revisiting the constant gardener
2020 movies, a chat

film fatales #105: the invisible frame (cynthia beatt, 2009)

This is the eighteenth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 18 is called "Contemporary Performers: Tilda Swinton Week".

Some actors are true chameleons, absorbing themselves into whichever role is thrown their way with a very high success rate. And I think its safe to say that one of the best modern examples of this talent is Tilda Swinton. She truly is a pleasure to see very time she shows up on screen, and fits pretty much any mold gracefully. Plus, she's involved in a healthy mix of mainstream pictures and smaller titles, so plenty of options to see her work.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film starring Tilda Swinton.

In 1988, Cynthia Beatt directed a semi-documentary short, Cycling the Frame, that featured Tilda Swinton riding a bicycle around the Berlin Wall. A year later, the Wall came down. Twenty years after that, Beatt and Swinton returned to Berlin and took a similar bike ride, albeit this time traveling on both sides of what used to be the Wall.

Tilda Swinton has such a unique presence that you could imagine watching her in anything, good or bad, and finding it intriguing. But does that extend to a movie that consists of 60 minutes of Tilda riding a bike? Well, it's only 60 minutes. It's unusual, and not clearly a documentary ... Swinton speaks in voice over, but it appears she's reading from a script. I haven't seen Cycling the Frame, and nothing in The Invisible Frame made me want to check out the earlier work. It might have been more interesting if I had a sense for where Swinton was at various times. As it is, I never knew which side of the "Wall" she was at from one scene to the next. So I'm left with an hour of Tilda Swinton riding a bike.

[Letterboxd list of Film Fatales]



I think it's hilarious that you ended up watching a film she made where she is unmistakably (maybe even brutally) some version of herself, instead of the "chameleon" that informed the theme.

Steven Rubio

It's funny, I had originally chosen a movie called Stephanie Daley for my Tilda Challenge, but at the last moment, I realized it was no longer easily available, and I had to change.

When I was teaching composition at Cal, one semester I had a TA ... brilliant woman who had interests a bit different from mine. When it was time for her to do her three weeks in charge, I asked how she thought the class was going, and she admitted it wasn't doing it for her. I said we have to fix that, so how about she choose a book that had a movie version and taught them both ... if the book was in paperback, it wouldn't mess with the students' pocketbooks much, and as long as the movie was available, we'd work that out. She chose Virginia Woolf's Orlando, the movie of which starred Swinton. It might have been my first encounter with Tilda, and while I didn't much like the film, she certainly got my attention. (The TA went on to great things, ending up a professor at Harvard.)

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