Jane, Campion 1955(?)–
New Zealander filmmaker.
The following entry provides an overview of Campion's career through 1994.
Campion is best known for films that feature strong, compelling female characters and realistic—while also somewhat oneiric—narratives. Her early works are characterized by highly stylized techniques and a nonlinear, experimental approach to storytelling. Her subsequent work—best exemplified by The Piano (1993)—rely less on technical flourishes and emphasize the development and subjective experiences of her protagonists.
Campion was born in Wellington, New Zealand, to parents who were professionally involved in the theatre—her father was a director and her mother an actress and author. After unsuccessful attempts studying art in Venice and working with a documentary film producer in London, Campion attended the Sydney College of Arts in Australia. During her last year of study there she made her first short film, Tissues (1981). In 1984 she earned a diploma in directing from the prestigious Australian Film, Television, and Radio School. Campion's work first gained widespread critical attention at the 1986 Cannes International Film Festival, where her film Peel (1982)—made in her second year at the Australian Film, Television, and Radio School—won the Palme d'Or award in the short film category.
Campion's early short works and the feature-length Sweetie (1989) are marked by what she has described as a maverick approach to filmmaking. Sweetie, considered Campion's first major work, blends the supernatural with the mundane, the comic with the tragic. The story focuses on the relationship between Kay—a somewhat emotionally disturbed young woman who is deathly afraid of trees—and her sister Sweetie—a loud, overweight, manic-depressive aspiring actress with a voracious appetite for drugs, alcohol, and sex. The theme of the tenuous distinction between sanity and insanity is explored when Kay's father, Sweetie, and Sweetie's boyfriend all move in with her. This theme is further developed in An Angel at My Table (1990), in which Campion fulfilled a long-held desire to make a film about novelist and fellow New Zealander Janet Frame. Based on Frame's three autobiographies—To the Is-Land (1982), An Angel at My Table (1984), and The Envoy from the Mirror City (1985)—the film features three actresses in the role of Frame from childhood through adulthood. The story follows Frame from her isolated and uneventful childhood, her culture shock and emotional troubles upon going away to school, through her endurance of shock therapy after an inaccurate diagnosis of schizophrenia, and her eventual marginal assimilation into society and maturation into a respected author. The Piano begins when the willfully mute mail-order bride Ada (Holly Hunter), her illegitimate daughter Flora (Anna Paquin), and their belongings—including Ada's full-sized piano—are delivered from England to a deserted beach in New Zealand and left to wait for the arrival of Ada's new husband, Stewart (Sam Neill). Ignorant of the piano's importance to Ada, Stewart orders it left behind when he arrives the next day. The piano is later retrieved by Stewart's assistant, Baines (Harvey Keitel), who suspects its significance. The themes of interpersonal communication and marital relationships are developed as Baines, not Stewart, recognizes and exploits the fact that Ada's piano-playing is her most important means of self-expression.
Critical opinions about Campion's work vary. While she is generally recognized as a technically skilled filmmaker, some critics believe she emphasizes the purely stylistic aspects of her films at the expense of the cohesiveness of her stories. For example, Campion and the actresses from Sweetie were lambasted by critics at the Cannes film festival in 1989; later that year, however, the film received the Australian Film Critics' Circle awards for best film and best director. Noting the stylistic experimentation of her early work, several critics have stated that with An Angel at My Table Campion displayed a growing artistic maturity. The film received numerous awards in 1991, including the Toronto Film Festival Critics Award, the Otto Debelius Prize from the international jury at the Berlin Film Festival, the Elvira Notari Award for the best woman director, and eight awards from the Venice Film Festival. Critics observed that Campion was much more gentle in her treatment of the real-life Janet Frame than she had been toward her previous fictional characters, Sweetie in particular. Many reviewers of The Piano praised Campion's skill in accurately reproducing 19th-century period detail, acknowledged the artfully and technically impressive camera work in the film, and commended her ability to elicit impassioned performances from actors. Other commentators were made uncomfortable by her use of the camera, specifically the reliance on close-ups, and suggested that the film's narrative was too elliptical, requiring the viewer to draw connections and conclusions that the film should have depicted. The Piano was recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with an Oscar for best original screenplay and a nomination for best director.
