Sunday, July 17, 2016

Orlando (Sally Potter, 1992)

Warning: This review may contain ramblings of a deeply personal nature. Viewer discretion is advised. I've always wondered what compelled me to see Orlando three times in theatres back in the early 1990s. Of course, my first trip to the multiplex wasn't that unusual (I was quite the avid cinema-goer back then - if it looked halfway decent, I'd go see it). But what prompted me go a second and a third time? The lavish costumes? Hmm, maybe. The detailed production design and stunning cinematography? Perhaps. How 'bout that haunting score? Nah. Don't get me wrong, it's good. But I don't think the score was the catalyst that lead me to keep coming back. Oh, I know. It must have been the otherworldly presence of the great Tilda Swinton. After all, she is amazing in this (and she better be, the talented Scot appears in every single scene). Or did it, and this might be a bit of a long-shot, have something to do with the fact that the titular character, who starts off the film as an English nobleman, wakes up one morning to discover that their gender is now female? Well, hot dog! We have a wiener! The sight of Tilda Swinton switching genders from male to female seemingly overnight must have been a liberating sight for me and others who have always felt deep down that they were meant to be women. (Wait. What the fuck?) In case you didn't know, I've been struggling with gender identity my entire life. In recent years, I've noticed a sudden uptick in my desire to begin my transition from male to female and start living more authentically (the desire to transition right this minute is as intense as its ever been). But every time I attempt to do so, I find myself paralyzed by my old friends, fear and anxiety.


The sad truth is, it looks like my childhood obsession with Boy George (I still can't believe my parents allowed a ten year-old "boy" to adorn "his" bedroom wall with hundreds of pictures of Boy George... it baffles the mind), my days as a teenage crossdresser ("I Was a Teenage Crossdresser," now there's a movie I would watch), that brief period when I wore black leggings with black shorts and Doc Martens to goth-industrial clubs (much to the chagrin of my so-called friends - to them it looked like I was wearing pantyhose - they eventually stopped returning my calls) and my predilection for using female avatars whenever playing video games or posting on blogs, message boards and social media will have to be the extent of my flirtation with womanhood. *sniff*


Or will it? Don't tell anyone, but I've started wearing women's clothing again. And if you ask me, there's no better therapy. Seriously, one should never underestimate the healing power of a sequin mini-skirt (just so you know, you can usually find me browsing the skirt aisle at Value Village, a.k.a. Savers, every Tuesday). And thanks to diet and exercise, my body has a slightly feminine appearance to it. In other words, I can still rock a sequin mini-skirt like nobody's business. Oh, and not to brag (even more), but my skinny, relatively blemish-free arms are to die for. And someone told me earlier this year that my hands look like the hands of a woman. Which made me extremely happy (even though I think they were trying to insult me).
 

However, my patchy five o'clock shadow causes me to experience nightmarish amounts of dysphoria. Meaning, I probably won't be passing as a woman anytime soon. Which is kind of a bummer, as I feel like I'm running out of time and would really like to die live the rest of my life a woman. Or, at the very least, die live the rest of my life as a closer version of what I believe to be my true self.
 


Let's get back to Orlando for a second, shall we? I'm starting to get depressed (just thinking about not being able to transition makes my eyes expel a strange watery substance). Shifting back to review mode in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. The film must have had a profound impact on my youngish mind when I first saw it. I mean, to change genders by simply waking up in the morning. Think about that. Life would be so much easier. At least for me it would. It should be noted that most of the film's other points about love, poetry, politics, society, sex and birth probably went straight over my head during those initial viewings. That being said, I do pick up new things from the film, which is written and directed by Sally Potter and based on the novel by Virginia Wolf, upon every subsequent screening of the film (I try to watch it at least once a year). It's like a Merchant Ivory Production crossed with a Derek Jarman/Peter Greenaway film, but with a feminist edge and tons of camp-appeal.


Have I mentioned that the film is sumptuous as all get out? No? Well, it is. The scenes that take place entirely on a frozen lake during the reign of King James I are especially sumptuous. The sight of royal servants in impractical clothing skating across the ice is one of the film's more ridiculous fashion moments. Which is saying a lot, as the film seems to repeatedly relish in exposing the impracticality of Western European fashion trends from the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s.


In fact, watching people try to do things other than sit and stand in these outfits is the film's best reoccurring gag. And we're talking men and women in chunky high heel (buckle-adorned) shoes, giant wigs, feathery hats, olive tights, frilly shirts, puffy shirts, ornate blazers, super-wide skirts (hoop petticoats), and ruff collars as far as the eye can see.


The other interesting fashion aspect of the film is that when Lord Orlando (Tilda Swinton) switches to being Lady Orlando (also, of course, played by Tilda Swinton), the transition isn't that far-fetched.


