An exploration of intertextuality in Orlando through themes of gender and identity. I have chosen this approach as the most obvious, yet complex and interesting theme in Sally Potter's and Virginia Woolf's work. Same person/Same story. No difference. Just a different sex/Just a different medium.
Virginia Woolf, in her time, was one of the foremost literary and cultural figures as both a writer and a Bloomsbury group member. Sally Potter is, amongst other things, a groundbreaking filmmaker, successfully bridging the gap between commercial and experimental film, and exploring feminist ideas in her work. As two individualistic and pioneering artists, unique and yet similar in their thematic concerns and approaches, it seems suitable that Potter took up Woolf's Orlando. These notes showing Potter's thoughts on the adaptation and development of Orlando exemplify this affinity and process of dialogue between the two artists.
The description of Orlando on the first page of the novel goes into great detail to conjure up an image of his features: 'the lips themselves were short and slightly drawn back over teeth of an exquisite almond whiteness. Nothing disturbed the the arrowy nose in its short tense flight'. The novel was described by Vita Sackville-West's son Nigel as 'the longest and most charming love letter in literature'; being subtitled as a biography and dedicated to Vita Sackville-West, she is often referred to as the basis for the character, and it is fair to assume that she was partly a 'hypotext' for Woolf's novel. http://giardinaggioirregolare.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/vita_sackville-west.jpg If one uses one's imagination the description could very well apply to Sackville-West, shown in the photograph above. When presented an image of an actor on film it takes only a matter of seconds before we can have a complete idea of how this character looks and moves. The medium specificities of the novel mean that even after pages and pages of description it is still up to the reader's subjective imagination exactly how the character looks. It is interesting to hear how Sally Potter talks about choosing Tilda Swinton for the role, describing her as unencumbered and transparent, perhaps a more flattering description than androgynous, but also regarding of her adaptability and talent at switching character genders.
Presenting this image for funding applications of Tilda Swinton cross dressing and standing before a period painting of a man in similar costume shows multiple layers of representation. It plays on her 'star persona' when Orlando was made, drawing on an intertextuality across various films, showing a focus on sexuality, relationships, gender and gender-bending. Derek Jarman's 'Caravaggio' (1986) was Swinton's first film role, playing the androgynous lover of the bisexual painter. She worked several times with Jarman, who was famous for his sexualised and homoerotic themes and style, on other films such as 'The Last of England' (1988). Images from the 'Caravaggio', highlighting the menage a trois relationship and homoerotic style. http://williamhadley.blogspot.com/2010/03/tilda-swinton-in-caravaggio-jarman-1986.html In 'Man to Man' (Maybury, 1992), she plays a woman who disguises herself as a man, then becoming fascinated by this different perspective, lives, works and falls in love as a man. She returns to being a woman at the end of her life to tell her tale.
The brilliant casting of Quentin Crisp as Queen Elizabeth I, 'the true queen of england' 'turns the idea of sex and gender on its head so the audience knows what kind of journey they are on from the beginning'(Sally Potter). He represents an iconic and slightly troubled but light-hearted homosexuality.
Sasha is described as having a "slender, boyish figure" and "skates vigourously... in vivid contrast to the women of the court." This is the first time that she is seen, and first catches Orlando's attention. The focus on her physicality and movement is common of Orlando's interest in her lovers. On the following page the it is the combination of gender attributes that Orlando focuses on; Sasha "skates like a boy and curtseys like a lady"; showing his interest at the cross-gendered nature of her physique.
Orlando's transformation to a woman. http://celeb-nudity.com/free/video/0070_TildaSwinton/Tilda_Swinton-Orlando_800-448.jpg Her pose here is very similar to Botticelli's famous painting 'The Birth of Venus' (1482), which represented the Greek myth of Aphrodite's birth from the sea as a fully grown adult woman. http://www.paintinghere.com/uploadpic/Sandro%20Botticelli/big/The%20Birth%20of%20Venus.jpg The framing in the keyhole shaped mirror, insinuating a voyeuristic gaze, could be a playful reference to Laura Mulvey's theories of objectification of the female in the medium of conventional patriarchal cinema, and the difficulty of showing Orlando naked as a man without some severe prosthetic modelling...
Orlando "...if I were a man..." Shelmerdine " if I was a woman..." Billy Zane's intertextuality from other popular films such as Titanic, Dead Calm and the television series Twin Peaks establishes him as a masculine, handsome, romantic and mysterious character. The augmentation of his good looks with long flowing hair complicates his identity, and temporary restriction of his injury enables Orlando to make more dominant decisions and actions.
In this image we can see different layers of construction of image of Crisp as a person and a persona, invoking ideas of stardom and gender in identity. Judith Butler discusses the artificial nature of gender constructions, especially relevant here in presenting a drag Queen Elizabeth from a homosexual man who likes to wear make-up but not cross dress. In various interviews he talked about his rigourous daily routine of putting on makeup every morning before he saw anyone, even in his old age. We are presented a mirror image of him made-up but cannot see his actual face, showing levels of construction and reality in his (actual and chosen) gender and identity.