British director Sally Potter (b. 1949) is possessed of a distinct, independent vision. From the early 1970s to the present she has kept her radical edge, beginning with avant-garde short films before moving on to experimental dramatic features that incorporate music, literature, dance, theater, and performance. Potter, who typically works on multiple elements of her films, from script and direction to sound design, editing, performance, and production, elegantly blends poetry and politics, giving voice to women’s stories and romantic liaisons, and exploring themes of desire and passion, self-expression, and the role of the individual in society.
Her earliest short films, which explored film technique, performance, and dance, incorporated experiments with ideas of “expanded cinema,” including projected films, split screens, and live performance. Her low-budget short Thriller (1979), which reverses Mimi’s tragic death in La Bohème, achieved international cult status as a feminist critique of the romantic drama. Thriller was followed by her first feature, The Gold Diggers (1983), a hybrid drama set in a surrealist landscape and starring Julie Christie, which further explored female stereotypes in Hollywood narratives. Her most critically acclaimed film, Orlando (1992)—which premieres here digitally restored in high definition—based on Virginia Woolf’s novel of the same name, features Tilda Swinton as a sixteen-year-old boy who, over four centuries and various escapades, becomes a woman. Potter’s most recent film, RAGE (2009), which is shaped around fourteen direct-address interviews into a cell phone, continues her groundbreaking forays into experimental narrative.
Considered together, these films reveal a common thread of transformation woven throughout Potter’s work—both in her characters’ journeys and in terms of her own ability to transcend genre and work with cutting-edge film forms. All films are written and directed by Potter and from Great Britain, unless otherwise indicated.
Organized by Sally Berger, Assistant Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art.