‘Orlando’ on TCM

Slim, tall, ginger, and intense, Oscar®-winner Tilda Swinton has become one of the most respected actresses of her generation. But in 1992, when Sally Potter cast her as Orlando in her idiosyncratic adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s revolutionary 1928 novel “Orlando: A Biography,” Swinton was largely unknown. She had been busy in theater and on television in Britain and was a defining presence in the provocative films of Derek Jarman. Orlando may not have made her a star, but it certainly introduced her to filmgoers the world over and launched a career that since blossomed.

Orlando is just the kind of adventurous project that appealed to the actress, the story of an androgynously beautiful young aristocrat named Orlando who is lover to Queen Elizabeth I. “Do not fade. Do not wither. Do not grow old,” commands the Queen, and he obeys, remaining unchanged over four centuries. Or almost unchanged. One morning some hundred years later, the lad looks into the mirror while dressing and realizes he has transformed into a woman. “Same person, no difference at all,” she muses. “Just a different sex.”

British filmmaker Sally Potter, who came from experimental films and documentaries, had made only one feature before tackling this project. She wrote her first treatment in the 1980s, initially setting it aside when she was told that it would be too difficult to realize, then returning to tackle that challenge head on. Orlando became a true multinational production. Five producers from five different countries came together to make the film, which was still small by studio standards (the final budget was about $5 million); the preparations, from raising money to scouting locations, went on for four years before production could begin. After long negotiations, a deal was made to shoot the film in Russia, where their production dollar would stretch farther. The production was able to recreate centuries of cultural history, from Orlando’s lavish manor to the frozen Thames of 17th century London to 18th century Constantinople, on location in Leningrad and, later, in Uzbekistan. Very little was shot in the studio, and most of that involved special effects sequences.

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Plays Monday September 3 on Turner Classic Movies

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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