Originally published in Senses of Cinema issue 22, October 2002.

Jane Campion

b. 30 April, 1954, Wellington, New Zealand

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Jane Campion is Australasia’s leading auteur director. As recipient of the Palme d’Or (1993), the Silver Lion (1990) and an Academy Award (1994), she is also one of the most successful female directors in the world. (1) These statements are not made innocently. They are intended to draw attention to issues of nationality, of auteurism and art cinema, and of gender. In relation to these issues, Jane Campion is the subject of extensive critical discussion. The Piano (1993) – her most successful film, both critically and commercially – was the catalyst for debates about what constitutes ‘national cinema’ and ‘women’s cinema’. In the case of the former, the genesis of the film and the mix of creative personnel involved proved problematic: the film was funded by a French company, Ciby 2000; the script – developed with Australian government funding through the Australian Film Commission – was set in New Zealand; the director was New Zealand-born but Australian-trained; it was produced by an Australian (Jan Chapman); the stars were two Americans (Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel) and one New Zealander (Anna Paquin); and it was filmed on location using a New Zealand crew and local extras. (2) In discussions focusing on the nature of The Piano as ‘women’s cinema’, some praised the film for its exploration of female desire and sensibility, while others criticised it for aestheticising female masochism and presenting a universalising view of femininity at the expense of New Zealand’s indigenous population. (3) The Piano also exemplified the changes in art cinema during the 1990s, with the rise of the ‘crossover’ film. (4) It powerfully demonstrated the potential for art cinema to cross over into mainstream awareness and commercial success, with its unprecedented box office takings and several Oscar nominations (winning Best Original Screenplay for Campion, Best Actress for Holly Hunter and Best Supporting Actress for Anna Paquin). (5)


Debate, perhaps even controversy, has characterised the reception of Campion’s films since the premiere of her first feature Sweetie at Cannes in 1989, where it was greeted with boos and hisses. (6) Sweetie has since been reclaimed as a hallmark of Campion’s iconoclastic style, with its black humour, striking visual design (in terms of colour and shot composition) and its penetrating look at dysfunctional suburban family life. Campion’s eagerly awaited follow-up to The Piano, her 1996 adaptation of Henry James’ novel The Portrait of a Lady (written in 1881), drew criticism for its modernising impulses and liberal treatment of James’ classic text, and for the coldness of its characters despite the sumptuous Italian locations and art direction. (7) Yet the film was highly praised for the supporting performances of Martin Donovan (as Ralph Touchett) and Barbara Hershey (as Madame Merle), with Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Hershey as Best Supporting Actress (1997). Despite an engaging performance from Kate Winslet, the Miramax-funded Holy Smoke (1999) was unable to recapture The Piano‘s success at the box office. The film was criticised for an uneven script that relied heavily on the stereotype of the grotesque, suburban family of the quirky Aussie comedy, which by 1999 – some ten years after Sweetie and following on from a backlash against films such as Welcome to Woop Woop (Stephan Elliott, 1997) and Hotel De Love (Craig Rosenberg, 1996) – was starting to wear thin with the locals and had lost its novelty for the international audience. (8) Even Campion’s early short films – despite being selected for Cannes in 1986, where she won the Palme d’Or for best short film for Peel (1982) – were unappreciated at the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) where she made them. (9) Campion’s only film to avoid such controversy and debate has been her prize-winning adaptation of Janet Frame’s three-volume autobiography To the Is-land (1982), An Angel at my Table (1984) and The Envoy from Mirror City (1985). Originally made as a television mini-series, in three parts like Frame’s autobiography, An Angel at my Table (1990) was later released theatrically as a 155 minute feature. This adaptation, also scripted by Laura Jones who adapted The Portrait of a Lady, had fewer problems in terms of the inclusion or exclusion of information from the original source – partly due to the luxury of three episodes – and it featured a modest visual style to suit its televisual medium. Nevertheless, while Campion consciously avoided the striking framings of composition and colour that characterised Sweetie and her short films, (10) An Angel at my Table has a strong visual sense in its broad vistas of the New Zealand landscape and its evocation of Janet’s private world.

