CAHSS Faculty Articles

Title

Unclothing Gender: The Postmodern Sensibility in Sally Potter's Orlando

Department

Department of Literature and Modern Languages

Publication Date

1999

Publication Title

Literature/Film Quarterly

ISSN

0090-4260

Volume

27

Issue/No.

2

First Page

110

Last Page

115

Abstract

Sally Potter's strikingly visual Orlando gives the Virginia Woolf novel an enlivening postmodern twist. True to the lighthearted yet purposeful spirit of the novel, Potter's film alternates genders and identities against shifting historical-cultural backgrounds as it follows a young noble's journey from the Renaissance to the modern era, first as a male and then as a female. More conducive to the postmodern subjectivity implicit in Woolf's vision, the film surpasses its novelistic predecessor. In an interview about the making of the film, Potter recalls the visual impact of the book the first time she read it and reminds us that Woolf was attempting "an exteriorisation of consciousness"; instead of using her characteristic "literary monologue" to express stream of consciousness, Woolf was seeking "images" (Donahue 218).1 With carefully selected framing of imagistic scenes and lavish ceroid costuming, Potter seems to have located those images. Here, where the camera is story-teller, the unreliable signifiers of fashion for gender and gender for identity are exposed and subverted. The film highlights instability of identity in its use of direct address, non-linear narrative, and parodic framing, reconstructing Woolf's novel as a postmodern text.

Peer Reviewed

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