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 the United States, 1989–90. Awards: Melbourne Film Festival Diploma of Merit, Palme d'Or Best Short Film Cannes Film Festival, for Peel, 1983–86; Melbourne Film Festival Unique Artist Merit, Best Experimental Film Australian Film Institute Award, Most Popular Short Film Sydney Film Festival, for Passionless Moments, 1984–85; Rouben Mamoulian Award Best Overall Short Film/Unique Artist Merit Melbourne Film Festival, Best Direction Australian Film Institute Award, Best Screenplay Australian Film Institute Award, First Prize Cinestud Amsterdam Film Festival, for Girls Own Story, 1984–85; X. L. Elders Award Melbourne Film Festival, Best Short Fiction Melbourne Film Festival, for After Hours, 1985; Chicago International Film Festival Golden Plaque, Best Direcor Australian Film Institute Award, Best TV Film Australian Film Institute Award, for 2 Friends, 1987; Georges Sadoul Prize Australian Critics Award, Best Foreign Film Australian Critics Award, Best Film Australian Critics Award, Best Director Australian Critics Award, Los Angeles Film Critics Association New Generation Award, Best Foreign Film Independent Spirit Award, for Sweetie, 1989–90; Venice Film Festival Grand Special Jury Prize, Venice Film Festival O.C.I.C. Award, Toronto International Film Festival Critics Award, Best Foreign Film Independent Spirit Award, for An Angel at My Table, 1990; Best Screenplay Academy Award, Cannes Film Festival Golden Palm, Best Foreign Film Cesar Award, Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen Writers Guild of America Award, Best Foreign Film Independent Spirit Award, Best Director Australian Film Institute Award, Best Screenplay Australian Film Institute Award, Best Director, and Screenplay, New York Film Critics Circle, Best Screenplay New York Film Critics Circle, Best Director Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Best Screenplay Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Best Screenplay National Society of Film Critics, Australian Film Critics Best Director, Australian Film Critics Best Screenplay, Guild of Regional Film Writers Best Director Award, Best Screenplay Chicago Film Critics, Robert Festival Best Foreign Film, Bodil Festival Best European Film, for The Piano, 1993. Address: Hilary Linstead & Associates, Level 18, Plaza II, 500 Oxford Street, Bondi Junction, NSW 2022, Australia.
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.
Australian director and screenwriter Jane Campion (born 1954) created a number of films with strong female protagonists starting in the late 1980s. Among the best known of her works was the Academy-award-winning film The Piano (1993).
Campion was born on April 30, 1954, in Wellington, New Zealand, the daughter of Richard Campion and Edith Armstrong. Her father was a theater director and her mother was an actress. They had met when both were students at the Old Vic in England. Together, they co-founded the New Zealand Players. Campion was raised in Wellington, with her older sister, Anna, with whom she would later collaborate, and her younger brother, Michael.
While Campion was interested in acting, she did not immediately follow the family tradition. Instead, she attended Victoria University in Wellington and earned a bachelor's degree in structural anthropology. She then went to Europe where she studied art in Venice, among other places. Eventually, she went to London where she worked as an assistant for a filmmaker who did documentaries and commercials. She also studied at the Chelsea School of Arts in London.
Became Interested in Film
Campion finished her diploma in art at the Sydney College of Arts in Sydney, Australia. She majored in painting and sculpting, but she discovered her true calling during her last year at the college, when she began making super-8 films. Her first short film, Tissues (1980), got her into film school.
In 1981, Campion entered the Australian Film Television and Radio School. There, she made three significant short films. She was the director, writer, and editor of Peel (1982), which focused on a power struggle over discipline between a father and a son. In 1984, she made Passionless Moments and Girl's Own Story, the latter focusing on brother-sister incest.
After graduating from the school in 1984, Campion spent several years working with the government-funded Women's Film Unit. She wrote and directed After Hours (1984) a film about sexual harassment. Campion then moved into television. She directed an episode of the series Dancing Daze. In 1985, she directed her first television movie, Two Friends, which was released theatrically in the United States in 1996. The film focused on a female friendship and how it changed over time and was told in reverse chronological order.
In 1986, Campion won the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for best short film for Peel, garnering her much attention. She then began working on the script, with former boyfriend Gerald Lee, for what became her first feature film, Sweetie. The disturbing black comedy was released in 1989 and won several prizes.
Sweetie focuses on a dysfunctional family. The movie tells the story of Kay, a shy woman who is engaged to Louis but cannot enjoy life. Her already sad world is turned upside down when her sister, Dawn, also known as Sweetie, enters her life again. Dawn is obese, mentally unstable, and uncontrollable, and she was doted on by her parents her whole life. Dawn was led to believe that she was bound for show business since childhood, and her actions and needs take over her entire family and the movie.
Audiences and critics often had extreme reactions to Sweetie, positive and negative. Vincent Canby of the New York Times wrote: "It is funny, though one doesn't often laugh at it, and sad, without ever asking for tears. Instead, it demands that it be taken on its own spare terms without regard to the sentimental conventions of other movies. At its best, it is audaciously unreasonable."
In 1990, Campion directed her second feature, originally made for New Zealand television as a miniseries. It was Angel at My Table, a movie about author Janet Frame adapted from her autobiography. The film had a dreamy, slow quality and focused on how men controlled, betrayed, and condemned Frame.
Angel at My Table depicts all of Frame's tragic life. After a difficult childhood, Frame worked briefly as a teacher before having a nervous breakdown. She was misdiagnosed as a schizophrenic and forced to live in a mental institution for eight years. After receiving hundreds of electroshock treatments, Frame was nearly lobotomized until a doctor discovered that she had won a literary prize for poetry. Frame left the institution and eventually found her calling as a writer.