“Jane Campion’s lunatic women” (11)

Many critics have seen Campion’s persistent concerns with gender politics and the disempowerment of women within the domestic sphere as evidence of a feminist sensibility. Certainly, while Campion may not regard herself as a feminist director, (12) her films have been enthusiastically taken up by feminist film critics for their depiction of strong female characters rebelling against the roles expected of them by patriarchal society. Campion’s heroines are characterised by their refusal to conform to these roles, which often results in a stubbornness that leads them into direct conflict with husbands, fathers, brothers and other women complicit with the patriarchal order. The disturbing nature of Campion’s films comes from the physical and emotional violence that is inflicted upon these women – as with Ada (Holly Hunter) in The Piano and Isabel Archer (Nicole Kidman) in The Portrait of a Lady, both women assaulted by their husbands. Feminist theorists and historians have examined the ways in which female protest and refusal to conform to the patriarchal order have been labelled as ‘madness’. (13) Several of Campion’s heroines are labelled as ‘mad’ or ‘crazy’ by virtue of their refusal to conform to what their society considers to be the feminine ideal.

An Angel at my Table: Janet Frame as a child

For example, Janet Frame (Kerry Fox), in An Angel at my Table, is misdiagnosed as schizophrenic, as a result of her extreme shyness and her inability to socialise. In The Piano, Ada has refused to speak since she was six years old; Campion never tells us why. (14) Her husband Stewart (Sam Neill) wonders if she’s not also “soft in the head”. In Holy Smoke, Ruth (Kate Winslet) rebels against her suburban upbringing and begins a new life as a disciple of an Indian guru. Her family assumes she has been brainwashed and they hire an exit counsellor, PJ Waters (Harvey Keitel) – a cross between a psychologist and an exorcist – to bring her back to her senses. While Isabel Archer in The Portrait of a Lady is the only one of Campion’s heroines to escape being labelled as mad, her stubborn determination to lead a life of her own making (she rejects Lord Warburton’s [Richard E. Grant] financially attractive marriage proposal), positions her as yet another nonconformist.

Significantly, Sweetie (Genevieve Lemon) is the only one of Campion’s heroines who dies at the end of the film. She is also considered, by most writers, to be the only one of these women who is truly ‘mad’. (15) Without providing ‘evidence’ from the film to support the following labels, Sweetie has been described variously as “insane”, (16) “mentally disturbed”, (17) “obviously unbalanced”, (18) “mentally ill”, (19) “genuinely mad” and “nuts”. (20) This is a curious assumption as it is based on scant evidence within the diegesis: Sweetie is never diagnosed with a mental illness and we do not see her receiving psychiatric treatment. This veiled, inferential representation of madness in Sweetie is linked to another theme in Campion’s films: ambiguity (discussed below). By way of example, consider the first time we meet Sweetie, when she arrives unexpectedly at her sister Kay’s house, looking both dishevelled and flamboyant with her heavy eye-make up, well-worn bra and lace cuffs, in contrast with the neurotic, uptight Kay (Karen Colston). The dialogue throughout this scene is ambiguous, inviting us to read Sweetie as mentally ill. Kay confronts Sweetie: “what are you doing here? You know you’re not allowed”. Sweetie has already been presented as socially unconventional in her manner of breaking into Kay’s house and proceeding to trash the bedroom with her junkie boyfriend Bob (Michael Lake). Kay then challenges Sweetie: “you’ve stopped taking your medication, haven’t you?” to which Sweetie replies in a suitably ‘spaced-out’ tone “yeah, well Bob and I are really gonna walk through some doors, Kay, we’re really getting it together”.

It is characteristic of Campion’s style that this is the only time Sweetie’s illness is discussed, and we are never informed as to what the medication is for. Nevertheless, as the film progresses, Sweetie seems to us more and more ‘mad’. By the time the family returns from a trip to the outback, Sweetie is so incensed at being left behind that she refuses to speak to them. Instead, she growls and whimpers like a dog, and even tries to bite her father’s hand. Like Ada in The Piano, who also refuses to speak, Sweetie’s nonverbal communication is a rejection of the symbolic order of language, and the aggressive nature of this rejection of the Law of the Father is visualised in Sweetie’s attempted assault on her father’s hand. Sweetie’s barking like a dog can be read in two ways: as a sign of protest – the renunciation of the patriarchal order of language – or as a sign of madness, as Kay indicates with her threat to Sweetie: “you’ll end up in a damn home”. Sweetie’s childlike inability to care for herself – the house is a mess and she hasn’t been eating – also suggests her ‘madness’ or mental instability.

