Tilda Swinton & Sally Potter on ‘Orlando’

“We must try and forget history and stay in the present moment,” says Academy Award-winning actress Tilda Swinton in reference to her overstuffed traveling schedule—Paris yesterday, Rome the day before. She’s drinking black tea with milk on a sofa at the Bowery Hotel and perusing the lunch menu. Next to her sits Sally Potter, the director of The Tango Lesson, Rage, and Orlando, a 1992 film Swinton stars in and which they are both here to promote. They order beet salads. Swinton is lithe, alabaster-skinned, and radiant in a cardinal red pantsuit by Phoebe Philo for Céline. Potter is a formidable beauty in a long gray skirt. She looks like she knows her way around an English garden. I can’t decide which is more intimidating. Certainly, they are both acrobatically intelligent and posses an Anglo knack for formulating articulate, earnest answers, and they are clearly excited to be in each other’s company as they discuss Orlando, which is being re-released in theaters in New York and Los Angeles this Friday. It’s a spellbinding film based on the century-hopping, gender-bending novel by Virginia Woolf. Except, Swinton doesn’t believe in gender. Here they are on lying, laziness, and the trouble with identity.

I know you screened Orlando at MoMA last night. How did it go? SP: It was wonderful. They turned a lot people away. We did a Q&A afterward. It was a good time had by all I think.

Why did Sony choose this moment to re-release the film? SP: You would have to ask them, I’d be curious to know exactly why. The truth is we’ve been lobbying them for eight years. Pretty much around the tenth anniversary we started to lobby them. But then for whatever reason they have decided now is the right time and we have been very grateful to them.

Did you have a sense last night that the audience reacted differently to the film than they did in the early 90’s? TS: No actually, very similarly. SP: Very welcoming, very responsive. There was something liberating about it. And of course it was made then, but many people are seeing it for the first time. So what’s the difference? I think it doesn’t matter technically when it is made, and re-releasing it just gives an opportunity for people to see it.

What drew you to the story of Orlando in the first place? SP: It is a brilliant book by a brilliant author written in an extraordinarily visual and cinematic way. It manages to be both epic and poetic, sort of condensed and yet huge, and so ambitious it makes you laugh. It’s as if all the world is in it, and yet you can’t narrow through that. In a way it is the opposite of the feeling of human limitation. It is saying no to that. It’s just wonderful.

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So you’re a fan of Virginia Woolf. SP: You might say that. I actually love the things that aren’t so popular. Her essays, her diaries, her thoughts. She is such a serious and passionate thinker, and very honest in her diaries about her struggles, including, by the way, about writing Orlando. She talks about hating it, why did she have to spout so many words. So she shares her doubts, and it’s wonderful.

Did you have Tilda in mind when you set out to make the film? SP: I think Virginia Woolf had Tilda in mind (laughs). I started writing a treatment some years before, but I think the search for Orlando was so completely central to the idea of whether it could work or not.

What is it about Tilda that allows her to play Orlando? SP: You see, she is beyond actressing. It’s about being and doing and embodiment and presence—all the metaphysical, philosophical things about how you perceive and how you receive communication with another being. Feeling of complexity. It was never about pretending to be someone else, but rather arriving at being present for all eternity at the moment of the camera turning. And that great project of thought and being-ness on screen, I think Tilda and I completely shared. We were sort of shoulder to shoulder in that great project.

So many people have great difficulty playing the opposite gender… TS: I’m not sure what the opposite gender should be.

Opposite sex, I should say. TS: What opposite sex? I’m not really aware…I’m very lazy. I mean, generally, I’m a kind of an idle person, and that accrues to the idea of applying either feminine or masculine traits. SP: Could I allow myself to disagree with this laziness thing?

