Nationality: New Zealander. Born: Wellington, 30 April 1954. Education: Victoria University, Wellington, B.A. in structural arts; Chelsea School of Arts, London, diploma in fine arts (completed at Sydney College of the Arts); Australian Film and Television School, diploma in direction. Family: Parents are opera/theater director Richard Campion and actress/writer Edith Campion; sister is director/screenwriter Anna Campion; married television producer/director Colin Englert. Career: Became interested in filmmaking and began making short films, late 1970s; short film, Tissues , led to her acceptance into the Australian Film and Television School, 1981; took job with Australia's Women's Film Unit, 1984; directed an episode of the television drama Dancing Daze , 1986; short films Peel , Passionless Moments , and Girls Own Story released theatrically in
Films as Director:
Peel (short) (+ sc, ed)
Mishaps of Seduction and Conquest (video short) (+ sc); Passionless Moments (short) (co-d, + co-sc, co-pr, ph); Girls Own Story (short) (+ sc); After Hours (short) (+ sc)
2 Friends (for Australian TV) (+ co-pr)
Sweetie (+ co-sc, story, casting dir)
An Angel at My Table (for Australian TV; edited version released theatrically)
The Piano (+ sc)
Portrait of a Lady
Holy Smoke (+ sc)
In the Cut (+ sc)
The Audition (Anna Campion) (ro)
Soft Fruit (Andreef) (exec pr)
By CAMPION: books—
Sweetie, the Screenplay , with Gerard Lee, St. Lucia, Queensland, 1991.
The Piano , New York, 1993.
The Piano: The Novel , with Kate Pullinger, New York, 1994.
Holy Smoke , with Anna Campion, New York, 1999.
Wexman, Virginia Wright, editor, Jane Campion: Interviews , Jackson, Mississippi, 1999.
By CAMPION: articles—
Interview with Carla Hall, in Washington Post , 4 March 1990.
Interview with Donna Yuzwalk, in Guardian (London), 2 May 1990.
Interview with Maitland McDonagh, in New York Times , 19 May 1991.
Interview with Elizabeth Drucker, in American Film (Los Angeles), July 1991.
Interview with Katharine Dieckmann, in Interview (New York), January 1992.
"Jane Campion's Lunatic Women," interview with Mary Cantwell, in New York Times Magazine , 19 September 1993.
"Piano Lessons," interview with I. Pryor, in Onfilm (Auckland), October 1993.
"Merchant of the Ivories," interview with Anne Thompson, in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 19 November 1993.
Interview with Christian Viviani and Catherine Axelrad, in Positif (Paris), December 1996.
"Jane Campion: Intervju med en dam," interview with Lena Jordebo, in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 39, 1997.
"Portrait of the Director," interview with Kennedy Fraser, in Vogue (New York), January 1997.
"The Lady Vanquishes: Call Me Madam," interview with Geoff Andrew, in Time Out (London), 12 February 1997.
"Jane Campion's Passage to India," interview with Kathleen Murphy, in Film Comment (New York), January/February 2000.
On CAMPION: books—
Margolis, Harriet Elaine, editor, Jane Campion's The Piano, New York, 2000
On CAMPION: articles—
Quart, Barbara, "The Short Films of Jane Campion," in Cineaste (New York), no. 1, 1992.
Ansen, David, and Charles Fleming, "Passion for Piano ," in Newsweek (New York), 31 May 1993.
Travers, Peter, "Sex and The Piano ," in Rolling Stone (New York), 9 December 1993.
Current Biography (New York), 1994.
Article, in New York Times , 10 March 1994.
Kirchmann, Kay, "Silence and Physicality," in Ballet International (Germany), August/September 1994.
Landrot, Marine, "Les désaxées," in Télérama (Paris), 3 May 1995.
Gordon, Suzy, "'I Clipped Your Wing, That's All': Auto-Erotism and the Female Spectator in The Piano Debate," in Screen (Oxford), Summer 1996.
Murphy, Kathleen, "Jane Campion's Shining Moment: Portrait of a Director," in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1996.
Feinstein, Howard, "Heroine Chic," in Vanity Fair (New York), December 1996.
Genry, R., "Painterly Touches," in American Cinematographer (Orange Drive), January 1997.
Chumo, Peter N., II, "Keys to the Imagination: Jane Campion's The Piano," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), July 1997.
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Whatever their quality, all of Jane Campion's feature films have remained consistent in theme. They depict the lives of girls and women who are in one way or another separate from the mainstream, because of physical appearance (if not outright physical disability) or personality quirk, and she spotlights the manner in which they relate to and function within their respective societies.
Campion began directing features after making several highly acclaimed, award-winning short films which were extensively screened on the international film festival circuit. Her first two features are similar in that they focus on the relationships between two young women, and how they are affected by the adults who control their world. Her debut, 2 Friends , was made for Australian television in 1985 and did not have its American theatrical premiere until 1996. It depictions the connection between a pair of adolescents, focusing on the changes in their friendship and how they are influenced by adult authority figures. The narrative is told in reverse time: at the outset, the girls are a bit older, and their developing personalities have separated them; as the film continues, they become younger and closer.