Sweetie’s refusal to conform to patriarchal law is taken to fatal extremes. In her final scene, she is naked and covered with black paint, shouting obscenities at her father from her “princess castle”, her tree-house from childhood. Kay’s phobia about trees proves prophetic when Sweetie falls to her death from the castle. (21) The tragic outcome of Sweetie’s rebellion underscores the potential problems, noted by some feminists, in reclaiming madness as protest. (22) For these critics, madness represents an impasse, a request for help, a position of powerlessness and vulnerability that only serves to reinforce patriarchy’s self-appointed role as moderator and guardian of female behaviour. (23) As Mary Russo observes, “hysterics and madwomen generally have ended up in the attic or the asylum, their gestures of pain and defiance having served only to put them out of circulation.” (24) However, it is the very expression of these “gestures of pain and defiance” that marks Campion’s films as powerful texts for feminist analysis.


The essence of Jane Campion’s films lies in ambiguity, in the opening up of narrative possibilities. Sue Gillett captures this perfectly when she notes that Campion’s films are frequently concerned with what is unseen or unsaid. (25) This very openness of meaning lends power to the themes and issues (un)expressed, where the audience is left to interpret the information they are given – or the lack of it. Campion is not interested in telling her audience what to think or how to respond. Indeed, the ambiguity in Campion’s films is the catalyst for the critical debate her work inspires.

There is much about Sweetie’s past that is unseen or unsaid. A key example of this ambiguity is the bathroom scene in Sweetie, where Kay pauses outside the bathroom door, left ajar, and sees Sweetie washing her father in the bath. As Sweetie ‘accidentally’ drops the soap, she playfully fishes around in the water near her father’s groin, humming occasionally as she does so. Campion then cuts to a shot of Kay in bed, pulling up the sheets and blanket close to her chin, staring tensely at the ceiling. Throughout there is a subtle but ominous undertone on the soundtrack. The scene is less than 30 seconds, but its presentation is so haunting that it casts a shadow over the remainder of the narrative, especially in the subsequent scenes between Sweetie and her father, Gordon (Jon Darling). While this is the only scene of intimate physical contact between Sweetie and Gordon, the implication of an incestuous relationship is supported by Gordon’s indulgence of Sweetie’s unrealistic career ambitions and his fear of upsetting her.

Campion again employs ambiguity to suggest an incestuous relationship in The Portrait of a Lady. When Isabel first meets Gilbert Osmond (John Malkovich), his teenage daughter Pansy (Valentina Cervi) sits on his lap. Twice Campion shows a close-up of Osmond’s hands stroking Pansy’s, creating a sense of uneasiness in this display of intimacy. While no further evidence of an improper relationship between father and daughter is offered, these shots further arouse our suspicions about Osmond (after we have witnessed his scheming with Madame Merle [Barbara Hershey]) and establish the excessive control he exerts over Pansy, and her fearful obedience to him.

Isabel Archer (Nicole Kidman) in The Portrait of a Lady

The concept of ambiguity is a key feature of art cinema discourse, and part of what defines Campion’s films within these terms. Critics and audiences puzzled over the unanswered questions at the heart of The Piano‘s narrative: why does Ada refuse to speak? who is the father of Flora? why did Ada’s father send her away? what to make of the film’s conclusion that contrasts an image of domestic ‘bliss’ with that of Ada suspended at the bottom of the ocean, tied forever to her piano? (26) Like Sweetie, there is much about Ada’s past that is unspoken and the occasional insight offered by the film – such as Flora’s tales of her opera-singing father – are clearly marked as unreliable. The inscrutability of character motivation was the subject of intense critical discussion with regards to Isabel in The Portrait of a Lady: what exactly is it that Isabel wants? The ambiguous nature of Isabel’s desire is expressed in the openness of the film’s ending, as Isabel appears literally frozen on the threshold between escape with Caspar Goodwood (Viggo Mortensen) and retreat to the oppressive sphere of the domestic: what is Isabel’s final decision? (27) The startling beauty of this final image – Nicole Kidman’s pale face and unruly red hair framed against the frost-covered glass panes of the mansion’s door – heightens the audacity of this unresolved narrative moment with which Campion concludes her film.