TS: But I am! SP: No, I think what you are, is you refuse false effort. TS: Okay, well I’m not a good liar. SP: Well that’s good, so you are not pretending. TS: No, no. I can’t pretend, and that is why it’s always so strange to hear myself referred to as an actress, because I am not a good actress. I even refuse to be. SP: All the best people who perform in a way refuse to act. They’re looking for the something. Directors refuse to direct. TS: I have always been touched and genuinely moved by the efforts of society to hang on to aspects of identity. ‘Oh, I’m a girl so I’ve got to be like this. Oh, I’m a boy so I’ve got to be like this. Oh, I’m a mother now so I have to be like that.’ That feeling is really just dealing with a series of prescriptions. It feels like such a waste of effort. There is given to us real genuine fluidity and multiplicity. I’m not even sure that I believe identity exists, to be honest. The labor that people go to be attached to elements of our identity I find very touching. SP: It is so interesting. I’ve worked with wonderful dancers and musicians and they refuse to push and eject artificial effort into things. It’s this sort of state of apparent ease. There is this incredible relaxation in the face, which is earned actually. I’m fascinated by it, expenditure of energy in relation to result.

Lots of people read Orlando as a feminist text, but the film seems more concerned with being humanitarian than feminist. SP: I don’t think ‘ist’ really belonged to it—or to anything else. I think Virginia Woolf explored all this stuff about womaness and femininity and masculinity with all the depth that one could muster. But it is more about complexity and essences and an enormous amount of metaphysical and literary preoccupations in the book.

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I was reading a New York Times review that came out when Orlando was first released in 1992 and it said the film manages to be “dazzling without being anesthetizing.” I also thought this statement applied to I Am Love. How do you deal with class without making it the subject of the film itself? TS: This is the big question. Sally has not yet seen I Am Love. Both of the films are about rich people, but about liberation within rich people’s milieu. So the point of emotional contact is with humans, not with the objects that these human’s lives surround themselves with. That is a simple thing—you think it would be more common. But it is interesting that there is a sort of mesmeric quality. When you make a film about rich people it is kind of dangerous because it is possible for people to… Rich people get rich for a reason, because apparently it is really nice to live there in that world surrounded by Diptyque candles and such. There is a sort of feeling of vicarious, memorized passivity. Both of those films place an active human being in the heart of those stories who actually manage to liberate themselves. SP: Orlando is really about a human cutting a passage through the accident birth, in a certain way. But the other difference is, I try—we all try—to make it throw away, to put an enormous amount of detail in the background, an enormous amount of detail and care and then not concentrate on it particularly. I’m always looking at what is important to look at. The temptation as a director is you’ve got this incredible background so you take the camera and kind of look at everything like this [pans widely] and it’s just there and that gives you a different relationship to the setting.

How much does costume—both Orlando and I Am Love have spectacular wardrobe design—help you put yourself in a character? TS: Well, dressing up and playing is the really best way I can explain what I do in terms of being a performer. Disguising oneself appropriately is the meat and potatoes of my work, and of course it is also great fun. Especially working for enlightened and up-for-it people like Sandy Powell, who did the costumes for Orlando, and whom I’ve worked with for many years, all through the Jarman films. It’s almost impossible to imagine the film being made without her, actually, because she brought the same sort of anarchic spirit to the costumes. There is something so modern in everything she does, the texture, there is something subversive. What’s the difference between dressing up for film and real life? Well, not that much.

Do you have plans to work together again? Always! We are still working on Orlando.

Wizarding World of Harry Poter and its Gift Shops Open in Orlando

Ohmygod muggles! Today is the big day! Yes, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens to the public today at Universal Orlando Resort, allowing Potter-maniacs across this great country, around this great globe, to live, for a moment, within J.K. Rowling’s magical world. Also, it will make lots of money. While we tend to shy away from all things Orlando, it’s hard to ignore Harry. After the jump, all you need to know about the mega theme park du jour.

*You can get Butterbeer (trademark) there. Butterbeer isn’t beer, isn’t alcoholic. Reportedly, it tastes like cream soda, costs $8.50, and includes a souvenir mug.

