One interesting cinematic technique Sally Potter employs in her filmic adaptation of the novel Orlando are the consistent ‘looks’ into camera that the character Orlando (played by Tilda Swinton), gives throughout. Potter comments; ‘I hoped that this direct address would create a golden thread that would connect the audience, through the lens, with Orlando’. In essence then the effect of this direct address to the spectator is to allow identification with highly problematical character of Orlando. Although not a problem within the original novel due to its first person narrative, identification with a character that is so indefinable, in space, time, gender, and sexuality would have proved extremely difficult had this cinematic approach not been adopted.
An integral theme at the core of both Virginia Wolf’s novel and Sally Potter’s filmic depiction of it, is that of gender and sexuality. Despite the novels flowing and unstructured narrative, that consistently blends the boundaries between masculinity and femininity, and the sexual orientation of the character of Orlando, Potter attempts to present in her filmic representation a far more structured response to this thematic blurring of boundaries. In this source, a photograph, which shows Orlando the male, and Orlando, the woman, Potter has incorporated costume to clearly and visually make apparent the boundaries between the two genders. Tilda Swinton’s femininity is masked in the film by an array of elaborate period costumes, that clearly assosiate and define masculinity and femininity within society. For example, she enters the film dressed in typically masculine hats and capes and in correspondence to her transition from male to female, she is seen thereafter wearing a giant dress in which she struggles to navigate a hallway lined with covered furniture. This clear presentation of gender in Sally Potter’s filmic depiction of Orlando, allows it to appeal to a wider 21st century audience.
This sequence appears towards the end of the film, showing Lady Orlando entering a maze, a cinematic technique that Sally Potter cleverly employs to visually portray a time lapse of 100 years. This sequence does not appear in the orginal text, however is used to great effect here, in providing a clear and seemless transition and portayal of time, a clarity that is far less apparent in Virginia Wolf’s original novel of Orlando. This scene ties in with the episodic structuring of the film in which themes and dates are used in titles to depict a passing of time from one historical period to the next (this particular scene provides both the thematic forwarding of the films narrative from ‘society’ – a section of the film that focuses predominantly on the depiction of male and female roles in 18th century England – to ‘sex’, a taboo that still rises debate today; and a time lapse from 1750 to 1850).
Sally Potter’s presentation of the house in Orlando, establishes it’s importance in the films narrative, almost providing the audience with an extra character. The original semi-biographical text too gives emphasis to the house, (based on Knole House In Kent, home to Vita Sackwelle-West on whom Woolf’s book was based). Potter therefore realising the personal and emotional inferences within the original text, gives the house life, as it undergoes similar transitions that Orlando does him/herself as time progresses in the film. It too adapts, and changes in its appearance and character as the film advances.