Tissues (film) 1981
Peel: An Exercise in Discipline (film) 1982
A Girl's Own Story (film) 1983
After Hours (film) 1984
Passionless Moments (film) 1984
Two Friends (film) 1986
Sweetie [with Gerard Lee] (film) 1989
An Angel at My Table [with Laura Jones] (film) 1990
The Piano (film) 1993
Portrait of a Lady [with Jones; based on the novel The Portrait of a Lady (1881) by Henry James] (film) 1996
∗Campion directed all the films listed here. Bracketed information refers to screenwriting credit.
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SOURCE: "Sweetie: Jane Campion's Maverick Family," in American Film, Vol. XV, No. 4, January, 1990, pp. 59, 65.
[In the following review, Seidenberg examines Campion's treatment of family life in Sweetie.]
Dark, destructive forces simmer under the surface of everyday life, held at bay by repression and denial. Add a little pressure to the mix and those forces bubble over. In the offbeat comedy Sweetie, Jane Campion's feature debut, they erupt with volcanic force, bringing chaos to an Australian family.
"In families, like everything else, there's the good side and the sick side," explains Campion, a 35-year-old New Zealander living in Sydney. "In Sweetie, the family is in distress, and under stress things usually don't come out so well."
Fulfilling the prophecy of a fortune-teller, Kay (Karen Colston) falls for a man with "a question mark"—formed by a cowlick and mole—on his forehead. A year later, the road turns rocky. The brooding Kay turns frigid. Her romance dissolves. Even worse, she's visited by her manic sister, Sweetie (Genevieve Lemon).
Though she's an irresponsible, conniving adult, Sweetie still sees herself as daddy's little girl: a sweet, tap-dancing show-off with infinite potential. She'll stoop to anything to get attention, even barking and biting like an incensed hound. With her erratic behavior, she's detonated...
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SOURCE: "Move Over David Lynch, Here Comes Australia's 'Sweetie,'" in Los Angeles Times, February 14, 1990, pp. F2-F3.
[In the following review of Sweetie, Benson focuses on the relationship between Kay and her sister, Sweetie.]
We haven't had a movie as profoundly unsettling as Sweetie since Blue Velvet. David Lynch's dark metaphor created the same reactions as Jane Campion's first feature; both of them have been called masterly and disgusting, by turns. But while Campion's vision is no less precise and no less bizarre than Lynch's and while both directors deal in manifestations of the unconscious, the comparisons stop there.
Writer-director Campion has her own powerful identity and a far less ominous affect. Sweetie is warm, intense and wickedly funny, with a faint edge of danger that's never quite absent, but it has none of Lynch's psycho-sexual torment. Made with a post-Modernist's eye and a brilliant satiric ear, Sweetie is the announcement of a singular, smashing talent.
Campion's subject is families, pressure-cookers with no safety valves. She seems to have total recall for details of jealousy and score-keeping, unquestioned love and resentment as she sketches the pulls between two sisters, Sweetie, "Dad's real girl," who's had lifelong, unquestioning love, and her sister Kay, who's never felt loved at all.
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SOURCE: A review of Sweetie, in The Nation, New York, Vol. 250, No. 7, February 19, 1990, p. 252.
[In the following review, Klawans praises the narrative structure and visual style of Sweetie.]
One of the first things you see in Sweetie is the muddy-hued, domestic equivalent of a Rorschach blot: the pattern in a carpet. The camera peers down on this floral invitation to daydreaming, which takes up most of the screen; to one side, a fragment of the narrator's body is visible. Kay (Karen Colston) begins to talk in voiceover about her fantasies, but you already know plenty about them from the image. Sweetie—the utterly distinctive and assured first feature by Jane Campion—will be about the meanings people read into whatever they choose to see as clues: tea leaves, a tossed coin, a stray curl of hair, a little girl's aptitude for clowning. And just as the opening shot is off-center, so too are the characters. Not only do they spend their lives interpreting auguries, but they invariably look at them askew.
Kay begins by deciding that her auguries lead straight to Lou (Tom Lycos). He is the sort of earnest, not-too-bright young man who, believing whatever he's told, spends a lot of his time trying to understand pure nonsense. Though engaged to one of Kay's friends at work—a commitment that has lasted "for fifty-five minutes," as he points out—he yields immediately...
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SOURCE: A review of Sweetie, in New Republic, Vol. 202, No. 3919, February 26, 1990, pp. 26-7.
[Kauffmann is an American playwright, actor, director, and critic. In the following excerpt, he contends that Campion is more interested in her film's visual impact than its narrative.]
Jane Campion is a newcomer, a New Zealander who works in Australia and is now loudly hailed in America. Sweetie is her first feature. She wrote it with Gerard Lee; but after the first five or six minutes, it's clear that her heart is not in the screenplay, it's in the pictures that she makes with her cinematographer Sally Bongers.
