Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Piano

I have a saying about Jane Campion. There's no great film that Jane Campion can nearly make that her brain can't overthink its way out of. The one greatest exception, of course, is the magnificent The Piano. I watched it again last night. Holly Hunter is every bit as great as you remember, and Campion's heady feminism supports the forward momentum of the story rather than gets in its way (see: the ending of Holy Smoke!). Not only is it a film that gets better with age. It's a film that gets better as you age. That's one of the highest compliments that I can give.


Pinko Punko said...

I found it maddening without a single likable character, but also spellbinding and very well made. What else was up for BP that year? let me check...

Pinko Punko said...

Oh Schindler's List.

Alexander Coleman said...

I do like The Piano rather well. I've always thought Harvey Keitel was exceptional in it, as is the deserving winner of Best Supporting Actress, Anna Paquin. I have some problems with it, but I agree with pinko punko that it is very well made. I agree with you, K. Bowen, that Campion continually overthinks her films and even The Piano suffers a little from this, I think, but it's still by far her best film.

K. Bowen said...

Alexander, welcome over. I enjoy your site, as well. Your writings are exceptionally perceptive.

As you say, Campion nearly goes [hinted-at spoiler] overboard along with the piano during the suicide attempt. There's got to be an easier way to commit suicide, but few are so fraught with symbolism, so instinctively that's the one that Campion goes for. That moment nearly breaks the spell. But I think she recovers it with the sudden appearance of the internal monologue. Something about it steers me back into the film.

Compare that to Harvey Keitel dressed in lipstick and women's clothing and throwing a punch at Kate Winslet in Holy Smoke! I'm sure there's a beautiful way for a film scholar to justify it. Certainly it visually symbolizes the shift of the power dynamic in the relationship. But there's one problem. On a gut level, it doesn't work at all. "Gut-level" might not always be the most effective test, and it can be a dangerously blinding one. But sometimes it deserves to be listened to. To me, Holy Smoke! is example A of that.

Anyway, after thinking about The Piano a bit today, I'm gonna write a little more on the film in a full post.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thanks, K. Bowen. Likewise, you've got a good place going here.

You really nail my biggest problem with Campion: she seems to bend over backwards to make her points, so much so that the film she's making usually falls apart as a result. You're right, the internal monologue really saves the film after the suicide attempt.

I do find The Piano a bit suffocating despite its many very positive attributes, partly because as pinko punko says the characters are so inexplicably unlikable, but it's very well crafted and beautiful regardless.

Holy Smoke! is riddled with problems but the scene of which you write is definitely a noteworthy one. Winslet is both electrifying and beautiful, however, seemingly as always (well, except for All the King's Men, there she's just beautiful).