Ulrike Ottinger (b.1942, Konstanz, Germany) is an artist, film director, photographer and a key figure in the New German Cinema (Neuer Deutscher Film or Das Neue Kino), which began in the late 1960s and lasted into the 1980s. The movement spoke for an alienated generation who came of age in the decades immediately following the Second World War, and explored national, political and cultural identity. A feminist pioneer, Ottinger incorporated sexuality, the body and music in her work as identifying features of the new attitude embodied by the movement.
Freak Orlando (1981) is an outrageous time-travelling masquerade, structured in five episodes. Classified by Ottinger as Welttheater (World Theatre), it aims to encompass human history from its origins to the present, emphasising prejudice, incompetence, lust for power, fear, madness, cruelty and everyday life. Albeit with extreme irony, Ottinger revisits Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando: A Biography (1928), considered a landmark of modernist, feminist, queer and transgender writing, which follows a poet who lives for centuries, through various historical time-periods, and while doing so changes sex. Ottinger’s protagonists are a series of ‘disillusioned characters’ that recall carnival’s embracing of the marginalised, Tod Browning’s film Freaks (1932) and the photography of Diane Arbus. In this way, Ottinger blends Woolf’s novel with German camp into a theatre of difference.