Potter, Sally 1949-

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Potter, Sally 1949-
(Charlotte Sally Potter)


Born September 19, 1949, in London, England. Education: Attended St. Martin's School of Art and London School of Contemporary Dance.


Agent—Bart Walker, Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212-1825.


Film director, composer, actor, and author. Performer and cofounder of Strider and Limited Dance Company; solo performance artist. Codirector of plays, including Mounting, Death and the Maiden, and Berlin; director of films, including 73 hors d'oeuvres, 1968, Play, 1968, The Building, 1968, Thriller, 1979, London Story, 1980, The Gold Diggers, 1983, Orlando, 1992, The Tango Lesson, 1997, The Man Who Cried, 2000, and Yes, 2004; director of television programs Tears, Laughter, Fear and Rage, 1987, and I Am an Ox, I Am a Horse, I Am a Man, I Am a Woman, 1988; lyricist and singer with musical groups, including Feminist Improvisation Group and Film Music Orchestra. Collaborated with composer Lindsay Cooper on song cycle "Oh Moscow."


Reader Jury of the "Zitty" Award, Berlin International Film Festival, 1983, for The Gold Diggers; FIPRESCI Prize from International Federation of Film Critics, Golden Alexander from Thessaloniki Film Festival, and OCIC Award from Venice Film Festival, all 1992, and Best Film from Sitges-Catalonian International Film Festival, and Best Young Film from European Film Awards, both 1993, all for Orlando; Satyajit Ray Award, San Francisco International Film Festival, 1993; Best Film, Mar del Plata Film Festival, 1997, for The Tango Lesson.



(And producer and editor) Thriller (based on the opera La Bohème), Other Cinema, 1979.

(And editor) London Story, British Film Institute/Film Four International, 1980.

(With Lindsay Cooper and Rose English; and director and editor) The Gold Diggers, British Film Institute/Women Make Movies, 1983.

(And composer) Orlando (based on the novel by Virginia Woolf; Sony Pictures Classics, 1992), Faber & Faber (London, England), 1994.

(And actress, singer, and composer) The Tango Lesson, Sony Pictures Classics, 1997.

(And lyricist, and music producer) The Man Who Cried (Universal Pictures, 2000), Faber & Faber (London, England), 2000.

(And composer) Yes (Sony Pictures Classics, 2004), published as Yes: Screenplay and Notes, Newmarket Press (New York, NY), 2005.


Screenwriter and director Sally Potter is one of the most prominent female filmmakers in England today. She often explores feminist themes and takes unusual approaches to her movies, such as portraying a fictionalized version of herself or writing a script in verse. She first won cinema enthusiasts' attention with the short film Thriller, a reworking the opera La Bohème to empower its doomed heroine. With Orlando she gained even wider fame by creating a film based on Virginia Woolf's novel of the same name that features a gender-changing protagonist who lives four hundred years. An essayist for Women Filmmakers & Their Films termed Potter an exemplar of British filmmaking's "imaginativeness, inventiveness, and biting integrity." Potter developed her craft at the London Filmmakers' Co-op, creating experimental shorts there before working as a dancer, musician, theater director, and performance artist. Thriller afforded her the opportunity to make her first feature movie, The Gold Diggers.

The Gold Diggers analyzes capitalism and gender roles by focusing on two women trying to make sense of their lives. It contains homages to various filmmakers and genres but lacks a conventional plot, which some critics found off-putting. New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin, for instance, called it "sort of a feminist, deconstructionist, riddle-filled anti-musical" and "pure torture." Some commentators had more positive assessments. On the whole the film is "a brilliant failure," as Anne Ciecko attested in Velvet Light Trap. According to several accounts, Potter was deeply disappointed that the film failed to draw audiences. She directed television programs for a few years before making her next theatrical feature, Orlando.

