Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

Framing Ambiguity and Desire through Musical Means in Sally Potter's Film 'Orlando'

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2011), 5, (1), 25–37.

Abstract

Sally Potter's film Orlando (based on Virginia Woolf's 1928 book of the same name) is a rather curious tale based on a mixture of biography and fiction about sexual ambiguity and identity. The film has been the subject of much feminist criticism for the manner in which it departs from the main theme of the original story. Woolf's final message in her book is that the status quo in regards to the treatment of women continues ever onwards, while Potter's message in her film – that we have reached a stage where we can transcend constructions of gender – seems, at first glance, superficial. Potter not only directed the film but also wrote the music for it, and an analysis of this music (that runs throughout much of the film) demonstrates that the case against Potter, and the grounds for such criticism, may not be clear-cut at all. This article shows how the music reveals a deeper, more profound message at the heart of the film that is as ambiguous as Orlando him- (or is it her-?) self.

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Author details

Martin, Ruth Lee