Ambiguity in Campion’s films is not limited to her characters; it extends to critical analysis of her own directorial project. For reviewers of Holy Smoke, the film’s uneven tone – lurching between comedy and drama – resulted in the obscuring of the film’s intentions: to explore or exploit alternative belief systems? To praise or parody Ruth’s pursuit of spiritual enlightenment? Dana Polan’s close analysis of the film reveals the source of this confusion. Campion employs the kitsch stylings of 1970s pop culture to great comic effect in her portrayal of PJ Waters and her sense of humour is unforgiving in the presentation of Ruth’s family, particularly her sister-in-law Yvonne (Sophie Lee). But, as Polan observes, “moments of spirituality and vision [such as Ruth’s conversion scene] are also treated in terms of a style that resonates with tackiness, and this contributes to the film’s undecidability of tone.” (28)

The theme of ambiguity demonstrates the central role of discussion and debate in the reception of Campion’s films. One of the most contested topics of discussion is her treatment of heterosexual relationships.

Romance & Desire

In The Portrait of a Lady, several critics disliked the opening credit sequence, or ‘prologue’, of contemporary teenage Australian girls discussing the thrill of their first kiss and their romantic aspirations for future relationships. (29) Their open and frank tone was considered to be at odds with Isabel’s repressed desire, and the 20th century setting unsettled purist fans of the period film. (30) But this opening preface is in fact the key to Campion’s interpretation of James’ novel; it illuminates her own fascination with Isabel’s journey from stubborn independence, to entrapment, through to self-awareness. The girls’ voice-overs narrate instances of feminine desire: the “exquisite” moment before a kiss as a head comes towards you, the excitement of another body in contact with your own, the “mirror” that is to be found in a lifelong partner. Early in the film, Campion visualises Isabel’s sexual desires in a fantasy sequence, (31) when Isabel imagines her three suitors lying in bed with her, kissing and caressing her face and body, or looking on with desire. Campion is explicit about Isabel’s desire for this physical contact. Hence, the significance of her first ‘real-life’ kiss that we see – as opposed to her fantasies – when Osmond declares his love for her in the shadowy depths of the catacombs. Despite the marriage proposal of Lord Warburton and the persistence of her American suitor Caspar Goodwood, up to this point we have not witnessed a kiss between Isabel and these men. The combined effect of the fantasy sequence and the prologue’s voicing of feminine desire is to invest Osmond’s kiss with a life-changing force. Isabel’s desire for Osmond’s touch – which remains present throughout even their most brutal confrontations – is the catalyst for a startling reversal, in a woman who claimed she would “probably never marry”. Whereas The Piano stages the liberation that comes from a woman’s desires, The Portrait of a Lady reveals the dangers of that desire, the seduction that leads to entrapment in a loveless marriage. In this sense, it has been described as an “anti-romance” and a reverse narrative of the erotic journey to fulfilment undertaken by Ada in The Piano. (32)

It is worth recalling Campion’s sceptical and cautionary portrayal of romance in An Angel at my Table, when the romantic longings of Janet are stirred by the attentions of an American history professor, Bernard (William Brandt), holidaying in Ibiza. We witness Janet’s discovery of her sexual desire and erotic self-expression, most openly when she swims naked before Bernard, shedding the shyness and self-consciousness we have come to associate with her. But no sooner has Janet glimpsed a new, more confident self through her first sexual relationship, when Bernard declares he is returning to America, dismissing their relationship as simply ‘a holiday romance’. Janet is crushed, and the specifically female perils of sexual desire are demonstrated in her discovery that she is pregnant, followed by a traumatic miscarriage. The lesson learnt is that romance is risky, and that sex distracts Janet from her ‘real’ purpose, her writing. (33)

Campion’s fascination with the darker side of romance is demonstrated by her declared passion for the Gothic literature of the Brontës. (34) Her films suggest she is acutely aware of the risks of romance, the dangers of desire, (35) for women in patriarchal society: while Ada is successful in achieving romantic union with Baines (Harvey Keitel) in The Piano, it comes at significant cost – the loss of a finger and two attempts at rape by her jealous husband. Indeed, we can assume Ada has already discovered the ‘costs’ of romance in raising Flora (Anna Paquin) without Flora’s father.

