Orlando (1992)
November 14, 2022 4:31 PM - Subscribe

[TRAILER] In 1600, nobleman Orlando (Tilda Swinton) inherits his parents' house, thanks to Queen Elizabeth I (Quentin Crisp), who commands the young man to never change. After a disastrous affair with Russian princess Sasha (Charlotte Valandrey), Orlando looks for solace in the arts before being appointed ambassador to Constantinople in 1700, where war is raging. One morning, Orlando is shocked to wake up as a woman and returns home, struggling as a female to retain her property as the centuries roll by.

Also starring Billy Zane.
Written and directed by Sally Potter, loosely based on Virginia Woolf's 1928 novel Orlando: A Biography.

Currently streaming free in the US on Tubi. Also available for digital rental on multiple outlets. JustWatch listing.

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posted by DirtyOldTown (10 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I remember it as a sumptuous visual treat with tremendously arch performances (unsurprisingly, given Swinton and Crisp).
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:15 PM on November 14, 2022

One of my favorite movies, for a slew of reasons. I used to play hooky from work and go to a movie theater a few blocks away, then come back and work late. I skipped out to see this when it first ran and it was my introduction to the inimitable Tilda. The score was rangey and ambient, and I fell in love with one of the songs and played it as my wedding processional. I've never read the book and this is one of the few cases where I'm just as happy not to.
posted by cocoagirl at 6:16 PM on November 14, 2022 [3 favorites]

I haven't seen it since it was first released, but I still think about it every year or so. It comes back to me in flashes: Her Majesty Quentin Crisp! The cracking ice! That ending! I'm going to have to go back to this one.

This was also my first Tilda Swinton film. A few years later another movie starring Tilda Swinton came out, and I rented it to see with someone I had a crush on. Reader, that film was Female Perversions, which ehhhh turns out was not a great idea for a date flick
posted by phooky at 6:24 PM on November 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

Orlando and Female Perversions were the first two Tilda Swinton movies I saw.

Many years later, I saw We Need to Talk About Kevin with a couple of friends trying to get pregnant. That was fun.
posted by adamrice at 7:52 PM on November 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

This is one of those movies that I saw on late-night TV as a young insomniac, and thought for years I had dreamed it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:43 PM on November 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

I hated this movie so, so much. Partly that's because, growing up a trans kid in the monoculture, pre internet, pre everything, movies where boys magically turned into girls were a very big deal. I was always looking for a movie that did it the way I wanted to see it, with characters who responded like real human beings, and I never found one. Most of them focused on the same handful of tired-ass tropes, with a guy struggling to learn how to walk in high heels and all that. This one went a whole other way but managed to be even crappier by having the guy react to his transformation with complete apathy. He literally wakes up as a woman, sees himself in the mirror, turns to the camera with a lazy half-smile and says something like, "There's no difference. Same person, just a different sex!" You've got Tilda Swinton being gorgeous in these giant ballgowns with hoop skirts and all that wonderful shit, and she's just like, "Yeah, so, I was a man, now I'm a woman. Who cares? Now I'm just gonna hang around for a few centuries, never die and not do much. Enjoy the next few hours, watching that."

It's the least interesting way you could possibly take that story, negating all conflict and just having this passive character wander around forever. Even if the character is OK with their transformation, there have to be some obstacles or there's no drama! Maybe it worked in the original novel because we were privy to the character's thoughts or there was a fancy prose style to distract us or something, but as a film it was just stunningly tedious and inert.

I'd be interested to hear what people enjoyed about it. Maybe it speaks to some trans men or people who are agender or people who are just on some very different part of the trans spectrum from me... but kid me thought it was the biggest missed opportunity ever and even now I can still get grouchy thinking about it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:47 PM on November 14, 2022 [4 favorites]

UH, I appreciate hearing your take on it. For this trans femme, Orlando may have been one of my first hints of my transness (i did not have much positive exposure to queerness growing up), which was so supressed I didn't figure it out for another 27yrs. But this movie resonated strongly with me just for the idea that gender could be fluid. The song Coming stuck with me (even tho I cluelessly didn't take it in that it was speaking directly to me). Looking back, it's all pretty obvious, but at the time it seemed like just another thing I liked.
posted by kokaku at 5:40 AM on November 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

Back in 1992, when I was a strange, lonely 14 year old, I lived within walking distance of not one but two art house theaters, so I ended up seeing a lot of indie movies by myself. I *loved* Orlando as part of the early canon of work that spoke to me as a (theatrical, bi, dreamy) teen. Read the book afterward--my introduction to Virginia Woolf--and loved that too. The movie doesn't quite do justice to the dense and trenchant satire of the novel, but it has many charms and is still on my comfort re-watch list to this day.
posted by merriment at 5:53 AM on November 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

one of my all time favorite movies ever ever ever. its so beautiful and dreamy and subversive.

I don't know why but the end always makes me cry. (I'm not much of a movie crier generally)
posted by supermedusa at 8:22 AM on November 15, 2022

Also my first Swinton, and also haunted to this day by how beautiful and arch and mysterious the whole vibe of it was. I've recommended to and watched this film with many of my friends almost as a litmus test to see if they gel with it like I did...
posted by FatherDagon at 8:49 AM on November 15, 2022

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