Sweetie , Campion's initial theatrical feature, is a pitch-black comedy about a young woman who is overweight, overemotional, and even downright crazy, with the scenario charting the manner in which she relates to her parents and her skinny, shy, easily manipulated sister. The film was controversial in that critics and viewers either raved about it or were turned off by its quirky sensibility. While not without inspired moments, both Sweetie and 2 Friends lack the assurance of Campion's subsequent work.
The filmmaker's unequivocal breakthrough as a world-class talent came in 1990 with An Angel at My Table. The theatrical version of the film is 158 minutes long and is taken from a three-part mini-series made for New Zealand television. An Angel at My Table did not benefit from the media hype surrounding The Piano , Campion's 1993 international art house hit, but it is equally as fine a film. It is an uncommonly literate portrait of Janet Frame, a plump, repressed child who was destined to become one of New Zealand's most renowned writers. Prior to her fame, however, she was falsely diagnosed as a schizophrenic, passed eight years in a mental hospital, and received over 200 electric shock treatments.
Campion evocatively depicts the different stages of Frame's life; the filmmaker elicits a dynamic performance from Kerry Fox as the adult Janet and, in visual terms, she perfectly captures the essence of the writer's inner being. At the same time, Campion bitingly satirizes the manner in which society patronizes those who sincerely dedicate their lives to the creation of art. She depicts pseudo-artists who would not know a poem from a Harlequin Romance, and publishers who think that for Frame to truly be a success she must have a best-seller and ride around in a Rolls Royce.
If An Angel at My Table spotlights the evolution of a woman as an intellectual being, Campion's next work, The Piano , depicts a woman's development on a sexual and erotic level. The Piano , like The Crying Game before it and Pulp Fiction later on, became the cinematic cause celebre of its year. It is a deceptively simple story, beautifully told, of Ada (Holly Hunter, in an Academy Award-winning performance), a Scottish widow and mute who arrives with her nine-year-old daughter (Anna Paquin, who also won an Oscar) in remote New Zealand during the 1850s. Ada is to be the bride in an arranged marriage with a stern, hesitant farmer (Sam Neill). But she becomes sexually and romantically involved with Baines (Harvey Keitel), her illiterate, vulnerable neighbor to whom she gives piano lessons: an arrangement described by Campion as an "erotic pact."
Campion succeeds in creating a story about the development of love, from the initial eroticism between the two characters to something deeper and more romantic. Ada has a symbolic relationship with the piano, which is both her refuge and way of self-expression. The Piano is an intensely haunting tale of exploding passion and deep, raw emotion, and it put its maker at the forefront of contemporary, world-class cinema.
Unfortunately, Campion's follow-up features have not been as cinematically successful as The Piano and An Angel at My Table . The Portrait of a Lady, a static adaptation of the Henry James novel, opens in 1872 and tells the story of orphaned American expatriate Isabel Archer (Nicole Kidman), a young woman with vague feminist inclinations. Isabel pronounces that she values her independence and probably never will marry, yet she inexplicably falls for and weds the boorish, self-centered Gilbert Osmond (John Malkovich). The Portrait of a Lady is one of the more disappointing films of its year. Sheer dullness is what does it in. The film is worth seeing only for the deservedly lauded, icy-cool performance of Barbara Hershey as Madame Merle, Osmond's mistress.
Campion's next feature, Holy Smoke, may be linked to The Piano for the underlying eroticism that bonds its two key characters. But here is where all comparisons end. Holy Smoke is the story of Ruth Barron (Kate Winslet), another free-spirited Campion heroine: a young woman who has come of age in an Australian suburb and chosen to reject Western materialism by running off to India and joining a religious cult. Her free will is compromised first by her manipulative, male-dominated family, and then by macho American deprogrammer P.J. Waters (Harvey Keitel), the "cult-exiter" hired to toy with her mind and return her to her family in spirit as well as body. Ruth is an intelligent woman, strongly committed to her new faith; her embracing the cult is her way of rejecting the vapidity of contemporary society. She may be directly contrasted to her sister-in-law, who dyes her hair, wears clothes that appear to be made out of plastic, and fantasizes about movie stars while making love to her husband. Yet the core of the story spotlights the battle of wills and physical, sexual, and psychological grappling between Ruth and Waters, resulting in an exploration of clashing cultures and the nature of sexual desire and fantasy.
Granted, Holy Smoke is a serious-minded film. But dramatically speaking, it is shrill and obvious. The members of Ruth's family are cliches, superficially trite characters who view with suspicion anything they do not understand. As they float through their lives as pop culture consumers, mindlessly watching television and munching on junk food, they are painted in the broadest of strokes. The same may be said for the P.J. Waters character. As a professional who is supposed to be tops at his trade, he too-easily is out-finessed by Ruth. In his one-dimensional narcissism—he wears cool "shades" indoors, and exudes vanity while combing his hair and spraying his mouth with breath enhancer—Waters is an obvious target for ridicule.
Given Campion's cinematic mission, however, it is obligatory that she present Waters as a hypocrite. While he harangues cults for controlling their members, he is just as guilty of manipulating his clients; he is a deprogrammer precisely because he has nothing substantial in which to believe. When he sleeps with Ruth—a professionally irresponsible action—Waters is depicted as being just another guy who wants to get laid. Yet when Ruth cracks his shell, and he ends up garbed in a dress and lipstick, crawling on the ground and begging her to marry him, the profundity of the moment is obliterated by unintentional laughter.