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August 17, 2008
Tilda Swinton (1960-)
I returned from holiday on Aug 16th which coincidently is the day that actor Tilda Swinton, along with Mark Cousins a curator of the Edinburgh Film Festival have started their own film festival in Nairn a small town in Scotland where she lives called Cinema of Dreams. Tilda Swinton is undoubtedly one of the most interesting actresses working mainly in Britain since the early 1980s. In the last few years she has taken on work in mainstream cinema as well as working with independent film makers who are politically and aesthetically more cutting edge and avante garde. This has helped her to broaden her approach to film-making rather then compromise her more rebellious attitudes to the dominant political and aesthetic norms. This year she became an Oscar winner, she is also patron of the Edinburgh Film Festival and has sat on the jury at Cannes.
Starting a new small scale festival is an exciting departure and chimes brilliantly with some of my own thoughts about the need to create policy initiatives which encourage and develop audiences and a love of cinema in which cinema going is deemed as an important cultural activity as it is in much of mainland Europe. All too often the festivals which get covered in the media are primarily market mechanisms rather than an expression of the love of film itself. In the 1980s and 1990s Swinton was very much associated with the politically and artistically radical sections of theatre, film and TV. Swinton has often chosen to work with directors in Germany and France and has been openly critical of the British cinema as it has dveloped under New Labour which she sees as trying to emphasise an industrial agenda rather than one driven by the aesthetic and critical desires of audineces and those who wish to work outside of the mainstream.
In recent years it has been somewhat of a surprise for many to see her playing a role in the screen adaptations of the C. S. Lewis Narnia novels. Swinton is asked about this in a BBC interview, her response focuses upon the different styles of creativity between a blockbuster and smaller independent films. The Observer Know your Narnia Books glossary describes Tilda Swinton's Jadis as follows:
T is for Tilda Swinton
Whose extraordinary face makes her perfect for the White Witch, and yet there's something oddly missing. Usually an evil woman in myth has a dangerously sexual element to her power. But since her adversaries are children and animals, that sexual weapon becomes redundant, and the result is a little bland
YouTube interview with Tilda Swinton on winning an Oscar for best supporting actress in Michael Clayton:
Coming from a well off background Tilda Swinton attended had a privately funded education as a child. She gained four A levels and had an interest in theatre and performance. she went to Africa for two years after leaving . She then attended New Hall, Cambridge, a women's, college from 1980 to 1983, studying social and political science and English Literature. At university she became involved in more politically oriented and punk influenced productions. After leaving university this experience helped her to join the RSC where she played in 4 minor roles. This type of institution didn't suit her radicalised approach at the time and she left returning to Edinburgh to join the Traverse Theatre which was and is primarily concerned with contemporary plays. She played in The White Rose a politically oriented play about the role of women in the Soviet Union and their resistance to the Nazis. Here she first met her future husband John Byrne. At the time Byrne was a set designer for White Rose being a talented playwrite and painter.
By the mid-1980s she started to work with Derek Jarman who made many of the most challenging of British films at the time such as Sebastiane taking on issues of homosexual desire, he also made Jubilee as a punk take on the Queeen's 25th anniversary celebratory year. Swinton first worked with him on Caravaggio and later worked on most of the rest of Jarman's films such a The Last of England an excoriating examination of Britain under Thatcher and also The Garden, Wittgenstein (1993) and then Edward II and providing the narration for Blue. She also worked with Sally Potter as the lead in Orlando (1992) based upon the book by Virginia Wolff.
Swinton has also had a good working relationship with John Maybury appearing in both his screen adaptation for TV of Man to Man which Swinton had starred in as a stage play. Much later she would apear in Maybury's Love is the Devil (1998) a controversial film produced by the BBC and part funded by the National Lottery about the life of painter Francis Bacon.
Swinton increasingly took up work in the USA and appeared in films such as The Beach and Vanilla Sky becoming more familiar to American audiences. This undoubtedly helped her chances of being offered the role of Jadis in the Chronicles of Narnia series. 2008 can be seen as Tilda Swinton's most successful year in terms of international recognition when she won a BAFTA in February 2008 for her role in Michael Clayton a role in which she also gained an Oscar for best supporting actress. See Tom Brook's BBC America interview with Tilda Swinton.
There has been an ongoing committment to helping to develop Scottish cinema in the films she has acted in such as the low budget thriller The Young Adam alongside Scottish actor Ewan McGregor and directed by Scottish director David Mackenzie set amongst the Glasgow barge community, and written by the avante-garde Scottish author Alexander Trocchi her patronage of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and now her new festival project in Nairn the Cinema of Dreams. On the Young Adam link in the filmography there is a downloadable interview with her about developments in Scottish Cinema.
