Review: Orlando DVD

STUDIO: Sony | DIRECTOR: Sally Potter | CAST: Tilda Swinton, Billy Zane, Lothaire Bluteau, John Wood, Charlotte Valandrey, Quentin Crisp, Jimmy Somerville
RELEASE DATE: 8/17/10 | PRICE: DVD $19.94
BONUSES: selected scene commentary, director interview, three featurettes, Venice Film Festival press conference
SPECS: PG-13 | 93 min. | Period drama | 1.85:1 widescreen | Dolby Surround | English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Based on Virginia Woolf’s radical but quite readable 1928 novel, director Sally Potter’s 1992 period gender-bending film Orlando is re-issued on DVD by Sony with a collection of archival supplemental materials that are available for the first time. And, like the sumptuously detailed movie about an Elizabethan era nobleman (Tilda Swinton, Teknolust) who awakes one day following the death of Queen Elizabeth (Quentin Crisp) to discover that he has transformed into a woman, everything in the extras package is not all that it initially seems to be.

For starters, there is the “Select Scenes Commentary with Sally Potter,” which isn’t actually a commentary, but rather a recently produced 10-minute featurette that finds movie director Potter discussing aspects of the film’s production as she watches scenes from it on a monitor. It’s pleasant and informative — we particular enjoyed hearing Potter describe Crisp as “the true queen of England” — but it ain’t no commentary.

More engrossing are the two video diaries, billed on the DVD as Orlando Goes to Russia and Orlando in Uzbekistan. Created by Orlando producer Christopher Sheppard and Robert MacNaughton, respectively, both serve as journals tracking the production of the film through two undeniably foreign locales.

Sheppard’s 40-minute diary is the most fascinating, as it details the adventures of a filmmaking unit trying to arrange a shoot in Perestroika-era Russia, a time when the country was attempting to open itself up to Western culture (and money!) but was running into bumps trying to sort out all the political, military and socio-economic red tape (no pun intended). Meanwhile, MacNaughton’s piece offers interviews with the film’s cast and crew while they were on location in Uzbekistan, which had only become independent of Russia a year earlier.

Also included are footage of a press conference featuring Potter, Swinton and company from the 1992 Venice Film Festival, a 15-minute interview with Potter taken from the festival and a music video-like “tribute” to the Scottish singer Jimmy Somerville, whose scene as an angel in Orlando is one of the film’s highlights.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.