Friday, January 20, 2017

3 Campion Shorts

AN EXERCISE IN DISCIPLINE – PEEL              B+                  
Australia  (9 mi)  1982

This was my first film.  I knew these people who all had red hair and were part of the family.  They were also alike in character, extreme and stubborn.  Their drive in the country begins an intrigue of awesome belligerence.
—Jane Campion

Recalling a 1984 interview by Mark Stiles, Jane Campion: Interviews - Page 5 - Google Books Result

The people at the AFTS loathed Peel when they saw a first cut of it.  They told me not to bother finishing it.  I was quite vain so I found that really upsetting, but it was good for me.  I cut out everything that was remotely extraneous and made the film a lot better.  The AFTS people thought I was arrogant and not particularly talented.  There were people there more talented than I was, but my talent wasn’t the kind they were ever going to understand, which was one of the luckiest things for me.

Peel, also known as An Exercise in Discipline — Peel, is a 1982 Australian short film directed by Jane Campion, described as an “Abrasive yet meditative study of the usual family road-trip misery.”  Working for the first time with her longtime friend and cinematographer, Sally Bongers, a fellow student at the Australian Film and Television School, a father along with his son and sister are taking a road trip in the country, each with bright red hair, during which an orange peel has significance, where teaching a lesson has unforeseen consequences.  As the youngest child grows bored, dropping pieces of an orange peel out the window, his father tells him to stop, but he intentionally disobeys, causing his father to stop the car, claiming they’re not going anywhere until he goes back and picks up all the pieces he dropped onto the side of the road.  While his sister complains endlessly about how she can’t believe what a waste of time this is, extending an already long drive, claiming she has important things to do, growing more and more vehement, until the father pops out of the car as much to escape her as to find out what’s going on with his son.  When they return, the sister has herself peeled an orange and left the peel on the ground next to the car.  When both tell her to pick it up, with the kid apparently learning his lesson, she refuses, where once again stubbornness alters the power dynamic, leaving them all in a state of limbo, not going anywhere, where the final image is one of mayhem, with the sister assuming the role of the pouting, incalcitrant child, while the out-of-control kid is seen jumping up and down on top of the car. 

The film went on to win the Short Film Palme d’Or at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival making Campion the first ever woman (and New Zealander) to win the award.

PASSIONLESS MOMENTS                        B-                   
Australia  (13 mi)  1983

Jane Campion: Interviews - Page 30 - Google Books Result  Michel Ciment interview from Positif magazine, May 17, 1989

It was the result of a collaboration with one of my friends, Gerard Lee.  It was his idea at the beginning and we wrote and directed the film together.  Once we had the frame of the film — a series of playlets —, we tried to imagine the maximum number of stories that would be told with a certain ironic distance.  We finally wrote ten of them.  Gerard and I wanted to show sweet, ordinary people that you rarely see on the screen and who have more charm than better known actors. The film was shot in five days, two episodes per day.  I was responsible for the photography and I realized the benefit of film school where in two hours I learned how to light and to exploit the possibilities of the camera. 

A voice says, “There are 1,000,000 moments in your neighborhood; each has a fragile presence which fades almost as it forms.”  Campion’s graduate diploma student film, co-written and co-directed by Gerald Lee, who had a brief romance with the director during film school, becoming a treatise on boredom, or drifting time, reflected by small innocuous moments that have little if any meaning, including reveries and daydreams that seem to go nowhere, yet comprise so much of our random time on earth, where as the saying goes, we forgot more than we ever knew.  Narrated in a dry, emotionless voice, somewhat in the Greenaway tradition, recalling Buñuel’s travelogue-style narration in LAND WITHOUT BREAD (1932), only without the depictions of misery and degradation, shot in Black and White, the film captures ten moments, each titled, offering slight satiric information on each sequence, all happening on the same day, reflecting a kind of wry humor, yet none rise to the level of even being remotely interesting, however, that seems to be the point.  We aren’t always our most captivating and wittiest versions of ourselves, as oftentimes we do the most ordinary things, where this film perfectly captures the things that people do when nobody else is in the room, especially out of sight from everyone else, where we are perhaps at our dullest expression when no one else is watching, as what this film amounts to is mental nose picking.  

A GIRL’S OWN STORY                                          A                    
Australia  (27 mi)  1984

In this film I put together ideas about girlhood.  I wanted to tell a few stories from those years, where family is strange, adulthood lonely, innocence perverse.
—Jane Campion

A gorgeously stark and eerie Black and White film that looks at the complicated lives of a group of girls, the intensity of their feelings, and their growing interest in sex and its consequences.  Originally screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival, Campion is back with Sally Bonger as her cinematographer, taking an acute interest in subjectivity, accented by extreme angles and framing, where it’s actually shot on 16mm much like a German Expressionist film, providing a refreshing look back at the 60’s and the Beatlemania craze, beautifully capturing the group mentality and quirky mannerisms of teen girls, a depiction of the passions and innocence of three young teenage girls, flooded with hormones and sexual images, yet it also shows how easily young girls are violated. 

