Intertextuality in Orlando: gender fluidity and the re-shaping/accentuasion of themes and essence.
This opening is particularly interesting in showing how Potter manages to capture the essence of Woolf's novel. Potter takes the ongoing references to the Oak Tree poem that Orlando writes in the novel and transforms it into an actual oak tree underneath which Orlando sits at the beginning and end of the film. The poem seems to be a representation of Orlando's identity since she works on it whilst being a woman and a man, in this sense it shows nothing of her personality has changed during the transition of gender. In the same way in the film Orlando is drawn to sit under the tree both as a man and a woman.
In this we are able to listen to Potter's own words on making Orlando. This offers us an insight into how Potter sees her own creation. Potter explicitly states that she had to strip the novel bear and re-work it and in doing so only hoped to keep the essence of the book. She also comments on how the film ends with the sense of the one person unchanged by gender and finally knowing who she is. This gives a great insight into how Potter felt re-making Orlando into a different art form.
Quentin Crisp is just one example of an actor crossing the gender boundaries. Crisp is important to the film not only through his underlining of gender blending but also through the intertextuality of his own persona. His status as a fairly elaborate gay icon is important as it brings us to expect his character to show elements of his openness in real life. The queen is perhaps the most elaborate character, in dress and royal status, and this is accentuated by Crisp’s star persona. On top of this there is the intertextual nature of a man playing Queen Elizabeth itself. Queen Elizabeth is a character who has been played time and time again not only in film but in the theatre where centuries ago only a man would have been allowed to play a woman on stage. In this sense Potter uses Crisp as a vehicle of taking the old and re-shaping it to fit in the world of cinema. Crisp’s ‘cross dressing’ as well touches on the book by being a reference to the Archduke who also cross-dresses as a woman.
We can see this in the use of costumes and locations, which are extremely lavish and elaborate, very much like how the imagery in the novel makes them out to be. The house is of utmost impotance to Orlando in the book also since it is what eventually makes her return to England as a woman. It is the beauty of the house that she misses and this beauty is captured by showing us both the grand interior and exterior of the house.
This scene is yet another that highlights the sense of gender fluidity that runs through both the film and the novel. Sasha appears here to be dominant and somewhat more masculine than she does in the book. There is constant references like this in the film that sugest gender as more of a grey area than a black and white man and woman world.
Another example of the importance of costume. The costume is both symbolism for womanhood and era change. This dress represents her being constrained in a society run by men. Orlando now no longer has the freedoms she did as a man and these elaborate dresses represent the change in lifestyle she is undergoing. This highlights in the book when Orlando complains about her skirts and on having to cover up her legs that were once her most shown off feature!
Costume particularly is used as a means of symbolising the themes of womanhood and gender change as well as era change. The beautiful scene in the maze where Orlando emerges out into Victorian times encompasses this symbolisation perfectly. The maze scene is also demonstratative of how change in era can be achieved without direct telling that it has changed.
Shelmerdine is shown in a particularly feminine light and acts as a characterisation of genders being unfixed. The scene where he and Orlando lay in bed together shows their two genders blending together as they lay together entwined and shot in a way where you cannot tell whose body you are looking at. Further more Orlando appears as the dominant figure in this scene where by he lays supporting Shelmerdine’s weight. It is this fluidity of gender that is a major characteristic of Woolf’s Orlando, which Potter accentuates in her use of actors and characters.