PJ (Harvey Keitel) and Ruth (Kate Winslet) in Smoke

In Campion’s two contemporary films, Sweetie and Holy Smoke, the seductive pitfalls of romance give way to the considerably unromantic negotiations of sex. In Sweetie, Kay and Louis’s (Tom Lycos) courtship may initially appear ‘romantic’ in its abandonment of logic to the forces of fate and destiny, but the film spends little time on their romance, preferring instead to chart the slow disintegration of their relationship into frigid frustration, typified by Louis’s suggestion over pizza that they make appointments to have sex (needless to say, this approach is unsuccessful). (36) In Holy Smoke, sex becomes a bargaining chip between Ruth and PJ. Perceiving the weakness at the heart of his machismo, Ruth seduces PJ in an attempt to reverse the power structure implicit in her position as a cult follower in need of ‘de-programming’. Their first sexual encounter is successful in arousing PJ’s emotions, thereby rendering him vulnerable, while leaving Ruth unsatisfied by PJ’s perfunctory love-making. In contrast, their second sexual encounter, with PJ on his knees underneath Ruth’s skirt, suggests a weakening in Ruth’s resolve, as the camera focuses on her ecstatic pleasure. This lowering of her defences through sexual satisfaction allows PJ to convince Ruth that she has been cruel, but instead of Ruth falling in love with PJ, she becomes disgusted at her own manipulations of him and she flees the hut. Now PJ assumes the feminised, pathetic position of delirious lover. (37) Campion is merciless in her depiction of a lovesick PJ, stumbling across the desert in a red dress and lipstick, finally collapsing and hallucinating images of Ruth as an Indian goddess. ‘Romance’ never looked so ridiculous, nor have its power relations been so cruelly exposed.

The themes of madness, ambiguity and desire are central to Campion’s films. Her work has generated an extensive body of critical discussion, which is all the more remarkable when one considers she has released only five feature films to date. Campion is a director who inspired critical comment and analysis even before she made her first feature. (38) At the time of writing, Campion’s current project is an adaptation of Susanna Moore’s novel In The Cut (1995), due for US release in January 2003. Starring Meg Ryan and produced by Nicole Kidman, the film’s plot deals with “murder, sadism and sex”. (39) As a story that continues Campion’s uncompromising exploration of female erotic empowerment and masochistic desire, (40) In The Cut may well again inspire debate and controversy.

My thanks to Dr Jeanette Hoorn and Alan Hopgood for their constructive comments on an earlier version of this article.

Jane Campion



Tissues (1980)

Mishaps: Seduction and Conquest (1981)

Peel: An Exercise in Discipline (1982)

Passionless Moments (1983/4, co-director Gerard Lee)

A Girl’s Own Story (1983/4)

After Hours (1984)

In the Cut (2003)

The Water Diary (2006)

To Each His Own Cinema (2007, segment “The Lady Bug”)


Dancing Daze (1985, episode of TV series)

Two Friends (1986, telefeature)

An Angel at my Table (1990, TV miniseries in 3 parts, later released theatrically as a feature)

Top of the Lake (2013, 8 episodes)



Sweetie (1989)

The Piano (1993)

The Portrait of a Lady (1996)

Holy Smoke (1999)

In The Cut (2002/3, in production)

Bright Star (2009)


The Audition (1989) Dir: Anna Campion
Short film directed by her sister, featuring Campion and her mother Edith, who is auditioning for a role in An Angel at my Table. (In the finished product, Edith plays the high school English teacher Miss Lindsay, who gives a rousing classroom recitation of Tennyson’s Excalibur that enthralls Janet.)

