Sunday, June 29, 2014

Orlando (1993)

OrlandoThis is an amazing, ironic film, based upon Virginia Woolf's whimsically mock-serious epic about an immortal English lord, who experiences 400 years of history, changes his sex to that of a woman after refusing to participate in warfare (a feminist point that is subtly made), and never bores or condescends to us. What surprised me when I first saw it is how dry, boring and pompous it isn't; the film has a nice lightness and dry humor that make it digestible. The photography is beautiful and the film never drags, and the performances, which a lot of critics have suggested are somewhat two-dimensional, are that way for a reason: Orlando's adventure is too awesome to be rendered realistically; the people and adventures she experiences are meant, I think, to be represented symbolically---each character is actually a rough composite of perhaps hundreds of such types she meets in her journey from 1600 to 2000. Billy Zane, who is seen in the movie's poster, plays an American adventurer who romances the female Orlando, but to all of his "Titanic" fans, a word of caution: he's in the film for roughly twenty-five minutes, if that much. The real star of the show is the ethereally lovely, brilliant, and mysterious Tilda Swinton, whose male Orlando is unnervingly convincing; so much so that "he" almost seems to be doing a drag bit once the sex change happens---and because Swinton is so eye-pleasing and delightful, this is not a bad thing. Her intelligence and talent radiate from her face, which is so expressive that many shots consist simply of gigantic closeups of it---she can say more with a gaze than many lesser performers do with a page of dialogue. I first saw this film in 1993, as an exchange student living in London, and it gave me an appreciation for British history and for Woolf's books that I had never had before. It's really quite a smart, funny, cool, hip movie, but with no explosions, car chases, or hot-button themes, it's by no means a populist-type entertainment. If you like period films, or anything English, you'll dig this a lot: Orlando isn't just English, he/she *is* England, and the country should be so lucky as to be compared with Tilda Swinton's long-suffering (centuries of it, in fact, what a burden) poetry-spouting nobleman/woman. Very cool.

Finally got this one on DVD after nearly wearing out my VHS copy. Sally Potter is one of the best directors and of course Tilda Swinton in the title role is mesmerizing in every way. Although a sharp departure from Virginia Woolf's source material, it retains the spirit and scope of the novel. Orlando's tranformation from man to woman half way through is a beautiful moment. Swinton proudly naked and observing herself in the mirror looks directly into the camera and says "no difference really, just a different sex" it brilliantly blurs the line between what it means to be a man and woman. And when I say blur, I mean it in a good way. The gender, sexual orientation and race lines all need to be blurred until they disappear. Orland is a good salvo in that war.

Buy Orlando (1993) Now

First let it be said that while I love the film Orlando it is simply impossible to get all the themes and events of the novel into one movie, so I strongly urge all viewers, whether they loved or hated this movie, to read the book, Virginia Woolf's unique love letter to Vita Sackville-West.

The inevitable failings involved in translating a book into a film aside, 'Orlando' is visually exsquisite, the costumes and locations sumptuous and splendid, fully evoking the decadance and contrasting squalor of the centuries in which Orlando lives his/her life. The score perfectly compliments the surroundings, the atmosphere and the themes of each scene, and is beautifully composed and performed.

Though some have expressed doubts over Tilda Swinton's ability to play Orlando, the aristocrat born as man who turns into a woman half way through his/her life, I thought she was the perfect choice. I believe knowing she is a woman initially taints people's ability to find her convincing as a man; to me she played the part with great charm, amiability and empathy, and became even more charming as a woman the character of Orlando at this stage in 'her' life becoming more rounded, more sympathetic, more knowledgable and Swinton captures that well.

This film does not follow the 'rules' of the 'real' world besides changing genders, Orlando lives for 400 years and does not age a day. It is the story of a pursuit for life, for meaning, by one individual determined to discover what that means. Accept it, and enjoy.

In its attempt to capture the most important of the book's events the film does have a slight recurring bump in continuity, it seems, and will no doubt be pretentious and boring to some, if not many. Nonetheless, Orlando is a sometimes humorous, sometimes haunting movie, thought provoking and richly realised.

Read Best Reviews of Orlando (1993) Here

The movie starts with Tilda Swinton playing Orlando, a male role (so far), and Quentin Crisp playing Queen Elizabeth. Already, physical sex and social gender have been neatly divided. Later on, Orlando abruptly transforms from man to woman with no reason or mechanism given. S/he takes it in stride, but her place in her social world changes around her. Given the magical premise, it's an effective way to comment on the attitudes of men and women towards each other, based on complete and mutual ignorance.

There was only one small problem with the casting. Swinton is just too lovely a woman to play even an androgynous male convincingly. It took some effort to go along with Tilda the man, but it was worth it for the sake of the plot.

And, if nothing else, I could always watch the incredible costuming and scenery. Architecture and landscaping seemed to have quiet lives of their own, tolerating the people that moved among them. Many scenes were chosen for strong, almost confrontational symmetries, something that definitely attracted my attention. Another scene near the end actually costumed the landscape, Christo-like, for reasons I never worked out. There were a number of night scenes, too, and many seemed to be filmed using natural light. Those scenes often had a grainy look, but not enough to be distracting.

This is an odd movie, but I like it. Swinton's little asides to the camera, sometimes just a glance, added a quirky note. It's a thoughtful movie, about tone and appearance rather than action, and delivers well in those areas. However much I like it, though, I come away a bit unsure what to make of it. Maybe that's why I keep coming back to it.


Want Orlando (1993) Discount?

Sally Potter is one of the few directors to achieve the near impossible to create a movie that actually surpasses the original novel.

Not wishing to take anything away from Virginia Woolf, whose The Waves is one of the most brilliant and defining novels of all time, Potter's film version is nothing less than a work of art.

As other reviewers have indicated, when the Orlando character, who was based on Woolf's friend and lover, Victoria (Vita) Sackville-West, crosses gender to become a woman, she automatically loses the right to own the very same property that, as a man, she/he had owned for eons. Even as a socio-political commentary, (see also Woolf's A Room Of One's Own) this speaks volumes about a patriarchal society in which the lowliest, most moronic male had infinitely more rights than the most brilliant and gifted female.

Our society is still dealing with the legacy of the tyranny of gender and the legacy of the Inquisition, in which nine million women were murdered for being women.

Yet despite the dark insanities that underly the film's pivotal transition, Potter's modern classic is a rich and joyful romp, filled with love, hope and transcendence, with a simply breathtakingly beautiful closing section.

A rare and inspired work of genius, in which the production direction and casting cannot be faulted.

Save 25% Off

No comments:

Post a Comment