Orlando, Sally Potter’s striking 1993 Oscar-nominated adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s gender-bending novel, has made its way back into theaters – it opens Friday at the Ritz at the Bourse – and will also be back in circulation on a new special edition DVD in a few weeks.
All of which pleases its star, Tilda Swinton, immensely.
“My hope is that lots of people will go to see it,” says the actress, whose I Am Love has turned into one of the art house hits of the summer. “And my hope is that Sony Pictures Classics will not only make some money, but they will also have the impetus to re-release all sorts of films from that time. I think that it’s really interesting to look at films from that particular period now.”
Swinton plays both male and female in Orlando. The Scottish actress’ title character embarks on not just a sexual odyssey, nor a romantic one, but a historical one: the story begins in the era of Elizabeth I and spans four centuries. Potter’s movie -- fleet, funny, romantic, inventive – is dazzling stuff, and representative, Swinton says, of a wave of independent movies from the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“When talking to film students who don’t know that period, and they’re asking for a certain kind of cinema, a certain approach to cinema, very often the quickest answer is to say,`Go and look at Terence Davies (The Long Day Closes, Distant Voices, Still Lives), or go and look at Ron Peck (Empire State), or go and look at Todd Haynes’ Poison for example, or go and look at early Sally Potter.’”
And, of course, go and look at the work of Derek Jarman, the director whose collaborations with Swinton – Caravaggio, The Last of England, War Requiem, Edward II among them - launched her career.
“These films were made in a different kind of spirit. It’s good to look at that cinema now, because it re-affirms a sort of confidence about being quite self-determining and not worrying about what will or will not sell….
“If you made a film like The Last of England or Edward II now,” she adds, “well, first of all I don’t know who would fund it, and secondly if it were made at all it would probably be shown late-night at one theater in New York. But in its day, that work was very central, culturally, and had mainstream reviews… The Last of England, which is a non-narrative film by Derek Jarman shot on Super-8 film, was shown in a mainstream cinema in the heart of London. But that work has become strangely marginalized in a way that it never was at the time….
“So it’s quite a good kick to the courage to have a look again, and to think how it might be possible to push the boundaries back.”