My Love Letter to THE PIANO

What’s so mesmerizing about Jane Campion’s THE PIANO (1993) is this feminist mindset captured by the lens tethered to vivid imagery and subtle language translated in strange silences, hand gestures, and facial expressions along with a compelling soundtrack that hypnotizes the mind into a strange, euphoric lull of bewilderment and sometimes frustration because it leaves this creeping essence of a melody that permits no escape nor can it be ignored. It’s a period piece, it’s a dark love story, there’s passion, there’s soul wrenching music, it’s erotic, it takes place on an island in New Zealand alongside the Maori tribe, it’s stylistically astonishing, it’s mysteriously magical, I mean the list goes on and on as to why I’m so enamored by this film.

The magic remains mysterious and there’s a simple reason why I’m irrevocably drawn to this film, Ada (Holly Hunter) selectively chooses to be a mute and as a unit of her expression passionately plays the piano. The piano is her voice. This resonates heavily with me personally, because at the age of 5 I was selectively mute. (Just ask my mom) I was the only kindergartener without a speaking voice, and I can’t even explain why I choose not to speak, I mean technically I did but it only resulted into whispering. Yeah I was a weird kid, but who isn’t?

Aside from my personal admiration for this film, there is a surplus of elements that I’m constantly interpreting every time I view this film whether it be in camera angles, mood, lighting, coloring, or even the cryptic dialogue that unveils certain mannerisms behind a character, I can marvel, oh and ah this film to the end of time. This is of course a period piece, a love story, flirting with expressionistic nuances of dark, erotic, and sometimes horrific themes all streamlined with the lives of the characters. Campion paints a world so meticulously and prolifically, about a woman who simply lives for her music while bound to an arranged marriage she never asked for which is heightened when her piano gets sold to George Baines (Harvey Keitel). She’s robbed of her freedom as a woman bound to the chains of a loveless marriage, but also of her expression from another man who uses her piano as collateral delving into the erotic throes of sexual lust. Ada is reluctant to play such a game but is essentially drawn in for her love knows no bounds when it comes to playing her piano. It becomes a very intriguing cat and mouse game which is further complicated by her husband Alisdair (Sam Neil) and her daughter Flora (Anna Paquin). She has her duties as a wife and a mother but would rather be expressing herself through the notes of her piano as an outsider, a lone she-wolf but also finds love in George Baines who essentially accepts her for who she is.

There are scenes so prominent and dramatic such as the moment Alisdair’s anger unleashes emotional havoc on Ada’s opposition to his advances which literally results in him chopping her finger off. Such an intensely and provocatively captured scene is heightened when we realize Flora is traumatized screaming, witnessing this in horror as the blood splatters across her. There’s rain, mud, rage, bewilderment and encapsulating such a dismal atmosphere as the camera lingers on Ada as she slowly sinks into the sludge clutching her bloody hands together, quietly taking in the wretched desolation of this agonizing moment. Alisdair later whispers to her while tending to her care, “I simply clipped your wing.” What’s even more electrically horrifying is he hands the finger to Flora telling her to take it Baines. A child literally running off into the rain with a severed finger, crying all the way there how insane is that? It’s my favorite sequence for how violently, and strenuously these immense emotions clash together like some tantalizing dance that lures you in as a moth is drawn to a flame.

Campion choose a different ending from her original idea where Ada’s character transcends its shell of muteness and in the end chooses to live instead of relying on her piano so heavily. This is beautifully capture when she intentionally places her foot into the pile of robe as she demands the Maori boats men to throw her piano overboard as she sails away from the island. Her body is literally flung overboard with the piano plunging deep into the ocean. However, she’s later brought back to the surface, in a breathtaking overhead shot, in slow motion as she gasps for air. It’s a new beginning where she actively decides to pick up the pieces and cultivates a new life for herself. It’s an ingenious and eloquent moment brought to life on film. I ooze with fascination every time I watch that sequence and the cherry on top is how Campion ties in Thomas Hood’s poem “Silence” fairly nicely with the stanza: “There is a silence where hath been no sound. There is a silence where no sound may be in the cold grave, under the deep deep sea.”

THE PIANO is moving and I can’t even articulate why, as it’s a feeling that surpasses explanation but acknowledges recognition of reverence to the pathos of one’s struggle to maintain identity among the reality of being a woman, a lover, a wife, and a mother. Roger Ebert even wrote: “The Piano is as peculiar and haunting as any film I’ve seen” and “It is one of those rare movies that is not just about a story, or some characters, but about a whole universe of feeling”.

Watch the film, listen to the soundtrack, fall in love with this wickedly, intrinsically dark romance of a story. I can go on and on and probably will in a future blog post but will stop for now. It bewitched my heart years ago, and still does to this day forever being my most favored film.

