Jane Campion: The clever people used to do film. Now they do TV
From Sweetie to The Piano, she has made some of cinemas strangest, strongest films. So where does her outsider streak come from?
Jane Campion, one of the worlds great film directors, has had it with the movies. It is eight years since she last made a full-length feature (the Keats biopic Bright Star), and 14 years since her sexually explicit thriller In The Cut almost did for her career. Now she is having a Norma Desmond moment: shes still big, its just the pictures that got small.
Movies, she says, have become conservative cash cows. The really clever people used to do film. Now, the really clever people do television. Id been feeling, in the film world, that if you come up with ideas, and you share them, the first concern is: how is the audience going to react? Television has reinvigorated her. Cinema in Australia and New Zealand has become much more mainstream. Its broad entertainment, broad sympathy. Its just not my kind of thing. As a goal, to make money out of entertaining doesnt inspire me. But in television, there is no concern about politeness or pleasing the audience. It feels like creative freedom.
The first series of Top Of The Lake, co-written and directed by Campion for television, was visually stunning (set on New Zealands breathtaking South Island), thrilling (you never knew where you were going in this police procedural about a missing girl), superbly acted (Elisabeth Moss as the troubled detective Robin Griffin is terrific) and brilliantly bonkers (the commune of separatist-feminist-utopian women led by Holly Hunters guru takes some beating on the fruit-loop front). Take Twin Peaks, transplant it to the New Zealand wilderness, chuck in an extra smattering of crazy, and youve got Top Of The Lake.
Four years later, the New Zealand director has completed a second series, and it is every bit as compelling. The location has now switched to Sydney, and Hunters commune has been replaced by a group of dysfunctional young men addicted to pornography. Hunter is gone and Nicole Kidman has arrived, playing the adoptive mother of the daughter Griffin had to give up (played by Campions own daughter, Alice Englert). And, of course, there is another horrible crime at the heart of it this time, trafficking.
We meet at a hotel in Soho, central London. Before the interview, Campions publicist tells me that the film-maker is worried she just wants to talk about her work, no personal stuff but it soon emerges that the two are indistinguishable. Within six minutes, Campion has taken me through her menopause, explaining why it was a positive experience, even if women her age are regarded as invisible and unfuckable.
Campion, aged 63, is every bit as unusual as her work: tall, tactile, slightly awkward, with long, white hair and a striking face. She is warm and open, with an easy manner that makes you feel you have known her for decades though that may be because I have, through her films. I saw her first movie, Sweetie, nearly 30 years ago, a tragicomedy about a love-hate relationship between two sisters. It was as funny as it was upsetting, and full of what became the directors signature touches: naturalistic (no background soundtrack), dreamily surrealistic (everybody reacts a beat slower than they should), scatological (one of the girls takes a pee in the driveway), nonjudgmental. Which is the stranger or the more normal of the two sisters? Who knows?