Still, there is a screenplay—about a young Australian factory worker named Kay, who believes in omens and hauntings. Tea leaves, for instance. A medium tells her that a question mark will figure in her life. She then meets Lou, a young man whose hair curls in a question mark on his forehead. Immediately she seduces him away from his fiancée. Then Sweetie arrives at the house that Kay shares with Lou. Sweetie is Kay's adipose, highly disturbed sister who thinks she's a pop singer and who brings along her drugged-out "producer." Sweetie immediately slovens up the house, in her neurotic way, and the parents can't help, because back in their house, Mom has just left Dad and has gone out west to become a cook on a ranch (as we'd call it).
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SOURCE: "Jane Campion's 'Angel' Is Another Quirky Soul," in New York Times, May 19, 1991, p. 22.
[In the following review, McDonagh draws comparisons between An Angel at My Table and Campion's previous works, arguing that the director is kinder to her subject in the film under review.]
"Just show me an ordinary person," says the director Jane Campion, "and I'll show you a troubled soul." And she should know; troubled souls are her stock in trade. Her first feature, Sweetie, revolved around two warring sisters: the dour Kay, who has nightmares about trees with human powers, and Sweetie, who is exuberant, impulsive and destructively out of control. The heroine of Miss Campion's new film, An Angel at My Table—adapted from the autobiography of the renowned New Zealand poet and novelist Janet Frame—is a prickly introvert who spent eight years in a mental institution and much of the rest of her life repairing her fragile sense of self. But where Miss Campion was casually hard on Kay in Sweetie, she is gentle to the awkward, high-strung Miss Frame, kinder even than the author is to herself.
Like Miss Frame's autobiography [also titled An Angel at My Table], An Angel at My Table, opening today in New York City, is divided into three parts. Alexia Cox portrays Miss Frame as a little girl; Karen Fergusson plays her as a teen-ager, and Kerry Fox as an...
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SOURCE: Review of An Angel at My Table, in New Republic, Vol. 204, No. 3985, June 3, 1991, pp. 28-9.
[In the following review, Kauffmann asserts that Campion "has moved forward healthily" with An Angel at My Table, eschewing the "precious camera work" of Sweetie to put "her (considerable) pictorial skill at the service of Janet Frame."]
Last year, reviewing Jane Campion's Sweetie, I said, "If Campion can accept that we now know about her [pictorial] eye and can concentrate on an integrated story, she might make a good traditional filmmaker." She hadn't waited for my advice: she was already almost finished with Angel at My Table, which is traditional in approach, which employs her eye to present a narrative, and which is good.
Angel at My Table is a two-and-a-half-hour distillation, by the screenwriter Laura Jones, of Janet Frame's three volumes of autobiography. (The books are now available in one paperbound volume from George Braziller.) The film calls itself a trilogy, with one section devoted to each volume. For those who haven't read the books, the story may be surprising. We know that Frame is an eminent writer, and we know that she will move from ordinary beginnings to recognition and success. But we are not prepared for much of the dark texture that intervenes or for the odd, almost cheery tone in which even the worst moments are...
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SOURCE: "Outlaw Princesses," in The New Yorker, Vol. LXVII, No. 15, June 3, 1991, pp. 86-8.
[In the following excerpt, Rafferty describes An Angel at My Table as a "perverse exercise in biographical filmmaking," faulting Campion for keeping viewers disoriented and withholding from them a sense of Frame's "inner life."]
An Angel at My Table is based on the autobiography of the New Zealand novelist and poet Janet Frame. It covers the first forty years or so of the writer's life—she was born in 1924—and takes close to three hours to tell the story. When it's all over, you feel that you know far too little about Janet Frame and far too much about the film's director, Jane Campion. Frame's life doesn't seem to have been a particularly dramatic one. She grew up shy and literary, in a working-class family that moved around a lot, being shifted from town to town by the father's employer, the railroad. Her childhood and adolescence were, by her own account, spent in a kind of happy isolation from the world, within the safe confines of her affectionate family and her own imagination, which was fired by sentimental poetry and popular songs. Aside from the sudden death of her older sister, nothing much happened to Janet until she left home to go to teachers college in the city, where she found herself painfully ill-equipped to deal with the emotional demands of the outside world. In the...
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SOURCE: "An Angel at My Table: Jane Campion Throws a Curve," in American Film, Vol. XVI, No. 7, July, 1991, pp. 52-3.