The title character in Orlando, inspired by Woolf's lover and fellow writer Vita Sackville-West, is born a British nobleman in the Elizabethan era. He writes poetry and serves in the diplomatic corps. Still alive in the eighteenth century, however, he becomes a woman, facing the loss of her home because of her gender, which reflects Sackville-West's experience. The female Orlando falls in love with a man, bears a child, and lives into the twentieth century. In Entertainment Weekly Owen Gleiberman termed the movie "a belabored satirical assault upon 'the patiarchy,'" and in the National Review, John Simon commented that "Potter's feminist politics are grafted on everywhere." Simon further remarked that the film is "not even as

faithful to its sources as Classic Comix are to theirs." Nation critic Stuart Klawans, however, observed that "Potter has her own picture of the immortal, eternally youthful, sex-switching Orlando, who nevertheless comes close enough to the original to satisfy Woolf fans;h3 . I think the film is every bit as good as the book." To New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby Orlando was "a grand new movie that is as much a richly informed appreciation of the novel as it is a free adaptation." He added: "Potter's achievement is in translating to film something of the breadth of Woolf's remarkable range of interests," including "the relation of the sexes and the very nature of the sexes."

The relation of the sexes also figures in The Tango Lesson, in which Potter and dancer-teacher Pablo Veron act out a fictionalized version of their real-life love affair, and dance represents male-female dynamics. Potter at first resists following Veron's lead in dancing, but she eventually becomes a willing pupil and his performing partner. "Their relationship accelerates, personal difficulties paralleling the professional," reported Rose Anne Thom in Dance Magazine. The film's dance sequences received acclaim, with New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin describing them as "supple," although she found the work otherwise "a handsome, drily meticulous film with no real fire." Thom wrote that during the dances, "Potter's camera captures the passionate implications of every move," but she also praised other aspects of the film, such as its "moments of humor." Entertainment Weekly contributor Lisa Schwartzbaum had positive words for The Tango Lesson as well, dubbing it "very personal, very womanly, very lovely."

The Man Who Cried also features music and dance, but here it is in the service of historical fiction. The movie follows a young Jewish woman through her escape from Russia, just ahead of invading Nazis, to Paris. Once in France she becomes a nightclub performer and has a romance with a gypsy; she then journeys to the United States to find her father. Some reviewers considered the film a disappointment. To New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell, for example, it has "the grandeur of an epic" without "an epic sweep." He deemed it "a series of climactic moments … strung together without the undercurrents that might build character." Variety commentator Deborah Young thought it "ends up resembling nothing so much as old Hollywood stereotypes about Europe between the wars." In Interview, however, Guy Lesser remarked that Potter "takes graceful steps with this melancholy valentine to wartime love." Neil Smith, writing for the British Broadcasting Corporation Web site, termed The Man Who Cried "a heartfelt exercise in quality filmmaking."

Yes, a screenplay written in verse, portrays an affair between a Lebanese refugee and a married American scientist in London. Their relationship "gets complicated by social-political-racial factors," Andrew Sun related in the Hollywood Reporter. Sun called the film "a linguistic treat" but thought Potter tried to explore too many issues. New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott deemed the film's political commentary shallow, with "the psychological weight and ideological nuance of a bumper sticker." IndieWire contributor Jeannette Catsoulis, on the other hand, considered the film "an ambitious and lyrical argument for tolerance and selfawareness." The published version of the screenplay also received praise, with a Publishers Weekly critic saying it "reads as beautifully as … well, a poem."



Women Filmmakers & Their Films, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.


Australian Screen Education, autumn, 2003, Christina Lane, "The Compromised Sexual Positioning of Orlando: Postmodern Play in Gender and Filmic Conventions," p. 95.

Booklist, June 1, 2005, Ray Olson, review of Yes: Screenplay and Notes, p. 1738.

Camera Obscura, December, 2003, Aniko Imre, "Twin Pleasures of Feminism: Orlando Meets My Twentieth Century," p. 19.