Though Angel at My Table received mixed reviews in the United States, it was generally liked. The film won a number of prizes, including the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival. In many ways, this was Campion's breakthrough film, setting the stage for her biggest artistic triumph, The Piano (1993).
Acclaimed for The Piano
Though The Piano began with some development money from the Australian Film Commission, the film was Campion's first big-budget production, financed with French money. Campion had been working on the script since 1984, and she had long wanted to do a story about the colonial days of New Zealand.
Set in 1850, The Piano focuses on a mute Scottish woman named Ada, who does not speak only because she chooses not to. Her only means of communication is her piano. She has an illegitimate, young daughter, who is just as free-spirited as her mother. Ada enters into an arranged marriage with a New Zealander and moves to that country. Her new husband, Stewart, is a farmer who will not take the piano to their new home. He sells it to a man, Baines, who lives with the natives. Baines offers to give the piano back to Ada if she teaches him to play. Ada and Baines eventually become lovers, and after several plot turns, Ada leaves her husband for him.
The Piano was a huge international hit. It won numerous awards, including the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Campion was the first female director to win that award. She was also nominated for the Academy Award for best director.
Campion was developing a solid reputation as a film director. Actor Sam Neill, who played Stewart, told Mary Cantwell of the New York Times Magazine, "Jane works in an unusually intimate way with people. When you're an actor, you're always putting yourself in other people's hands anyway, and she repays the gesture many times over. Jane's interested in complexity, not reductiveness, and very sure of what she's doing. If you have an opinion contrary to hers, she listens with the greatest care and consideration, then does what she had in mind all along."
The same year that The Piano was released, Campion formed a production company, Big Shell Films, with her producer-director husband Colin Englert. Also that year, the couple had a son, Jasper, who died 12 days after birth. In 1994, their daughter Alice was born.
Campion's films after The Piano could not match its success. In 1996, she directed an adaptation of Henry James' novel The Portrait of a Lady. The story focuses on Isabel Archer (Nicole Kidman), an American expatriate who lets her potential die and enters into an unhappy marriage with Gilbert Osmond. Reviews of the film were mixed and box office returns paltry.
In 1999, Campion directed and co-wrote, with her sister Anna, Holy Smoke, a contemporary story about religion, cults, and male-female relationships. The plot focuses on Ruth Barroon, a young woman from the suburbs of Sydney, Australia, who joins a religious cult in India to find enlightenment and spirituality. Ruth returns to her home after a desperate visit by her mother. When she comes home, she finds that her family has tricked her and hired a deprogammer, J.P. Waters, to force her out of the cult. Ruth ends up manipulating Waters, and the pair become lovers.
While many critics praised the themes of the movie, the script was seen as conventional and obvious. As Janet Maslin wrote in the New York Times, "as Holy Smoke moves from its early mix of rapture and humor into this more serious, confrontational stage, it runs into trouble. For one thing, the characters as written are an impressionable young woman and a tough older man… . And it doesn't help that the screenplay … threatens to become heavy-handedly ideological beneath its outward whimsy."
Campion's next movie was a Hollywood production. In 2002, she adapted the best-selling novel, In the Cut. Her first film set in the United States, In the Cut is an erotic thriller focused on a female linguist who falls in love with a cop who is investigating a serial killer. Originally, In the Cut was supposed to star Kidman, but she was replaced by Meg Ryan. Campion encountered problem when Miramax dropped the film, but it was scheduled for distribution in 2003.
Throughout her career, Campion was generally regarded as an important original female voice who depicted strong women characters. As Jay Carr of the Boston Globe wrote in 1999, "With her embrace of the bizarre and the private, Jane Campion has become film's poet of the human interior. It's not so much her way of focusing on the suppressed voices of women that marks her art. Rather, it's her stubborn belief that these voices will be heard, sooner or later, one way or another…. Campion's films are genuflections to the staying power of powerless woman."
Pendergast, Tom, and Sara Pendergast, eds., International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers-2: Directors, St. James Press, 2000.
Associated Press, January 24, 1990.
Boston Globe, June 14, 1991; February 3, 1999.
Film Comment, November-December 1996.
New York Times, October 6, 1989; January 14, 1990; September 19, 1993; December 3, 1999.
Toronto Star, February 25, 2000.
United Press International, 1989.
Vancouver Sun, February 15, 2000.
Variety, May 21, 2001.
Village Voice, November 30, 1999.
Washington Post, June 21, 1991.
Washington Times, February 12, 2000.
"In the Cut," Yahoo! Movies, http://movies.yahoo.com/shop?d=hp&=prev&=1809404536 (February 9, 2003). □
CAMPION, Jane. New Zealander, b. 1954. Genres: Plays/Screenplays. Career: Filmmaker and writer. Director of television productions, short films, and feature films. Publications: SCREENPLAYS. SHORT FILMS: Peel, 1982; Mishaps of Seduction and Conquest, 1984; (with G. Lee) Passionless Moments, 1984; A Girl's Own Story, 1984; After Hours, 1984. FEATURE FILMS: (with G. Lee) Sweetie, 1988; The Piano, 1992; (with A. Campion) Holy Smoke, 1999; (with S. Moore) In the Cut, 2003. Address: c/o HLA Management Pty Ltd, PO Box 1536, Strawberry Hills, NSW 2012, Australia. Online address: [email protected]