I'd argue that Orlando's clothing as a Lord was more feminine than her Lady outfits. Now, if I had to criticize the film about one thing, it's that we don't get to spend much time with Lady Orlando. Sure, both genders are granted three chapters each (boy mode gets "Love," "Poetry" and Politics" and girl mode gets "Society," "Sex," and "Birth"), but I feel Lady Orlando gets short shrifted (though, the way Sally Potter conveys the passage of time during the Lady Orlando hedge maze sequence is kind of brilliant). That being said, I've always appreciated the film's spry pace, as Orlando never seems to drag. Which is a common criticism leveled at period dramas.


Then again, Orlando isn't your average period drama. Need proof? Tilda Swinton is constantly breaking the forth wall. Quentin Crisp(!) plays Queen Elizabeth I and the film is bookended by Jimmy Somerville of Bronski Beat (his distinctive falsetto opens and closes the film). Oh, and Lothaire Bluteau (Jésus de Montréal) plays a Turkish khan. And get this, Billy Zane's in it! I know, 'nuff said, right?


The film is, to put it bluntly, gorgeousness personified. No film has ever spoken to me this profoundly; it's basically pure bliss. So, yeah. Hold up. Did I just out myself as a trans-woman? I think I just did. Weird. Well, no one reads anymore. That is to say, my secret is probably still safe with me (coming out in a movie review for a movie no one other than me and maybe two other people cares about is rather ingenious, if I do say so myself). If people do end up reading this, so what? I mean, what is gender, anyway? It's meaningless, that's what it is. You know what else is meaningless? Labels. (You go, girl!)


Ha! Ha! Ha! (What's so funny?) It just occurred to me that my name is Yum-Yum; talk about being girly. Speaking of which, I wish there was more Yum-Yum in me out in the real world. As Yum-Yum, who is pretty much the epitome of fearless, forthright and fabulous, would tell my gender dysphoria and all my other hang-ups to go jump in the proverbial lake. At any rate, it would be cooler if it was easier to transition; my AvPD causes me to languish in a perpetual state of self-imposed isolation, so I'm pretty much on my own (what I need is a Trans-Helper, which is kind of like Hamburger Helper, except, instead of helping hamburger, they help Trans people). And it would be even cooler if I stopped making excuses (Wah! I'm too old... or... I won't make an attractive woman... Boo-hoo!). Confused. Terrified. And filled with doubt. Yay!

Oh, and before I go. I'd like to give a quick shout-out to all the people who have transitioned and are happier for doing so. You inspire me and give me hope that one day I'll be able to join you. Until that day comes, I just want to say that I love you all. *hugs*  


19 comments:

  1. What is it about this blog that made me follow it however many years ago? I'm not sure. But it all paid off with this post. Loved this movie when my wife and I saw it on VHS in the mid 90's, and I appreciate your personal connections here. Thanks for being so honest and open.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The fact there wasn't a review for Orlando on this site has always irked me. Sure, it took six years to complete (parts of this review were written in 2010), but I'm glad I finally got the guts to publish it.

      Delete
  2. Keep the faith sweetheart... I know it seems impossible right now but you'll do just fine. Also I want you to know I suspected you were a girl for the longest time based on your writing style :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, babe. I appreciate the support. You're best. :)

      Delete
  3. Congratulations on your bravery and determination to live the way you want!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yum-Yum, you are my favorite reviewer, my role model and the best <3

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Stop it. You're embarrassing me. Seriously, though, you're too kind.

      Delete
  5. Been reading for years. Even if I don't post a lot of comments, I'm still enjoying your colorful posts.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I love jimmy Somerville and I love the song he sings at the end and don't worry about not having time left to be your true self, you have plenty of time left and if you need a trans-helper I'd be happy to help.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. I need all the help I can get. It's so overwhelming.

      Delete
  7. Your taste in movies is excellent. Your reviews are consistently interesting. And I appreciate the personal honesty you invest in your writing. I hope that you find the happiness that you deserve.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aww, thanks. That means a lot to me. :)

      Delete
  8. Hello! I'm not sure what movie I was searching few times ago (maybe Possession?) but I was so happy to stumble upon your blog as I love your humor, you're brilliant! It can get dangerous though, as I can waste an alarming time reading about those gems of movies (just one more post!), but anyway it's all fun times and everything. I hope that you'll live your life as the person you want to be, it is never too late to discover yourself and do what you want to do! Respect and courage, Guillaume

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe I should post a disclaimer: Danger, blog may cause you to waste an alarming amount of time. :D

      Seriously, though, thanks for the kind words.

      Delete
  9. Earlier today, I found myself asking the samet question; WHY do I keep coming back to this movie?!? Tilda. It's always Tilda.

    Thank you for sharing your life with us, in this post, and might I add, it's never too late to transition into the form you were always meant to be. Facial hair be damned!

    Keep doing you and if you ever find yourself in Seattle and in need of a movie watching buddy, I'm always game. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "It's never too late to transition." Damn straight. Thanks for saying that, Josh. It's something I need to hear every now and then.

      Delete
  10. While it's not as popular as the reviews for the plethora of porn flicks I post on here (people like porn), I'm pleasantly surprised that my Orlando review is doing so well.

    ReplyDelete