Cineaste, winter, 1993, Pat Dowell, review of Orlando, p. 36.

Dance Magazine, December, 1997, Rose Anne Thom, review of The Tango Lesson, p. 84.

Entertainment Weekly, July 16, 1993, Owen Gleiberman, review of Orlando, p. 40; November 28, 1997, Lisa Schwartzbaum, review of The Tango Lesson, p. 58; June 12, 1998, Eileen Clarke, review of The Tango Lesson, p. 84.

Hollywood Reporter, September 17, 2004, Andrew Sun, review of Yes, p. 64.

Interview, June, 2001, Guy Lesser, review of The Man Who Cried, p. 58.

Mosaic, September, 1998, Susan Watkins, "Sex Change and Media Change: From Woolf's to Potter's Orlando" p. 41.

Nation, July 12, 1993, Stuart Klawans, review of Orlando, p. 77; December 22, 1997, Stuart Klawans, review of The Tango Lesson, p. 36.

National Review, July 5, 1993, John Simon, review of Orlando, p. 53.

New Republic, June 28, 1993, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Orlando, p. 26.

New Statesman & Society, March 12, 1993, Jonathan Romney, review of Orlando, p. 34.

New York Times, February 12, 1988, Janet Maslin, "Julie Christie in Gold Diggers from Britain"; March 19, 1993, Vincent Canby, "Witty, Pretty, Bold, a Real She-Man," review of Orlando; November 14, 1997, Janet Maslin, "Filmmaker Falls for the Tango in Paris"; May 25, 2001, Elvis Mitchell, "Big Moments, Beautiful but Mysterious," review of The Man Who Cried; June 24, 2005, A.O. Scott, "Adulterous Romance in a Fractious World."

O, The Oprah Magazine, June, 2005, Aaron Gell, "Try a Little Tenderness: Two New Films Explore the Engine—and Simple Poetry—of Love," review of Yes, p. 56.

People, June 21, 1993, Tom Gliatto, review of Orlando, p. 16.

Publishers Weekly, May 16, 2005, review of Yes: Screenplay and Notes, p. 54.

Style, summer, 2001, Karen Hollinger and Teresa Winterhalter, "Orlando's Sister, or Sally Potter Does Virginia Woolf in a Voice of Her Own," p. 237.

Variety, September 18, 2000, Deborah Young, review of The Man Who Cried, p. 37; September 15, 2004, Scott Foundas, review of Yes, p. 26.

Velvet Light Trap, spring, 1998, Anne Ciecko, "Transgender, Transgenre, and the Transnational: Sally Potter's Orlando," p. 19.

Women's Review of Books, January, 1994, Jane Marcus, review of Orlando, p. 11.


British Broadcasting Corporation Web site, http:// www.bbc.co.uk/ (December 6, 2000), James Motram, interview with Sally Potter; Neil Smith, review of The Man Who Cried.

Director's Chair, http://industrycentral.net/director_ interviews/ (October 18, 2006), Augusta Palmer, "Seven Questions with Sally Potter of The Tango Lesson"

IndieWire, http://www.indiewire.com/ (October 18, 2006), Jeannette Catsoulis, James Crawford, and Michael Joshua Rowin, "Man, Verse, Woman: Sally Potter's Yes.

Movie Habit, http://www.moviehabit.com/ (October 18, 2006), Marty Mapes, "Sally Potter: Director of Yes: Talks Language, Dance, and Film."

Screen Online, http://www.screenonline.org.uk/ (October 18, 2006), brief biography of Sally Potter.

Senses of Cinema, http://www.sensesofcinema.com/ (October 18, 2006), Kristi McKim, "‘A State of Loving Detachment’: Sally Potter's Impassioned and Intellectual Cinema."

World Socialist Web Site, http://www.wsws.org/ (August 27, 2005) Joanne Laurier, "Films from Sally Potter and Tim Burton: Thin and Wearing Thin."