Saturday, March 13, 2010

My Fantasy Girlfriend - Tilda Swinton

After half a lifetime's adulation, I finally met Ms Swinton - very briefly, in passing - a couple of times last March when she was in Beijing, with her friend the film critic Mark Cousins; they were here to host their 'homemade' Scottish Cinema Of Dreams festival. That should really debar her from inclusion in the ranks of the 'Fantasy Girlfriends'; it seems indecent to harbour amorous aspirations towards people that one actually knows (however very, very slightly). But.... rules are made to be broken. She was, in fact, one of the very first women I contemplated including in this series (before that 'disqualifying' personal encounter), but somehow I didn't get around to it. The time at last has come. I was reminded of Tilda again this week partly because the Bookworm International Literary Festival has just rolled around again (I saw her and Mark Cousins speak at this event last year, advertising their Scottish cinema festival), and partly because I watched the new Jim Jarmusch film, The Limits Of Control, last weekend - in which she makes a very striking cameo appearance (almost unrecognisable at first, in a platinum blonde wig, cowboy getup and sunglasses - below).

Her features are slightly odd, rather too extreme to be classically pretty: the skin too pale, the eyes too green, the cheekbones too angular. But she is unquestionably very beautiful; and there's a uniqueness about her beauty, a quality that calls to mind some of the iconic Hollywood leading ladies of the 1930s - an elegance, a hauteur, a luminescence that you just don't see any more. She is formidably intelligent, too: it shines through in all her film performances, and in her interviews. When you meet her in person, that intelligence is palpable; it's very, very rare that anyone really impresses me - much less dazzles me - with the sharpness of their brain, but Tilda does. And she has extraordinary charisma as well, quite colossal; I don't think I've ever seen someone who dominates a room so effortlessly. Yet, she doesn't seem to have too many starry affectations: she's unassuming, down-to-earth, approachable - just scarily bright. I believe it's her personality - the wit, the verve, the intellect - that beguiles me more than her striking looks.

Moreover, she is, like me, a passionate lover of the cinema (this is far from invariably the case with actors). In her presentation at The Bookworm last year she read this exquisite essay on the evocative power of film (inspired by her 8-year-old son's question: "What were dreams like before we had cinema?"). Apparently there's a film of her reading this, but I haven't been able to locate it online (they were supposed to have been showing this at The Worm, but the DVD had gone astray, so she had to read it live). You can also read/download Mark Cousins' response (a letter of encouragement to his eight-and-a-half-year-old self, reflecting on his own lifelong love of film) here

And there's another excellent piece by Tilda here (from The Guardian, way back in 2002), remembering the wonderfully eccentric director Derek Jarman, with whom she had worked in a number of her early films. I would have loved to include one of my favourite Tilda moments, as the lovably bossy Lady Ottoline Morrell (another likely candidate for a 'Fantasy Girlfriend' one day) in Jarman's Wittgenstein, reproving the self-indulgently angst-ridden German philosopher, as he once more lapses into suicidal self-doubt, with the words: "Nonsense! Full English breakfast - that's what you need. That'll sort you out." Unfortunately I couldn't find that bit on YouTube.

I think I first saw Tilda Swinton (nearly 20 years ago!) in Sally Potter's mesmerizing adaptation of Virginia Woolf's Orlando, where her beauty and intelligence were so bewitching that not even the character's androgyny could deter me from plunging into infatuation - so here's a brief clip of that.

And then here's her entertaining walk-on in The Limits Of Control, where she talks of her enthusiasm for films, saying: “I like movies that are like dreams. The ones where you’re not sure if you saw them or dreamed them.” Indeed.

[I'm afraid I didn't love this latest Jarmusch. Christopher Doyle's cinematography and the Spanish locations are gorgeous, and there are a series of engaging cameos like this one - John Hurt, Gabriel Garcia Bernal, Bill Murray. Ultimately, however, it's just too self-indulgent, too determinedly opaque, too repetitive and too long. I find I did sort of enjoy it - or at least appreciate it - for its very oddness; but it's not the kind of film that you could or would recommend to anyone else.]


stuart said...

"'s very, very rare that anyone really impresses me - much less dazzles me - with the sharpness of their brain, but Tilda does."

This comment reminds me of an interview I saw with Charlotte Rampling a decade or more ago. I never looked at her in quite the same way again. Amazing woman.

Froog said...

Ah yes, Charlotte Rampling - definitely pencilled in for a future spot in this series.

I always liked the remark (I forget who said it!) that there was something especially provocative about the fact that her surname sounded like a participle. And what red-blooded man would not wish to have been 'rampled'?

Froog said...

By the way, Stuart, I have just been preparing a bumper post on Mary Hopkin - for St Patrick's Day over on The Barstool. Since you are of an age with me, I suspect you'll rather like that.

JES said...

I don't know if this was the first use of the "to rample" bit, but the first time I saw it was in The New Yorker a few years back. (The profile is available online even to non-subscribers -- well done, New Yorker!) Definition there: "to ensorcell with an enigmatic gaze." (Someone showing off a bit there, I think.)

The first time I remember seeing Swinton was in The Deep End. She looked positively fraught in that, and I couldn't have named another actress who might have been cast in the role instead of her.

The cheekbones: wonder if she ever suffered from TMJ? I sense that if she did, she made TMJ pay for the privilege of afflicting her!

The clip from Limits of Control sort of unhinged me. Thanks for that.

P.S. Oh, and per Wikipedia just now, I see that she's also got some history not just as an artist, but as art. Wonder what Hugh MacLeod would make of that?

Froog said...

Oh yes, she 'slept' in a perspex sarcophagus in the Serpentine Gallery for a week, didn't she? I didn't get around to seeing that.

'Art'? Hmm. But she's certainly got a much more varied and risk-taking CV than most.

Did you check out her article on Cinema & Dreams? Wonderful stuff!