Portrait: Jane Campion and The Portrait of a Lady
(1996) Dir: Peter Long & Kate Ellis
Documentary of the two-and-a-half month shoot for The Portrait of a Lady.

Soft Fruit (1999) Dir: Christina Andreef
Campion served as Executive Producer on Andreef’s feature film debut.

Select Bibliography

Ashby, Justine, “Jane Campion”, Fifty Contemporary Filmmakers, ed. Yvonne Tasker, Routledge, London and New York, 2002, pp.90-98

Cheshire, Ellen, Jane Campion, Pocket Essentials, Harpenden, 2000

Campion, Anna & Jane Campion, Holy Smoke: a novel, Hyperion, New York, 1999

Campion, Jane, The Piano, screenplay, Bloomsbury, London, 1992/3

Campion, Jane & Kate Pullinger, The Piano: a novel, Bloomsbury, London, 1993

Coombes, Felicity & Suzanne Gemmell (eds), Piano Lessons: approaches to The Piano, John Libbey, Sydney, 1999

Ferrier, Liz, “Vulnerable Bodies: Creative Disabilities in Contemporary Australian Film”, Australian Cinema in the 1990s, ed. Ian Craven, Frank Cass, London & Portland, Oregon, pp.57-78

Freiberg, Freda, “The Bizarre in the Banal: Notes on the Films of Jane Campion”, in Don’t Shoot Darling! Women’s Independent Film-Making in Australia, eds Annette Blonski, Barbara Creed and Freda Freiberg, Greenhouse, Richmond, 1987, pp.328-333

Gelder, Ken, “Jane Campion and the Limits of Literary Cinema” in Deborah Cartmell and Imelda Whelehan (eds.), Adaptations: From Text to Screen, Screen to Text, Routledge, 1999, pp. 157-171

Jones, Laura, An Angel at my Table: the screenplay, from the three-volume autobiography of Janet Frame, Pandora, London & Sydney, 1990

_________, The Portrait of a Lady: screenplay based on the novel by Henry James, Penguin, London, 1997

Lee, Gerard & Jane Campion, Sweetie: the screenplay, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1991

Margolis, Harriet (ed.), Jane Campion’s The Piano, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000

Nicholls, Mark, “She Who Gets Slapped: Jane Campion’s Portrait of a Lady”, Metro, no.111, 1997, pp.43-47

Polan, Dana, Jane Campion, BFI World Directors series, BFI publishing, London, 2002

Wexman, Virginia Wright, (ed.), Jane Campion: interviews, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 1999

Articles in Senses of Cinema

The Lady in the Frame: Two Portraits by Henry James and Jane Campion by David Kelly

Angel from the Mirror City: Jane Campion’s Janet Frame by Sue Gillett

More Than Meets The Eye: Sweetie by Sue Gillett

Never a Native: Holy Smoke by Sue Gillet

Engaging Medusa: Competing Myths and Fairytales in In the Cut by Sue Gillett

Some Significant Women in Australian Film – A Celebration and a Cautionary Tale by Jan Chapman

Views From Beyond the Mirror: The Films of Jane Campion by Sue Gillett review by Martha P. Nochimson

Passionate Encounters with Jane Campion’s “Cinematic Consciousness”: Jane Campion by Kathleen McHugh and The Piano by Gail Jones by Lisa French

A Girl’s Own Story (Jane Campion, 1984) by Anton De Ionno

“Authorising” Jane Campion: Jane Campion by Deb Verhoeven by Lucy Bolton

Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009) by Helen Goritsas

Passionless Moments (Jane Campion, 1984) by Tanya Farley

An Angel at My Table (Jane Campion, 1990) by Isabella McNeill

In the Cut (Jane Campion, 2003) by David Richard

An Exercise in Discipline: Peel (Jane Campion, 1982) by Faith Everard

The Heart Asks Pleasure First: Economies of Touch and Desire in Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993) by Joanna De Mattia

Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009) by Holly Willis

Girlhood in Reverse – Jane Campion’s 2 Friends (1986) by Gwendolyn Audrey Foster

Work-for-Hire Juvenilia: After Hours (Jane Campion, 1984) by Ben Kooyman

The Water Diary (Jane Campion, 2006) by Jytte Holmqvist

Between Innocence and Adulthood: Telling A Girl’s Own Story(Jane Campion, 1983) by Nathan Senn

Web Resources

Compiled by Albert Fung

7:30 Report
A transcript of an interview with Campion about Holy Smoke.

