Day 84: 'Orlando'


On Day 84, my head continues to spin. Once again, of course, my movie schedule changed at the last minute. The movie I was supposed to see, a double feature of the Rolling Stones documentaries Stones in Exile and Gimme Shelter, sold out at the local Aero theater (30+ year-old music docs selling out? What now?). So it was a mad dash to find another movie I haven't seen...thankfully, with all of the rescheduling of late, I had not seen Orlando, which I was supposed to see a few days ago and missed. So praise be to the movie gods! And thanks, too, for Friday, tomorrow, when I'll finally have new, opening releases to occupy my brain cells.

So,'s based on a Virginia Woolf stars Tilda Swinton in her 1993 breakthrough role as the title character...and if you haven't read the novel, it's seriously scatterbrained - in a great way. This a "multi-period" piece set throughout the ages from 1600 through to the early 1990s. It begins with Queen Elizabeth I (Quentin Crisp in serious makeup) bequeathing a large tract of land to a nobleman named Orlando on one condition - "Do not fade. Do not wither. Do not grow old."

Being the stand-up, sensitive, all-around peculiar and interesting character that he is, Orlando keeps that promise and lives and catnaps through the centuries, falling in love with a Russian princess, attempting to befriend a bawdy poet (a plan that fails miserably), acting as an ambassador to Constantinople, finding a measure of happiness with an American adventurer, and finally ending up with a young child in a field with some sort of weird angel crooning from the heavens.

Sounds bizarre? It is, but it comes with cool dividends. For one, the art design, costumes, production and cinematography are beyond gorgeous. And Tilda Swinton herself has an androgynous quality both in look and performance that's somehow transfixing. When she changes mid-movie from man to woman, you hardly blink. As she says, she is the same character...just, she's a woman now.

Second, the music in this movie is fantastic. It's post-modern, synthesized, and entirely appropriate to the different periods in which the film takes place. The whole movie strikes a unique, odd balance between historical drama and outright comedy - sometimes skirting the edges of Monty Python-type humor, and, believe it or not, I also kept thinking about Ferris Bueller every time Swinton's matter-of-fact hero/heroine addressed the camera. I was never quite sure what would happen next. But I was glad to finally catch this original motion picture (look for it in full re-release from Sony Pictures Classics on August 6th).

Now, a question for you all - have a favorite Tilda Swinton performance/movie, or a favorite time-travelling adventure? I think the actress has been fantastic in lots of movies (Michael Clayton and The Deep End being two of my favorites), but Orlando may now top the list for me. And for time-travelling adventures, I'll go with Time Bandits and the first Back to the Future...

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