Opening with close-ups of girl’s faces, to the music box sounds of the love theme from DR. ZHIVAGO (1965), recalling a similar look in Cassavetes’ Faces (1968), the film begins with a medical book diagram of an erect penis, with the curiosity of girls using their fingers exploring the outline of the male anatomy, with the following unscription inderneath:  THIS SIGHT MAY SHOCK YOUNG GIRLS.  With shrieking girls caught up in the hysteria of Beatlemania, three girls in identical school uniforms face the camera, using tennis rackets as guitars, innocently singing the Beatles song “I Should Have Known Better,” A Girl's Own Story (1983) clip 1 on ASO ... - Australian Screen (3:08), showing girls wearing Bobby socks dancing the twist before the nuns at Catholic school run them off.  With the central character Pam (Gabrielle Shornegg) narrating her inner thoughts throughout, we enter her bedroom, lined with Barbie dolls, which is a shrine to the Beatles, where she and her school friend Stella (Geraldine Haywood) kiss photos of their heroes pasted to the walls before practicing on each other, with one wearing a Beatles mask, supposedly preparing for kissing boys.  Dinner is a surreal experience in her home, as her mother suffers from depression, where Pam curiously tends to side with her father and blame her mother for her illness, even though her father (Paul Chubb) refuses to talk to her, but relays messages to his wife through his daughter, some overly personalized, which tends to erupt in an explosion of frayed nerves, while her father acts like nothing happened.   

Elsewhere, another brother and sister are home alone and up to their old antics, Gloria (Marina Knight) and Graeme (John Godden), first seen behaving like dogs, then turning to seductive cats, where it’s easy to see these two are used to venturing into inappropriate territory, playing sex games with each other when their parents are away.  But as her brother, all he can offer is sex without love, where she just lies still, like one of the dolls seen in the bedroom, as they don’t even kiss.  In one of the strangest dream sequences, accompanied by a vividly provocative soundtrack, a young girl is walking down the street in boots and a raincoat, followed by a car that pulls up next to her, where the girl is transformed into Pam and back to a child again.  The man in the car sounds like the voice of her father, holding a young kitten in his hands, drawing her attention, luring her into his car as they drive away.  With the same music continuing into the next scene, Stella has turned on Pam, as they’re no longer friends, leaving her isolated and alone, but this time it’s Pam acting like nothing has happened, where in a locker room scene, surrounded by taunting girls, she’s surprised to learn Gloria is no longer in school, but is pregnant, sent away to a Catholic home for wayward girls.  In a room with a crucifix looming on the wall, these girls commiserate with each other, while Graeme comes to visit, though this time it’s his turn to pretend like nothing has happened, yet Gloria is clearly showing signs of her pregnancy.  Continuing on a theme of inappropriate male behavior, Pam’s Dad takes her out to dinner on her birthday, but brings along a girlfriend of his own, using the lame excuse that it’s a French restaurant and she can translate what’s on the menu.  Later on, when his girlfriend calls his home, his wife freaks out, violently attacking her husband, who strangely starts kissing her instead, where the two retreat upstairs where they have sex in plain sight.  Pam’s eyes follow their every move, exposed to something she probably shouldn’t see, where their sudden intimacy catches her off-guard. 

At the end, over an image of a spinning ice-skater in white superimposed over a girl’s listless face, the three girls break out into song, “Feel the Cold,” expressing the feeling “I feel the cold/I feel the cold is here to stay/I feel the cold/I want to melt away.” (clip three, 3:11)  Throughout the film there are images of space heaters, metaphors for the girls’ emotional isolation and a lack of human warmth, suggesting the world is a cold and unwelcoming place, with predatory men hanging around, lurking in the shadows, where the love and affection they crave is realized only in fantasies.  The collective characterizations of these young girls reveal fresh insights, offering shades of the female experience rarely seen before, expressing a frank depiction of teenage sexual curiosity, but also the nightmarish places you could end up if you’re not careful, where it’s interesting that the Catholic church is not spared, exposed as the root of chauvinism in the Western world.  It’s a non-traditional narrative, where the expressionist quality of the film is jarring to the senses, where the boldness of the film delights with cinematic flair, especially the play-acting of the girls, but on another level delves unsparingly into incest, voyeurism, infidelity, domestic violence, idolatry, and childish same sex experimentation.  This is one of Campion’s most autobiographical offerings, as her mother suffered from depression, cleverly emphasizing isolation and awkwardness associated with that age, especially Pam’s inability to empathize with her mother’s illness, yet tends to accept her father’s philandering ways, revealing the anxieties associated with adolescent sex and family relationships.  The music composed by fellow film student Alex Proyas is impressive, as it gloriously captures the dark mood of the film, filled with sudden departures into surreal and dreamlike moments, winning the 1984 Rouben Mamoulian Award at the Sydney Fim Festival.  Nicole Kidman admitted during an interview that at 14 she was cast as the lead in the film and turned it down because of her reluctance to kiss a girl and wear a shower cap. 

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