[In the following review, Drucker finds An Angel at My Table "as subtle and straightforward as Sweetie was startling and stylized."]
Director Jane Campion woke up the film world in 1989 with the bizarre, darkly comic vision of Sweetie. A tale about the rivalry between two sisters—one neurotic, the other psychotic—Campion's feature debut boasted eerie dream sequences, flamboyant characters and altogether odd behavior.
Just when critics thought they had Campion pegged (many referred to her as a female David Lynch), the 37-year-old filmmaker threw a curve. Campion's follow-up film, An Angel at My Table, is as subtle and straightforward as Sweetie was startling and stylized. The story of celebrated New Zealand author Janet Frame (played in turn by Alexia Keogh as the young Janet, Karen Fergusson as the teenager and, in an astonishingly controlled performance, Kerry Fox as the adult Janet), Angel is, in Campion's own words, a "gentler, more humanist piece."
Almost twice as long, slower-paced and less experimental than Sweetie, Angel does share one element with its predecessor: the theme of insanity. The title character of Sweetie, a gregarious madwoman, imagines herself a talented singer, and...
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SOURCE: "Jane Campion's Lunatic Women," in New York Times Magazine, September 19, 1993, pp. 40-1, 44, 51.
[Cantwell is an American editor, nonfiction writer, and critic. In the following essay, based on an interview with Campion, Cantwell surveys Campion's life and works, focusing on the female characters in Campion's films.]
This October, a romantic epic titled The Piano, written and directed by a New Zealander named Jane Campion, will be the grand finale of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center. In November it will open all over the country. The Piano, which is set in 19th-century New Zealand, has already made Campion the first woman to win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and the reviews so far—but for a cavil about its being too consciously an "art" film—have been ecstatic. Vincent Canby of The New York Times, for instance, described The Piano as "a triumph … so good, so tough, so moving and, especially, so original." Yet when I asked a friend, like me a great admirer of Campion's work, what she wanted to learn from my interview with the film maker, she replied, "First, I want to know if she's sane."
I had expected curiosity about why Australia, where Campion went to film school and lives, has produced what seems to be an inordinate number of world-class directors: Bruce Beresford and Peter Weir and George Miller among them. Or...
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SOURCE: "Bodyscape," in Sight and Sound, Vol. 3, No. 10, October, 1993, pp. 6-10.
[In the following essay, Bruzzi compares The Piano to other dramatic works dealing with sexuality in the Victorian Age and argues that The Piano is a "cryptic and evocative exploration of how women's sexuality, clothes and lives interconnect."]
At the beginning of The Piano, Ada (Holly Hunter), a mute Scottish woman, arrives in New Zealand with her nine-year-old daughter Flora. They disembark on a remote beach, where they are left by the sailors who accompanied them to await Ada's new husband Stewart (Sam Neill), a rich local landowner. Their strung-out possessions are silhouetted in a flimsy line against the evening sun. Another silhouetted, skeletal structure comes into shot: a tent, made from Ada's hoops and underskirts, beneath which they shelter for the night.
The Piano ends with a parallel scene as Ada, having left Stewart, returns to the beach and boards a boat with Flora, her lover Baines (Harvey Keitel) and the possessions she arrived with. To preserve the equilibrium of the boat she orders her prized piano to be discarded. As it is tipped overboard her foot is caught in the unravelling rope and she is dragged under. Her upturned hoops and skirts billow out against the luminous water. At this point, as at others through the film, Ada appears to be trapped and defeated...
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SOURCE: A review of The Piano, in Sight and Sound, Vol. 3, No. 11, November, 1993, pp. 50-1.
[In the following excerpt, Francke comments on theme in The Piano, noting that the film "demands as much a physical and emotional response as an intellectual one."]
For a while I could not think, let alone write, about The Piano without shaking. Precipitating a flood of feelings, The Piano demands as much a physical and emotional response as an intellectual one. As with the Maoris in the film who, believing the Bluebeard shadow play to be real, attempt to stop the old duke add another wife to his collection, I wanted to rush at the screen and shout and scream. Not since the early days of cinema, when audiences trampled over each other towards the exit to avoid the train emerging from the screen, could I imagine the medium of film to be so powerful. Like Ada's piano music, which is described as "a mood that passes through you … a sound that creeps into you", this is cinema that fills every sense. The opening shot of delicate pink skin smoothed over the screen, as fingers hide eyes, suggests the membrane that the audience must burst through to make the painful and traumatic trek into the film's dark, gnarled woods, finally to be released in the watery death/birth of an ending. Moving pictures indeed.
