Intertextuality in Orlando
Evidently the opening chapter of the novel is visually imagined by the reader because of its visual terms, as opposed to an ‘abstract literary monologue’ (Potter, 1994). It can therefore be described as cinematic, as cinema relies on visual to evoke meaning. The novel introduces Orlando, as someone although being in a noble family, shown by his families several properties, as a solitary character and someone who is longing for a connection with his family; his first actions are him mimicking his father, chopping the heads of Moors, who he cannot travel with.
Although the novel is visual, several script versions of introducing Orlando by Potter do not follow the novel entirely. Instead Potter has chosen to start Orlando at the oak tree. This contrast of opening might initially be seen as being unfaithful or perhaps even shorthand of the novel, but exploring further it evident that instead, it is the essence of the novel is transferred. Importantly, the oak tree has a large significance in the book, which causes one to speculate that Potter chose to start here to emphasise the importance of the oak tree. The film ends here as well; it acts as an anchor and a reference for Orlando. Orlando and the tree have not changed throughout the years but the environment around them has. Instead of visually showing the audience, a narrator is present, perhaps reflecting the prose form of the novel. The narrator verbally gives a brief account of his background, which in turn brings the same meaning as in the novel.
The initial notes written by Sally Potter on SP-ARK show the essence of the novel being transferring on to film. She has condensed the themes and years of the novel and placed it all on a timeline. She has also condensed the character development as Orlando progresses throughout the years. Looking at the different stages of the script, simplification of Virginia’s Woolf’s story is evident here, removing things that are deemed unnecessary by Potter, and keeping what is necessary to the plots. When Sally Potter is transferring the essence of the novel into a film form, it is important to mention that she is capturing it in her own viewpoint. The film represents a dialogue between Virginia Wolf and Sally Potter. An important aspect of adaptation is that it does not mean a literal transfer. Potters own influences as well as chance and film as a medium are clearly evident within the film
Orlando’s home is that of Hatfield House, the house it presents Sally Potter with a unique opportunity. A grand maze is found at the back of the property and in an interview (on SP-ARK), she has said that she is still working on a way for a transition of the different timelines. A video of scene when the film was in pre-production, not found in either novel or script, shows that the creative process of adaptation can also happen incidentally. It has to be said that the transition is completely random. The shift time in the novel is fluid and seamless, here the transition can also be described as fluid and seamless too, as Orlando runs through the maze and exiting several years later.
Film, being another medium brings its own elements of interpretation. Actors and their star personas influence the interpretation and can enforce certain meanings in the film. Tilda Swinton has previously played roles of males, so it is clear that this influenced the casting of the role, as audience members could recognise that Orlando is a male for the first half of the film, using a suspension of belief from the audience rather than having a surface appearance of a man.
The American character, Shelmerdine has been given a change of significance. This is the director’s own influence. In the novel, he could be a figure that simply passes by in Orlando’s life, as they end up marrying but he is always abroad. However Potter has brought in a new meaning, being American he is representative of the future in terms of the New World and Industrial Revolution. In contrast Orlando is stuck in the past, not travelling with him. Although this is a major change, it does pertain to the ideas of the book with its overall and underlying theme. Looking back at the novel, it is important to note that the novel ended in 1928, the date that the novel finished. In keeping with the spirit of Woolf’s personal ideology and ideas and themes of the book, Sally Potter herself has tried to read and summarise pieces of material that Woolf has written to grasp an idea of what Woolf after the novel was published. Sally Potter then has tried to second-guess, and continue on the story of Orlando, pertaining to the ideas and themes, as though she is thinking in Woolf’s consciousness. Ideas that are clearly visible in Woolf’s writing about the future of women The ending of the film ends in 1992, which is the release date of the film. The ending differs greatly, not just in time. Orlando is not married to Shelmerdine; she is presumably a single mother with a daughter. She has not kept the house unlike the novel; instead she visits the house as a tourist. The house and its significance have changed as well, once a safe element in Orlando’s world, a measure of time and regularity for Orlando. Its significance is now that of an object of contemplation. With these major changes to the story, it may seem that Sally Potter has changed the film itself, but looking at the notes, Potter has tried to find one underlying central meaning that the novel is trying to capture. Clearly from Potters perspective the novel is a celebration of impermanence. In Woolf’s diary, it is clear that she feels that life is somewhat unstable, as she questions whether her life is solid or shifting. Describing human life is transitory, where there are often loss and endings and many farewells. These ideologies are clearly what influenced the film, and what Potter is trying to bring across to the film.