*Adults can procure actual beer, wine, and mixed drinks—thankfully—at the Hog’s Head pub.

*J.K. Rowling, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry in the movies), and Rupert Grint (Ron in the movies), all came out last night for the grand opening.

*The park cost upwards of $200 million.

*It’s located in the Islands of Adventure Park within Universal Orlando Resort. Also, there is Universal Studios and lots of sticky children.

*It costs $109 a day to enter the park for adults, $99 for kiddies.

*There are three rides and five shops.

*Buying a wand from one of said shops will set you back $30, a broomstick $300.

*Of the rides, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is the one Universal really blew its wad on. It takes riders through a detailed recreation of Hogwarts. When the park opened this morning, there were wait times of 90 minutes for the ride, but waiting and admiring the workmanship and details of the place—from the stonework to talking projections, is all part of the fun, if that’s your thing.

*The other two rides are just roller coasters that were already there and re-themed for Potter world.

*Harry’s magic has yet to work on the oil spill.

Holy Land Experience: Far Worse than Creation Museum

A.A. Gill makes good sport of Kentucky’s Creation Museum over at Vanity Fair. A $27 million non-museum highlighting very Christian dioramas of biblical scenarios and humanist-refuting tableaux, the joint makes for an easy target. “This place doesn’t just take on evolution — it squares off with geology, anthropology, paleontology, history, chemistry, astronomy, zoology, biology, and good taste.” Gill’s hilarious, though his target couldn’t be more of a setup, and his contempt for anyone not coastally slim, slick, and smart eventually gets a little embarrassing. Even the Washington Post’s Ian Shapira can’t help tut-tutting at the plight of the poor (non-evolving) monkey in this barrel. In fact, there’s a much better mark for this kind of ire: Orlando’s Holy Land Experience theme park. I’ve made the pilgrimage, and verily, it sucketh.

(‘DiggThis’)The HLE was originally conceived and constructed (for $15 million in 2001) by Zion’s Hope, an evangelical organization which is quite literally a Jews for Jesus outfit. These are Jewish folks who believe in Jesus as the real-deal son of God, and they built this theme park so they could re-enact the crucifixion several times a day. Interpret those levels of irony how ye may. Sadly, in this muddle of stereotypes the group apparently lost touch with their original ethnicity’s clichéd handle on financial affairs, as they went heavily into debt on park operations. So it was that the HLE got sold to the solidly Christian Trinity Broadcasting in 2007 for $37 million (who’s good with money now, gentiles?). The state of Florida had for years challenged the park’s churchy tax-exempt status until some devout legislators passed a bill specifically exempting them. However, the bill required them to hold free-admission days, which the HLE was very wary of doing, or at least wary of announcing. The last free day did generate quite the mob, and hey look, they’re donating February 1’s ticket revenues to Haiti relief.

I won’t bore you with all the various fun Jerusalemiania one can experience at the HLE; see for yourself. And the place doesn’t have the mouth-breather laff potential of the Creation Museum because it isn’t about grandly insisting on the grand truth of grandly insane biblical anecdotes. Rather, it’s about taking what is mythically and dramatically interesting about Judeo-Christianity and transforming it into abject tedium. The worst thing about the Holy Land Experience isn’t that it’s dogmatically religious. The worst thing is that it’s a boring, boring theme park.

Of course there are no rides. It’s like Busch Gardens without the incongruous non-garden roller coasters. What I remember most about the walk-through Scriptorium attraction that illustrates the history of the bible’s physical compilation and publication was that it ended with a cryptic non sequitur. After passing numerous scrolls and meticulously animatronic scenes of scribes and saints and Gutenberg presses, you end up at a mysterious door to modern times. On the other side is … an uninhabited contemporary apartment. It looks so mundane that I and my fellow travelers (an equally baffled group of senior citizens) assumed we had stumbled into staff quarters by mistake. Then a guy in a monk’s robe (what?) appeared and congenially directed us to the exit. Only there did we see a placard spelling out the lesson: there was no bible lying around in this modern apartment! How terrible it all is without a bible! Apparently that’s as bad as it gets. There was a TV however.

