Jane Campion Criticism - Essay

Robert Seidenberg (review date January 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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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Sheila Benson (review date 14 February 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.


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Stuart Klawans (review date 19 February 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Stanley Kauffmann (review date 26 February 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 586 words.)

Maitland McDonagh (review date 19 May 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1136 words.)

Stanley Kauffmann (review date 3 June 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Terrence Rafferty (review date 3 June 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Elizabeth Drucker (review date July 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Mary Cantwell (essay date 19 September 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 4616 words.)

Stella Bruzzi (essay date October 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Lizzie Francke (review date November 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 921 words.)

Brian D. Johnson (review date 22 November 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1458 words.)

Stuart Klawans (review date 6 December 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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John Simon (review date 27 December 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 entire section is 993 words.)

Richard A. Blake (review date 15 January 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1101 words.)

Sarah Kerr (review date 3 February 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Harvey Greenberg (review date Spring 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2649 words.)

Sara Halprin (review date July 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2042 words.)