Film Directors: Articles on the Internet
Plenty of articles here. Just scroll down a little.

A Pleasure to Watch: Jane Campion’s Narrative Cinema
An essay on the visual and narrative dimensions of Jane Campion’s cinema

Where the Boys Are
This short article discusses the female gaze in film.

Jane Campion
Interview about the piano

Making Of: The Piano
Interview with Campion about The Piano

Jane Campion
Another couple of interviews with Campion.

Wholly Jane: Jane Campion on her new movie and other mysteries
An insightful interview with Campion and Holy Smoke.

Women Make Movies
Brief film bio of Campion. Her short films can also be bought here.

Jane Campion: a complete retrospective
Portrait of the director with summaries of her films.

Jane Campion Library
Site with portraits, books and link for The Piano and Holy Smoke.

Click here to search for Jane Campion DVDs, videos and books at


  1. For a comprehensive summary of Campion’s awards, see the filmography in Virginia Wright Wexman (ed), Jane Campion: interviews, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 1999, pp. xxiii-xxvii
  2. See Tom O’Regan’s discussion of The Piano in terms of ‘The Messiness of National Cinemas’ in Australian National Cinema, Routledge, London, 1996, pp.72-73. Despite these debates, the film’s identity as ‘Australian’ was strongly asserted by its inclusion in the 1993 Australian Film Institute Awards, where it took home several of the major categories, including Best Director and Best Film. The Piano is also listed in The Oxford Companion to Australian Film, Brian McFarlane, Geoff Mayer, Ina Bertrand (eds), Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, 1999, p.383, whereas Campion’s later features – The Portrait of a Lady and Holy Smoke – are not included.
  3. Dana Polan provides an excellent overview of these debates in Jane Campion, BFI World Directors series, BFI publishing, London, 2002, pp.42-53
  4. The term ‘crossover’ is used in the industry to describe low-budget films “often expressing a ‘personal vision’, that move from art-house openings to embrace much larger audiences than most art movies”: Stephen Crofts, “Foreign tunes? Gender and nationality in four countries’ reception of The Piano”, in Harriet Margolis (ed.), Jane Campion’s The Piano, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000, pp.135-161
  5. Box office takings for The Piano in the US, UK and Australia are summarised in Polan, p.5, where he compares these figures with the box office takings for Campion’s earlier and later feature films, to support his claim that “The Piano stands out in Campion’s career as a major commercial sensation”.
  6. Ellen Cheshire, Jane Campion, Pocket Essentials, Harpenden, 2000, p.31
  7. Polan pp.130 & 140-141; Cheshire p.71
  8. As one user on The Guardian’s Unlimited Film website put it: “It seems Australian directors feel a need to produce smartarse weird films featuring lots of outback and/or the most depressing suburbia to be found on the planet, and this is another one to be avoided …” http://film.guardian.co.uk/Film_Page/0,4061,78696,00.html accessed 16 August 2002.
  9. Along with her short films Peel, Passionless Moments (1983/4, co-directed with Gerard Lee) and A Girl’s Own Story (1983/4), all completed during her training at AFTRS, Campion’s tele-feature Two Friends (1986), produced by Jan Chapman from a script by Helen Garner, was also screened at Cannes in 1986. The AFTRS refused to finish Peel after seeing the rough cut (Oxford Companion, p.54). Sally Bongers, DOP for most of Campion’s early work including Sweetie, recalls the repressive atmosphere at AFTRS that she believes stifled creativity and individuality, in an interview with Mary Colbert: Liz Ferrier, “Vulnerable Bodies: Creative Disabilities in Contemporary Australian Film”, Australian Cinema in the 1990s, ed. Ian Craven, Frank Cass, London & Portland, Oregon, pp.57-78: 71
