve the dream-like feel of the film that Potter aims for (as written in her Presentation Book Introduction).

Watercolour mounted on black card, with b/w photocopy, Paper, Painting of tents on frozen Thames

This is an artist's impression of the setting of fair on the frozen Thames, where Orlando meets Sasha. The picture shows how visually stunning this setting could be, and how suitably dreamlike to suit the tone of the film. It is as it appears in the novel, so here we see what could be considered an in-between of the adaptation process, between novel and film. The Great Freeze is evidence of historical fact, though it's choice as a setting by Woolf in the novel demonstrates a leaning towards more aesthetic and evocative features, so as to perfectly depict and highlight the story of Orlando and not to detract from it; something which is echoed in Potter and her film. These aesthetic choices also have symbolic qualities that can also be shown to highlight the themes of the story; and above all aid the ideas of transcendence that characterise 'Orlando'.

Video file, Digital, Unedited video rushes of location scouting at Hatfield house -- Sally Potter with Alexei Rodionov operating camera

This unedited footage of Potter running through the labyrinth maze of Hatfield House acts as a perfect summary of the ideas I have tried to present. The scene in the film where Tilda Swinton as Orlando runs through this maze acts as a device for transporting her one hundred years into the future - she enters in around 1750 and emerges in the Victorian period. The change in her costume denotes this passing of time, and the scene itself is evidence of Orlando transcending history. The use of the maze and chasing camera work denotes the difference between the mediums of film and novel; they both have the same conclusion - a passing of time and change in historical period - but use entirely different devices to convey this transition. Both, however, manage successfully.