A film about silence and expression beyond language, The...
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SOURCE: "Rain Forest Rhapsody: The Piano Is a Work of Passion and Beauty," in Maclean's, Vol. 106, No. 47, November 22, 1993, pp. 72, 74.
[In the following review, Johnson praises The Piano on a number of counts, including its story and strong female leading role, and describes it as "a welcome antidote to almost everything that seems to be wrong with the movies."]
Every now and then, a movie comes along that restores faith in the visionary power of cinema. The Piano, a haunting fable about a mute mail-order bride caught between two men in the wilds of 19th-century New Zealand, is that kind of film. It arrives as a welcome antidote to almost everything that seems to be wrong with the movies. People complain that there are no good stories, that there are no strong roles for women, that there is no eroticism, just sex—no magic, just manipulation. On all counts, The Piano serves as an exhilarating exception to the rule. And for New Zealand-born director Jane Campion, it marks a milestone. Last spring, she became the first woman in the 48-year history of the Cannes Film Festival to win the grand prize, the Palme d'Or. And her film—a wildly original work of passion, beauty and intelligence—confirms her status, at 39, as one of the best directors working today.
With The Piano, Campion expands her repertoire of strong-willed, unbalanced heroines. Her...
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SOURCE: Review of The Piano, in The Nation, New York, Vol. 257, No. 19, December 6, 1993, pp. 704-06.
[In the following mixed review, Klawans finds The Piano contrived and allegorized, but acknowledges that most viewers will admire the film's eroticism and formal inventiveness.]
A skeptic's notes on the most believed-in movie of the year:
No one will deny that Jane Campion's The Piano is a genuinely erotic picture. That alone would have made it stand out in any era; it glows all the brighter today, when screen couplings resemble either the Clash of the Titans (Basic Instinct) or a perfume ad (Henry and June). What a stimulus, what a relief, to see Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel get naked in The Piano, in a scene with both heat and moisture; what delicious suspense later on, when Hunter explores the skittish body of Sam Neill. Poems will soon be written about the curves of the performers' buttocks as they're outlined in candlelight; about the atmosphere that surrounds the dropping away of each item of clothing; about the immediate tactile shock when flesh first touches flesh in the film, in closeup, as a fingertip covers a tiny hole in Hunter's stocking. Such moments are surely beyond even a skeptic's power to resist.
Nor could the most hardened skeptic doubt the beauty of The Piano. Campion has set the film in the...
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SOURCE: "Praise Jack, Shoot 'The Piano,'" in National Review, Vol. 45, No. 25, December 27, 1993, pp. 65-7.
[Simon is a Yugoslavian-born American film and theater critic. In the following excerpt, he argues that The Piano contains numerous logical inconsistencies that detract from its quality.]
At a New York Film Festival press conference, Jane Campion said she had originally intended to have the Cannes grand-prize-winning The Piano end with the drowning of the heroine. Instead, she has her going off to live happily ever after with her lover. I wonder about a writer-director who ends up making the opposite of what she set out to do.
The film starts with Ada, a Scottish mail-order bride, arriving on a desolate New Zealand coast with her small daughter, Flora. It's sometime in the nineteenth century, and there is no dock; the sailors unceremoniously dump people and their belongings on a deserted beach. Next day, Stewart, the husband, arrives with some Maori carriers. As the return trek leads through muddy jungles, Stewart decrees that Ada's most precious possession, her piano, be temporarily left behind, exposed to the mercy of the waves and weather. Ada, by the way, is mute, and communicates with her daughter in a home-made sign language; with others, via a notebook she wears around her neck, on whose pages she furiously scribbles the notes she hands out. Early sequences of...
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SOURCE: "Sound Effects," in America, Vol. 170, No. 2, January 15, 1994, p. 14.
[Blake is an American educator, editor, film critic, and Roman Catholic priest. In the following review, he asserts that The Piano provides "a brilliant analysis" of human isolation and remarks on Campion's artistic development.]
Traditionally, the holiday season works violence on the emotions. It offers images of happy family gatherings, but the sad reality is that many people eat Thanksgiving dinner alone in cafeterias, neither give nor receive Christmas presents and play solitaire on New Year's Eve. At a time when need for communication becomes obsessive, loneliness weighs like a Yule log on the heart. The January removal of Christmas decorations from shop windows comes as a blessed relief.