Tilda Swinton in the video installation Sleepwalkers
Swinton's interviews make interesting viewing for she is happy to give the interviewer's a hard time rather than rolling over for an imagined adoring audience. Often she will throw interviewer's sometimes sycophantic questions back at them. She has well thought out views, principles and perspectives and is following a career path which has now diversified into a rich and multilayered one going well beyond acting itself. She likes working with artists on moving image work rather than straightforward films. This was shown in her long collaboration with Derek Jarman as well as work with Sally Potter and then taking a role in the Maybury film about Francis Bacon. One of her most recent collaborations with an artist was on the video installation Sleepwalkers by Doug Aitken. Tilda Swinton is determined to set new challenges for herself and her audiences and dalliances with the mainstream appear to enhance her radical positions rather than compromise them.
||Year of Production
||Country of Production
|Zastrozzi: A Romance||1986|
| The Open Universe
|Egomania - Insel Ohne Hoffnung||1986|
| Friendship's Death
| Degrees Of Blindness (short)
| The Last Of England
| War Requiem
| Edward II
|The Garden||1990||Derek Jarman
|Blue (voice)||1993||Derek Jarman
|Love Is The Devil||1998
||John Maybury||BBC Films
|The War Zone||1999|
| Possible Worlds
|The Deep End||2001|
| Young Adam
| The Statement
|The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe||2005|
| Stephanie Daley
|Sleepwalkers (video installation)||2007||Doug Aitken
| The Man From London
|Michael Clayton [Oscar & BAFTA best supporting actress]||2007||USA
|Burn After Reading||2008||Cohen Brothers
|The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian||2008|
|The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button||2008||David fincher
Swinton takes on Cannes with cup cakes and Scottish rain
July 18, 2008
Star fever is clearly rampant in the case of Keira Knightley. Despite the fact that in Atonement many of the serious critics rather thought she was put in the shade by James McAvoy something I'm in agreement with. Her global reception is quite extraordinary with over 9.2 million Google hits on an initial search (21 / 07/ 08). This means that researching this there is a lot of drivel to search through however this does make me think that things haven't moved on from Adorno's day in the Culture Industry when it comes to film stars. But Walsh in the Independent thinks that this is perhaps her best performance yet:
Knightley gives Vera an independence and complexity that's aeons ahead of the spunky pirate babe Elizabeth Swann or the crosspatch aristocrat Cecilia Tallis in Atonement. (Walsh, Independent, 19 / 06 / 08)
The Times online carries a story about how Knightley's mother is rejecting rumours being spread about whether Keira has anorexia or not. Nowadays star status means instant commentary whizzing around the internet. For a woman actor is appears as though their body is their primary asset. Take Walsh's comments from the Independent which create a discourse of 'sexiness' around a star:
Keira Knightley's astounding physiognomy.....Within 20 seconds, every male heart on the platform (and in the cinema) becomes her devoted slave, as her eyes and lips and hair and skin and voice construct a sensory web of enchantment. (Ibid)
The way the comment is phrased is a fine example of what Laura Mulvey has described as the 'male gaze' which, if we extend the concept beyond the confines of the cinema itself to the critical and fan community, shows us how a discourse of a star can be maintained. whether or not she can act seems besides the point.
Bend it like Beckham
Parminder Nagra & Keira Knightley in Bend it Like Beckham (2002). Gurinder Chadha
Pirates of the Caribbean
Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom in The Pirates of the Caribbean series
Kiera Knightley & Johnny Depp in The Pirates of the Caribbean series
Pride & Prejudice
Keira Knightley & Matthew MacFadyen as Mr Darcy in Pride & Prejudice. 2005 Dir: Joe Wright
The Edge of Love
Kiera Knightley & Sienna Miller in The Edge of Love (2008) Dir: John Maybury
The Duchess 2008
...but the film is let down by a central performance from Knightley which overly emphasises her increasingly-annoying tendency to let her lips do the acting - tightly pursed equals unhappy or determined, open means `look at me, aren't I vivacious'.(Manchester Evening News Review of The Duchess)
Facing Fiennes, the junior cast, like lambs to the slaughter, go to pieces. Knightley gives great profile (just as she gave great close-up in Edge of Love); Dominic Cooper plays her lover, Charles Grey, as a one-note automaton; while Haley Atwell’s strumpet Bess is wonderful at saucy stares but struggles with the spoken word. In short, Fiennes: 4, Kids: Nil. (Timesonline Review of Duchess)
Filmography (British films)
Year of Production
||Country of Production
|Bend it Like Beckham
|Pride and Prejudice
||Joe Wright||Working Title
|Edge of Love
Keira Knightley's mother Sharman MacDonald on being the scriptwriter of The Edge of Love
Guardian: Wollaston interview with Knightley (Aug 2008): Not especially deep and meaningful. Clearly part of the film's pre-release marketing strategy.
Telegraph article on Knightley's agreement to play in intimate scenes in The Duchess and her attitude to nude acting in general.
BBC Woman's Hour Knightley Interview (Currently available on Listen Again)
Daily Mail interview with Knightley. Discusses her dyslexia and lack of education as she dropped out of colege before taking A levels.
Timesonline. Knightley interview. Says wants to drop acting as pressure too great. (2007)