  10. Michel Ciment, “The Red Wigs of Autobiography: Interview with Jane Campion”, in Wexman, pp.62-70
  11. Borrowed from Mary Cantwell, “Jane Campion’s Lunatic Women”, in Wexman, pp.153-163
  12. Justine Ashby, “Jane Campion”, Fifty Contemporary Filmmakers, ed. Yvonne Tasker, Routledge, London and New York, 2002, pp.90-98: 94-95
  13. For an overview of these discussions, see Shoshana Felman, “Women and Madness: The Crticial Phallacy” (1975) and Nina Baym “The Madwoman and Her Languages: Why I Don’t Do Feminist Literary Theory” (1984), both reproduced in Robyn R. Warhol and Diane Price Herndl, eds, Feminisms: an anthology of literary theory and criticism, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1991, pp.6-19 & pp.154-167 respectively.
  14. Except in the novel The Piano, where Campion and Pullinger explain that Ada stopped speaking at the age of six after “she was humiliated by her father in front of [her] aunts and had a traumatic reaction”: Polan p.164
  15. Cheshire pp.32 & 35
  16. Yves Alion, interview with Jane Campion, April 1991, reprinted in Wexman, p.84
  17. http://allmovie.com/cg/avg.dll?p=avg&sql=A48133 accessed 21 February 2002
  18. Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times, www.suntimes.com/ebert/ebert_reviews/1990/03/537986.html accessed 6 March 2002
  19. Kelly Steele and Cordelia Stephens, Edinburgh Film Society, www.eufs.org.uk/films/sweetie.html accessed 6 March 2002
  20. Both terms used by Cantwell, in Wexman, p.53
  21. With her irrational fear of trees (albeit a rational response to an irrational sister who is associated with a treehouse!) Kay could also be classified as one of Campion’s “lunatic women”. As Louis bluntly informs her after discovering Kay has ripped up their anniversary tree from the backyard, “you’re abnormal”.
  22. Cf. those critics who read Ada’s muteness as a form of feminine resistance, in line with the tenets of French feminism, or as a justified response to childhood trauma: Polan, p.32. Footnote 9 contains references to articles applying the theories of Julia Kristeva to The Piano.
  23. Felman, p.7
  24. Mary Russo, “Female Grotesques: Carnival & Theory”, in Teresa de Lauretis (ed), Feminist Studies: Critical Studies, Indiana University Press, Indiana, p.222
  25. “The unsayable and the unseeable are important recurring elements in Jane Campion’s films.”: Sue Gillett, “More than meets the eye: the mediation of affects in Jane Campion’s Sweetie”, Senses of Cinema, http://sensesofcinema.com/contents/00/1/sweetie.html accessed 27 February 2002
  26. Cheshire pp. 62 & 63
  27. See Polan p.127
  28. Polan, p.148
  29. Polan p.128
  30. Cheshire p.71
  31. Regarded by some critics as a controversial inclusion given that it does not occur in the original novel: Polan p.130
  32. Cheshire pp.70 & 73
  33. See Polan pp.106-107, 122 & 166-167 for further discussion.
  34. Thomas Bourguigon and Michel Ciment, “Interview with Jane Campion: More Barbarian than Aesthete” in Wexman, pp.101-112
  35. Indeed, Campion’s films invite the uncomfortable question: do these dangers fuel the desire? See, for example, Mark Nicholls’ discussion of Isabel’s masochistic desires, in “She Who Gets Slapped: Jane Campion’s Portrait of a Lady”, Metro, no.111, 1997, pp.43-47
  36. See Polan pp.104-105 for further discussion.
  37. See Polan pp.152-153
  38. See Freda Freiberg, “The Bizarre in the Banal: Notes on the Films of Jane Campion”, in Annette Blonski, Barbara Creed and Freda Freiberg (eds), Don’t Shoot Darling! Women’s Independent Film-Making in Australia, Greenhouse, Richmond, 1987, pp.328-333 for an excellent discussion of Campion’s short films.
  39. http://us.imdb.com/WN?20020724#5 accessed 9 August 2002
  40. See Polan pp.157-160 for further discussion of this project.