The Piano, written and directed by Jane Campion, offers a brilliant analysis of such poignant human isolation. Ada (Holly Hunter) cannot speak, Baines (Harvey Keitel) cannot read and Stewart (Sam Neill) cannot love. Despite their tragic solitude, masking its painful truth under a guise of self-sufficiency, each longs for the touch of another person. Since they cannot communicate directly, a piano mediates their relationships, thus assuming a symbolic, even mystical function throughout the film. It, rather than the human characters, is the center of the story.
Through voice-over narration,...
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SOURCE: "Shoot the Piano Player," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XLI, No. 3, February 3, 1994, pp. 29-30.
[In the following review, Kerr discusses the scenery, costumes, and narrative of The Piano, arguing that Campion creates an "immersion experience" rather than a dramatic narrative.]
Several reviewers of her latest film [The Piano] have called Jane Campion a fourth Brontë sister. Campion, too, has dropped hints that this is where she got her inspiration. Attached to the book version of her screenplay, there is an appendix entitled "The Making of The Piano" in which she is quoted comparing "the kind of romance that Emily Brontë portrayed" to the perverse love affair in her film. This statement sent me paging through an old paperback of Wuthering Heights, where I came across a preface by Charlotte Brontë, an eloquent defense of her sister's novel written for the 1850 edition, two years after Emily's death. In it, Charlotte concedes that the central characters of Catherine and especially Heathcliff were perhaps too "tragic and terrible," and she finds the Yorkshire setting unrelievedly stark. But she counters that brightening the dialogue or adding a day trip to London would have subtracted from what was most true about the book. Emily's nature had, after all, been a brooding one. Bleak heaths and gnarled firs were the everyday view outside her window. Besides,...
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SOURCE: A review of The Piano, in Film Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 3, Spring, 1994, pp. 46-50.
[Greenberg is an American educator, psychiatrist, nonfiction writer, and author of Screen Memories: Hollywood Cinema on the Psychoanalytic Couch (1993). In the following review, he discusses the themes of The Piano, focusing on sexuality and identity.]
Jane Campion's Sweetie (1989) described the calamitous impact of a raucous schizophrenic woman upon her relatives. An Angel at My Table (1990), based on the autobiography of Janet Frame, depicted the no less harrowing effects of institutionalization upon a female writer misdiagnosed as chronically schizophrenic. The Piano, directed from her own screenplay, comprises Campion's most extraordinary exploration of unsettled, unsettling feminine outsiders to date. Its heroine is Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter), a Victorian unwed mother of pallid countenance and somber dress, whose silent compliance conceals and protects a fiercely unconventional spirit.
Ada is not so much unable as unwilling to speak. She suffers, or, depending upon one's viewpoint, practices elective mutism. This rare, puzzling condition usually develops in early childhood and occurs rather more frequently in girls than boys. The electively mute child has been characterized as symbiotically bound to a powerfully possessive adult; as alternately...
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SOURCE: "A Key to The Piano," in The Women's Review of Books, Vol. XI, Nos. 10-11, July, 1994, pp. 35-6.
[In the following review, Halprin discusses The Piano in relation to the published screenplay and comments on the film's literary influences.]
I am frightened of my will, of what it might do, it is so strange and strong.
Jane Campion began writing the script for her acclaimed and controversial third feature film, The Piano, in 1984, nine years before it reached the screen. The published script, accompanied by production notes, monochrome stills and credits, is a literary oddity which owes its life and reason for being to the film. It serves as a study guide, clarifying and articulating the territory the film explores.
The Piano is marked by unusual visual perspective, strong acting and music-impelled narrative. Set in the 1850s, it tells the story of Ada McGrath, mute by her own decision from the age of six, and her illegitimate ten-year-old daughter Flora, who accompanies her from Scotland to the New Zealand bush to start a new home with Stewart, the mail-order husband procured by Ada's father. Flora shares a private sign language with her mother and serves as her voice in the world. Stewart, despite Flora's translation, is unable to understand Ada or her passion for her piano, her other voice....
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Lane, Anthony. "Sheet Music." The New Yorker, No. 40 (29 November 1993): 148-51.
Asserts that viewers will find The Piano somewhat forbidding and tedious but contends that it "easily outstrips most of what we see these days."
Lopate, Phillip. Review of An Angel at My Table, by Jane Campion. Vogue 181 (March 1991): 260, 266.
Notes there is evidence of a broadening emotional range in An Angel at My Table.
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