Jane Campion’s After Hours (1984) was developed in partnership with the Women’s Film Unit of Film Australia. This is a virtually forgotten entry in Campion’s filmography; while the short works helmed during her studies at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School make respectable appearances in studies of the filmmaker, After Hours rates only passing mentions in – and does not even crack the indexes of – books like Contemporary Film Directors: Jane Campion1 or Jane Campion: Cinema, Nation, Identity.2 The director herself is also wont to throw the film under the bus, once telling an interviewer:
I don’t like After Hours a lot because I feel like the reasons for making it were impure. I felt a conflict between the project and my artistic conscience. [Because of funding] The film … had to be openly feminist since it spoke about the sexual abuse of women at work. I wasn’t comfortable because I don’t like films that say how one should or shouldn’t behave. I think that the world is more complicated than that. I prefer watching people, studying their behaviour without blaming them. I would have preferred to have put this film in a closet.3
Campion’s film centres on the sexual harassment of Lorraine (Danielle Pearse), a young office worker and competitive swimmer. Lorraine is asked to work late by her employer Mr Phillips (Don Reid), who makes inappropriate romantic and sexual overtures towards her in the empty workplace after dark, culminating in him tearing off her skirt. The storytelling alternates between events leading up to the incident, the incident itself, and its aftermath, chronicling Lorraine’s subsequent uneasy interactions with her legal representative, family, and swimming peers and coach, as well as Phillips’ strained interactions on the office and home front.
Campion is quoted as saying she is “a lover of the perverse”,4 a statement only moderately more understated than John Waters or Paul Verhoeven proclaiming themselves the same. But the company brief and info-tainment trappings of After Hours afford Campion little opportunity to exercise the off-kilter sensibility and preoccupations that pervade her subsequent feature work, and there’s a certain tonal nonchalance which renders the film not particularly compelling. Despite this, there is more nuance and less didacticism in After Hours than Campion’s abovementioned dismissal of the short would suggest.
While it is perhaps no Rosetta Stone, there are several threads and traits which tie After Hours to Campion’s later work. Most of Campion’s filmography focuses on women protagonists, both past and present, and how they forge and negotiate their identities amidst forces attempting to thwart or control their agency and spirit. These forces are frequently masculine – in the form of husbands (The Piano, 1993; The Portrait of a Lady, 1996), fathers (Sweetie, 1989), and Harvey Keitels (The Piano; Holy Smoke, 1999) – but they are also oftentimes institutional, such as supposed law enforcers (In the Cut, 2003) and the constraints of ‘polite’ society (The Portrait of a Lady; Holy Smoke; Bright Star, 2009). Ambivalence towards figures and entities abusing positions of power and imposing constraints on women’s agency is reflected not only in After Hours’ central narrative, but symbolically in the director’s own ambivalence towards After Hours as a product of committee collaboration, as well as her mixed feelings about her time at AFTRS.5
Before turning to arts and film, Campion studied anthropology – a pursuit befitting someone interested in “watching people, studying their behaviour without blaming them”, as noted above – and this anthropological bent is evident in After Hours, particularly when it turns to events in the aftermath of Lorraine’s harassment, such as her former colleagues raiding her abandoned desk for equipment; Phillips’ secretary clearing Lorraine’s weeks-old, rotting dinner from the staff refrigerator; Lorraine’s unsteady transition back into the pool and strained relationships with her family and coach; and Phillips finding solace in the company of his dog rather than his unhappy marriage.
Although the mundane urban and suburban settings and onscreen naturalism afford little of the visual splendour or expressionistic opportunities of her later works, After Hours conveys Campion’s patented sense of tactility – of fabrics, of objects, of the surface of water, and so on. Working across film industries (Australia, the United States, and New Zealand) where expanse is often central to achieving popular success – expanse of scale, of environment, of personality – Campion’s ability to make material minutiae tangible, tactile, and narratively meaningful is a cherished asset. Whilst After Hours may be work-for-hire juvenilia and outwardly unrepresentative of the filmmaker’s own sensibilities, it is nonetheless significant as a bridge between Campion’s student work at AFTRS and her subsequent television work and first feature film, 1989’s Sweetie.
After Hours (1984 Australia, 25 minutes)
Prod Co: Women’s Film Unit, Film Australia Prod: Janet Bell, Jo Horsburgh, Faith Martin, Liza Taylor Dir: Jane Campion Scr: Jane Campion Phot: Laurie McInnes Ed: Annabelle Sheehan Prod Des: Jane Norris Mus: Alex Proyas
Cast: Danielle Pearse, Don Reid