The intertextual nature of Sally Potter's film adaptation of Orlando (1992)
Here we have the title page of Virginia Woolf's novel Orlando. First published in 1928, it served as the essential source material for Sally Potter's film adaptation and likewise allows the concept of "intertextuality", which Gerard Genette asserts as the 'actual presence of one text within another' to come into focus. It is this notion of intertextuality that is fundamental to our understanding of Orlando, not only within Woolf's novel but moreover in Potter's film, where we discover how different texts as well as contexts, exterior to the story world shape the very essence of the story itself. On this page for instance, we can examine how Woolf's own private life acts as the 'hypotext' to her novel, portrayed most clearly through her dedicating the book to her lover Vita Sackville-West, a figure Orlando is subsequently based upon. Thus, when Sally Potter came to adapt Woolf's novel, not only is she appropriating the narrative and literary style via the medium of film, but is also extending the intertextual nature of Woolf's own life onto the big screen , a concept I feel is at the centre of many adaptations: a transformation as well as extension of intertextuality.
Adding to the concept of intertextuality within Orlando, here we have a black and white still of Tilda Swinton, photographed outside of Knole House in Kent. Although Hatfield House was actually used to depict Orlando's residence within the film, this photo serves as a clear intertextual reference to the source novel. Vita Sackville-West was born at Knole House and her family history was a great inspiration to Woolf's writing, proving how Orlando is to a large degree (as the previous page suggests) 'a biography' of her lover's life. So whilst Knole House is not included in the final film, Potter here is clearly acknowledging the intertextual and biographical concepts that truly inspired Woolf's Orlando and proves how intertextuality is utilized throughout the process of adaptation.
This a page of typed notes Sally Potter made as part of the screenwriting process where she outlines the possible ending the film may have and how Virginia Woolf would have made the film if she had written up until 1992. In Sally Potter's interview with Walter Donohue, she says how she wanted to 'think [herself] into Virginia Woolf's consciousness' and her words here echo a vital part of the adaptive process, the relationship between the adapter and the original material. Questions regarding fidelity are brought into focus, as we see how Potter is intending to extend the story of Orlando into the present day. The film Orlando becomes not only a product of intertextuality from Woolf's novel and the writer's own life but more importantly the narrative is now being transformed through Sally Potter's own artistic input and her intertextual relationship with ideas of her own creation.
Sally Potter's selected scene commentary: here she outlines the key themes of her film. She says at the heart of Orlando there remains the question of: what is it to be a man? What is it to be woman? Akin to the book, it is clear how Potter's adaptation is to a large degree faithful to its source material, her film being a continuum to Woolf's key themes. Yet here she also comments on the theme of time and as mentioned above how the film takes us into the present day. Again we see how Potter's own creativity is intertextualised within the film, her life is now moulding Orlando up until 1992.
A video of Sally Potter herself running through the very same maze we see Orlando run through in the film, shot on location at Hatfield House. Not included in the final screenplay, here it is evident how location has a grave part in the intertextual nature of the film itself. This maze gave Potter a way in which Orlando could journey 100 years in only 30 seconds. A fantastic scene, constructing the seamless nature of time with the film and proving how shooting locations can be a fundamental influence to the adaptive process.
Here we have a still of Queen Elizabeth I, played by Quentin Crisp. Not only do we have intertextual notions with Crisp being a gay icon in the 1970's - 'the true queen of England', but it also allowed Potter to transform and in many ways strengthen the theme of gender within the original novel, proving how Potter's casting conveys intertextuality to full effect. By having Tilda play Orlando and having Crisp play Queen Elizabeth I, it turns ideas of sex and gender on its head from the very beginning. Potter says all these changes to the novel 'were really manifestations' of the 'drive towards the central meaning of the book', a true 'celebration of impermanence', where gender and time are forever changing.
One of my favorite scenes from both film and novel, here is where Orlando emerges in the Victorian age and meets her lover Shelmerdine. Firstly, it is clear how this scene in both mediums is steeped in Romantic imagery. In the novel Orlando addresses how she is 'nature's bride', 'giving herself in rapture to the cold embraces of the grass' (Woolf 1928: 237) and likewise in the film, this scene is immersed in greens, evoking notions of the Sublime used so heavily throughout Romantic literature. Potter talks in the selected scene commentary how this sequence represents fertility, romantic ideals and calls upon the 'tragic' thus we can acknowledge how intertextuality is portrayed through the referencing to the Romantic age. Secondly, this still also has another feature that I find vital to the intertextual nature of Potter's film, that between text and audience. Potter comments how she wanted to 'weave a golden thread between Orlando and the audience through the lens of the camera' and when Orlando looks at the camera directly this is exactly what happens. Stam writes how films are 'more implicated in bodily response than novels', and this remains true as now the audience can be looked at in terms of intertextuality as we have ultimately become active within this adaptation by giving our own meaning to these scenes. Orlando's journey now becomes our journey and when Tilda looks at the camera, the intertextuality of the film reaches a new level, in many ways taking the audience where Woolf's source novel could not.