Jane Campion

Eraserhead

I love looking at filmmakers’ early work. Sure, it might be juvenile or lacking the grace of experience, but it’s also the artistic eye before fame, celebrity personas or narrowly honed visions. It’s the work they made before output was partially (if not totally) influenced by investors, studios and critics. First films can be like cinematic diaries of the directors’ vision – like David Lynch’s iconic Eraserhead, which is now on Criterion Blu-ray with almost all of his short films – or whiffs of artistry before the mainstream. Some, sadly, are still out of reach to the Internet masses, though they’d be fascinating first glimpses at cinematic themes and techniques. Long before 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen debuted with a revealing video installation, Bear, which only makes the rounds at live events. Kathryn Bigelow “plays down” her first film from 1978, The Set-Up, where Gary Busey and another guy fight each other as semioticians deconstruct the images – a film that certainly speaks to her future work, but hasn’t been released for modern audiences. And though someone who thinks they’re clever put up a slave scene on YouTube, insisting it was Spike Lee’s first film, his debut – the Super 8 film Last Hustle in Brooklyn – is actually about “Black people and Puerto Rican people looting and dancing.” Those three might remain out of reach, but here eight filmmakers’ early visions that speak to humor, darkness, unexpected twists, and for one – an artistry before an obsession with […]

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Nobel Theater

There is no Nobel Prize for Cinema, but there should be. Not that it’s anyone’s fault, of course. Alfred Nobel put aside the funding for the five prizes (Medicine, Peace, Physics, Chemistry and Literature) in his will, and he died in 1896. It seems entirely likely that the Swedish inventor and philanthropist never even saw a single film projected in his life. Why would he set aside some of his fortune to reward the practitioners of an art form that had been around for less than a decade? I suppose one could leave it at that. Tough luck, cinema. But in 1969 the Swedish Academy began giving out the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. If they can grant an annual award to a fake science, then they can certainly do the same for an entirely real art. What would such a prize look like? It should probably take most of the parameters of the Nobel Prize in Literature, which is the only current award that recognizes artists. The aren’t really specific criteria, except that the recipient has to be living. The list of prior laureates is international and interdisciplinary, including novelists as well as poets and playwrights. And, most importantly, the prize is given out for an entire body of work. Individual books have been included in citations, but that’s rare these days.

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Top of the Lake

The news that Jane Campion was debuting a new project at last month’s Sundance Film Festival was met with general excitement – until we all realized that the project was not a feature film, but a television miniseries that runs seven hours that would only be showed but once during the festival. Even if you’ve never been to a film festival, you can probably imagine how impossible it is to schedule a seven-hour chunk on any day, let alone just one set day. Fortunately, Campion’s Top of the Lake is a television series after all, and one that will be showing on the Sundance Channel next month. The series features Elisabeth Moss as a detective tasked with returning to her close-knit (and more than a little dysfunctional) hometown, an isolated hamlet apparently filled with guns and drugs and people operating on a real hair-trigger. Moss’ Robin Griffin’s case is that of a missing girl – a twelve-year-old who also happens to be five months pregnant and who has disappeared after walking into a frozen lake. Campion’s trademark style and beauty are already on display in the series’ trailer, so just imagine how wonderful that will feel in one, big seven-hour dose. Watch the stunning trailer after the break.

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the-water-diary_2b

Both leads in Beautiful Creatures are relative newcomers, but actress Alice Englert is more of an out-of-nowhere choice for such an anticipated adaptation. She’s been garnering raves for her performances in festival favorites like Sally Potter’s Ginger & Rosa and the recent Sundance debut In Fear, but otherwise this Thursday will really mark her introduction to general moviegoers. And I’ll admit, she’s excellent in Beautiful Creatures, standing out as a dramatic centerpiece amidst the enjoyable over-the-top stints by Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson and Emmy Rossum. Between that, the other two features I mentioned and Roland Joffe’s upcoming Singularity, the 18-year-old could very well be the next big thing, and perhaps the best of such since Jessica Chastain. So, where did she come from? Very literally she came from Jane Campion, the Oscar-nominated director of The Piano. She even had her first real starring role in one of her mother’s films, the short The Water Diary, which is part of the feature-length omnibus 8. While IMDb credits this as Englert’s first work, she actually made her debut in an earlier short from 2001, Paul Maling’s Listen. You can watch that in full over at Alice-Englert.org. After The Water Diary, she appeared in one more short before the hiatus that led up to this year’s heavy output. That one, Hannah Cowley’s Flame of the West, does not appear to be available online anywhere, but you can check out a trailer that barely features the actress here.

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For an industry that is viewed reductively by much of middle America as being politically left-leaning to the point of being out-of-touch with the rest of the country, Hollywood has shown a stagnant lack of progress in terms of gender equality. Actresses’ careers are in jeopardy as soon as they hit 35, it always seems like there’s a dearth of good roles for women, and much of the business behind the camera is dominated by a boys’ club. Particularly striking are the lack of female directors.

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brightstar-review1

Jane Campion’s ‘Bright Star’ is an intensely romantic film that’s never trite or dated, despite its PG rating and early 19th century setting.

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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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