Even the regularly staged torment of Jesus isn’t much to see, though they didn’t skimp on the blood when it comes time for the money shot. The Jesii employed by the HLE are big into public sermons, gentle smiling, and period cosplay. Their dialogue sounded word for word from King James when I visited, but I often wondered if they were ever given talking points (especially when the new ownership came in). As I recall there was even a bit with the talking column of fire — a red and pink bedsheet whipping over a fan. But eventually you get to the climax, which is gory enough to suit even the most violent super-Christian bloody Jesus t-shirt. The crowd is kept at a discreet distance in case anybody’s disbelief is so extremely suspended that they attempt to change history and save the Savior from the Roman lash. The actual crucifying doesn’t involve a pretense of nailing through hands and feet, but there’s lots and lots of energetic whipping.

The crowd has a weird energy watching this. Lots of cameras, some devotional murmuring. In addition to the old folks, you also have lots of foreigners. A few kids, who are obviously as bored by this as they are by the Ben Franklin impersonator who lectures you at Disney’s Epcot. History really is boring, even about God stuff, even (maybe especially) at a theme park. Imagine being brought to Orlando as a kid, within walking distance of seriously hot shit thrill rides, and instead you’re stuck someplace that’s somehow even worse than church.

I really wanted to slip the knife to the Holy Land Experience when I wrote it up for travel coverage back in the day, much like Gill does for the Creation Museum. But at least the latter is more honest, in its way, despite the ludicrous claim of museum-hood right in the name. But the HLE is more sad, terrible disappointment than spectacle of provincial hokum. Besides, no kids will likely have their expectations of fun dashed by visiting the Creation Museum like they do at the HLE’s alleged “theme park.” After all, museums are supposed to be boring.

15 Best Airports for Wi-Fi

Wireless internet service at airports is becoming more rule, less exception. Google has embraced the holiday spirit by distributing free Wi-Fi at 47 U.S. airports until January 15, 2010. And several airlines have begun to offer wireless service on board flights, ensuring that jetting won’t hinder your daily routine of stalking your exes on Facebook. In a recent survey by American Airlines and HP, 47% of business travelers indicated that Wi-Fi was more valued than food during their flight. People are looking to stay connected with the outside world, especially while in transit. While many airports now offer wireless, some are better at it than others.

1. Philadelphia International Airport – Check your Gmail while scarfing a cheesesteak — free wireless for diners within the food courts. Current students also have the privilege of free Internet access if they show their IDs at the Airport Information Counter. And on Saturdays and Sunday, wireless service is free for everyone. Outside of the airport, Philly once had plans for covering the entire city with wireless, until Earthlink dropped out of the agreement due to economic complications in February of 2008.

2. Phoenix Sky Harbor – No, it’s not a mystical village in a “Final Fantasy” game, but its connectivity is free and completely real. In 2005, Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon launched a free airport wireless project. Since then, Sky Harbor has never looked back. The signal is strong on both ends of the security checkpoint, near the shops, and at many of the gates. Given that both the mayor and city council collaborated on this project, residents hope that a citywide connection could soon be in the works.

3. Portland International Airport – Portland International Airport has free wireless within 70% of its complex, including some spots outside of secure areas. Users can log in with a VPN (Virtual Private Network) if top-secret info is required for their profession. Furthermore, the airport offers ample power outlets throughout its facilities, making it an ideal location for web surfers. But outside of the airport, Portland has become more disconnected. Recently, the city lost its free MetroFi wireless service due to financial complications.

4. McCarran International Airport – Feeling down after losing big in Vegas? Rest assured, McCarran Airport is there to lift your spirits (or at least give you the opportunity to continue gambling online). With seating and electrical outlets galore, McCarran is #3 on Forbes’ list of “Top Most-Wired Airports.” In addition, there are various free Wi-Fi hotspots within the city itself, distributed throughout shops and restaurants.

5. Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport – Way back in December 2003, Ithaca’s Tompkins Regional Airport was distributing free wireless through Clarity Connect services. Nowadays, Wi-Fi can be accessed anywhere within its terminals free of charge, no strings attached. For those hapless enough to leave their laptops at home, computer workstations are available with 15 minutes of free access near the café and gift shops.

6. JFK International Airport – While most airports of JFK’s size are rather stingy when it comes to Internet service, JetBlue’s 6th terminal offers free Internet access. This section of JFK is relatively new, having reached completion a little over a year ago on October 22, 2008. The new Wi-Fi section is consistent with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plans to increase connectivity throughout the city’s public areas.

7. Eastern Iowa Airport – Cedar Rapids- Free Internet is distributed throughout the Cedar Rapids airport thanks to Dynamic Broadband, which also delivers its services in parts of the Midwest, ensuring that the farmlands can easily be connected to the country’s urban centers. If you’re web-hungry enough to pull out your laptop while taking a ride, public buses around the airport offer Internet access to their riders as well.

8. Honolulu Airport – Pacific-bound travelers may find themselves at this intersecting crossroads of the States and the Orient. It may take some scouting, but Gate 13 at the Honolulu Airport offers free Wi-Fi. Those in the know say that you can also successfully “mooch” a signal near the Continental President’s Club and Northwest World Club across from Gate 12.

9. Denver International Airport – Jeppesen Terminal’s A, B, and C concourses distribute Wi-Fi in the vicinity free of charge. The city itself has its own share of free Wi-Fi hotspots in its busiest centers. As of April 17, 2006, the 16th Street Mall and Skyline Park of downtown Denver offers free Wi-Fi, thanks in large part to the city’s nonprofit Downtown Denver Partnership.

10. Louis Armstrong International Airport – Although this Louisiana airport is still trying to reach its original pre-Katrina service capacity, it has maintained free Wi-Fi in concourses A, B, C, and D. Originally, state laws prohibited the use of free broadband, but the city circumvented this ban after the state of emergency declared in Hurricane Katrina’s wake. With the state of emergency lifted, several groups like BellSouth moved to shut down the free service. Earthlink stepped up with a $15 million planned investment to take over the city’s service and build a network within a 15- to 20-mile radius. As of 2008, the Earthlink project was dead … but given current trends, there may be hope for its revival.

11. Harrisburg International Airport – For passengers, free access is as simple as selecting or typing “SARAA” as their preferred network. Left your laptop behind? Not a problem. The Harrisburg Airport offers plenty of Internet kiosks within its facilities, where you’ll be able to forward cute cat pictures before catching a red-eye. The city itself had aspirations for free Wi-Fi coverage as early as 2003 for 2nd Street and the Capitol complex. Unfortunately, logistics stymied these efforts, and they were put on hold.

12. San Antonio International Airport – Travelers can pick up a decent (and most importantly, free) Wi-Fi connection throughout most of the airport’s terminals. In 2007, the San Antonio City Council approved a plan to build a municipal wireless network throughout the city’s downtown areas, thanks to aid from AT&T.

13. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport – Sea-Tac is offering free wireless for the holiday season until January 15, 2010 (compliments of Google). Furthermore, the Port of Seattle is hoping to extend these benefits beyond the January 15 cutoff. We think that this is an appropriate plan for a place ranked #1 on Forbes’ “Top 30 Most-Wired American Cities”.

14. Orlando International Airport – With free Wi-Fi hotspots located within its parking lot and public areas, Orlando makes flight delays bearable. The city itself is ranked number four on Forbes’ “Top 30 Most-Wired American Cities” due to the high percentage of homes with high-speed Internet access and high Wi-Fi hotspots per capita.

15. Mineta San Jose International Airport – The NorCal vs. SoCal Wi-Fi debate rages on throughout the state of California. While there may be no clear winner, San Jose certainly gives NorCal a boost, thanks to its prestigious history as home to some of the world’s largest tech companies. As of May 30, 2008, Mineta San Jose Airport has offered free Wi-Fi services to travelers coming through the South Bay. Terminals A and C have excellent Wi-Fi offerings, with the exception of their baggage claim areas, which are currently dead zones.

Harry Potter & the Theme Park of Relentless Profiteering

All right, I’ll admit it, I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. And I couldn’t be more tickled that the oh-so popular wizard boy is getting his own theme park down in Orlando. Some enterprising Potter fans have unearthed the patents for some of the names of the restaurants, rides, and shops inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The park will most likely be aimed at youngsters, but with Academy Award winner Stuart Craig on staff — he’s designed all the sets for film series so far — it might be a cool place to check out. Though Universal Studios is determined to keep much of the plans secret before the opening in 2010, industrious Potterphiles have cracked some of mysteries behind the scenes. The most intriguing find: The large ride under construction at the back of the Florida theme park will be called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Universal Studios describes the ride as a state-of-the-art attraction that will “bring the magic, characters and stories of Harry Potter to life.” Two other existing rides will be re-themed to fit into the Wizarding World:

● The Flying Unicorn kiddie coaster becomes the Flight of the Hippogriff ● The twin-tracked Dueling Dragons steel coaster becomes Dragon Challenge

So far a few landmarks within the 20-acre land have been revealed — including the themed areas of Hogsmeade Village and the Forbidden Forest, as well as a walk-through Hogwarts Castle — the trademark search divulged the names of previously secret restaurants and retail shops.

Among the restaurants: ● Three Broomsticks ● Magic Neep ● Butterbeer

Among the stores: ● Dervish and Banges ● Zonko’s ● Owl Post ● Ollivanders ● Honeydukes

Right now if you head on over the theme park’s site, you can vote on what would scare you the most: a whomping willow, a Hungarian horntail, an acromantula, a dementor, or a basilisk. Presumably there’s going to be a ride or something of the like that will be designed to scare the pants right off of you. I wonder why Daniel Radcliff’s nude turn in Equus is not on the list …

Theme Park Junkie Contest Raises Publicity Stunt Stakes

imageCalling it: three times = trend. That would be the ploy of running a contest in search of some lucky SOB who’ll get to partake in a super-fun gig in exchange for a good chunk of change and a larger hunk of publicity for the contest sponsor. Ben Southall is reporting for work as of July 1, after beating out 35,000 applicants to score the sweet gig in Hamilton Island, Australia, where he gets paid six figures to snorkel and blog about it for the remainder of 2009. Over in Sonoma County, CA, the Murphy Goode winery is wrapping up their search for the “Murphy-Goode Wine Country Lifestyle Correspondent. The winner in this case will get paid $10,000 a month to drink wine, scout picnic locations, and of course, blog all about it to all the jealous armchair travelers. Applications are due June 19. Adding to the fray, Orlando is launching a contest to find a couple (a new twist!) who can take 67 days (why 67? I don’t know) to ride every ride in the half-dozen theme parks in the Orlando area, including Disney World, Sea World, and Universal Studios.

The lucky couple will also be hang gliding, sky diving, visiting spas, and generally touting all there is to do in Orlando. In return for all the blogging, tweeting, and Facebooking that the winners will do, the grand prize includes a condo in downtown Orlando for the duration of the 67 days, plus a check for $25,000. The application process includes a one-minute video and photos, as well as a short application form. In terms of who the couple can be, they’re going Amazing Race style, meaning you can apply with a friend, family member, or lover. Oh, and just FYI, they’re calling this contest “67 Days of Smiles,” so you might want to rock some Crest White Stripes before you make your video.