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My Love Letter to THE PIANO

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What’s so mesmerizing about Jane Campion’s THE PIANO (1993) is this feminist mindset captured by the lens tethered to vivid imagery and subtle language translated in strange silences, hand gestures, and facial expressions along with a compelling soundtrack that hypnotizes the mind into a strange, euphoric lull of bewilderment and sometimes frustration because it leaves this creeping essence of a melody that permits no escape nor can it be ignored. It’s a period piece, it’s a dark love story, there’s passion, there’s soul wrenching music, it’s erotic, it takes place on an island in New Zealand alongside the Maori tribe, it’s stylistically astonishing, it’s mysteriously magical, I mean the list goes on and on as to why I’m so enamored by this film.
The magic remains mysterious and there’s a simple reason why I’m irrevocably drawn to this film, Ada (Holly Hunter) selectively chooses to be a mute and as a unit of her expression passionately plays the piano. The piano is her voice. This resonates heavily with me personally, because at the age of 5 I was selectively mute. (Just ask my mom) I was the only kindergartener without a speaking voice, and I can’t even explain why I choose not to speak, I mean technically I did but it only resulted into whispering. Yeah I was a weird kid, but who isn’t?
Aside from my personal admiration for this film, there is a surplus of elements that I’m constantly interpreting every time I view this film whether it be in camera angles, mood, lighting, coloring, or even the cryptic dialogue that unveils certain mannerisms behind a character, I can marvel, oh and ah this film to the end of time. This is of course a period piece, a love story, flirting with expressionistic nuances of dark, erotic, and sometimes horrific themes all streamlined with the lives of the characters. Campion paints a world so meticulously and prolifically, about a woman who simply lives for her music while bound to an arranged marriage she never asked for which is heightened when her piano gets sold to George Baines (Harvey Keitel). She’s robbed of her freedom as a woman bound to the chains of a loveless marriage, but also of her expression from another man who uses her piano as collateral delving into the erotic throes of sexual lust. Ada is reluctant to play such a game but is essentially drawn in for her love knows no bounds when it comes to playing her piano. It becomes a very intriguing cat and mouse game which is further complicated by her husband Alisdair (Sam Neil) and her daughter Flora (Anna Paquin). She has her duties as a wife and a mother but would rather be expressing herself through the notes of her piano as an outsider, a lone she-wolf but also finds love in George Baines who essentially accepts her for who she is.
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There are scenes so prominent and dramatic such as the moment Alisdair’s anger unleashes emotional havoc on Ada’s opposition to his advances which literally results in him chopping her finger off. Such an intensely and provocatively captured scene is heightened when we realize Flora is traumatized screaming, witnessing this in horror as the blood splatters across her. There’s rain, mud, rage, bewilderment and encapsulating such a dismal atmosphere as the camera lingers on Ada as she slowly sinks into the sludge clutching her bloody hands together, quietly taking in the wretched desolation of this agonizing moment. Alisdair later whispers to her while tending to her care, “I simply clipped your wing.” What’s even more electrically horrifying is he hands the finger to Flora telling her to take it Baines. A child literally running off into the rain with a severed finger, crying all the way there how insane is that? It’s my favorite sequence for how violently, and strenuously these immense emotions clash together like some tantalizing dance that lures you in as a moth is drawn to a flame.
Campion choose a different ending from her original idea where Ada’s character transcends its shell of muteness and in the end chooses to live instead of relying on her piano so heavily. This is beautifully capture when she intentionally places her foot into the pile of robe as she demands the Maori boats men to throw her piano overboard as she sails away from the island. Her body is literally flung overboard with the piano plunging deep into the ocean. However, she’s later brought back to the surface, in a breathtaking overhead shot, in slow motion as she gasps for air. It’s a new beginning where she actively decides to pick up the pieces and cultivates a new life for herself. It’s an ingenious and eloquent moment brought to life on film. I ooze with fascination every time I watch that sequence and the cherry on top is how Campion ties in Thomas Hood’s poem “Silence” fairly nicely with the stanza: “There is a silence where hath been no sound. There is a silence where no sound may be in the cold grave, under the deep deep sea.”
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THE PIANO is moving and I can’t even articulate why, as it’s a feeling that surpasses explanation but acknowledges recognition of reverence to the pathos of one’s struggle to maintain identity among the reality of being a woman, a lover, a wife, and a mother. Roger Ebert even wrote: “The Piano is as peculiar and haunting as any film I’ve seen” and “It is one of those rare movies that is not just about a story, or some characters, but about a whole universe of feeling”.
Watch the film, listen to the soundtrack, fall in love with this wickedly, intrinsically dark romance of a story. I can go on and on and probably will in a future blog post but will stop for now. It bewitched my heart years ago, and still does to this day forever being my most favored film.

Brave and Messy: Holy Smoke!

Jane Campion’s Holy Smoke! (1999) is an indie film about a determined, headstrong, woman named Ruth (Kate Winslet), who’s under the influence of a guru from India. It’s basically about her spiritual awakening and self discovery and not necessarily about “joining a cult”. However, her parents don’t see it as such, and freak out and hire a “cult exiter” named PJ (Harvey Keitel) to extract her mind from the power of Baba (the guru). Ruth tells her mother that something amazing has happened to her in that Baba’s magic has lead her to enlightenment which prompts her mother to take action.

There’s a lovely scene of Ruth just being herself, singing and dancing to an Alanis Morissette song on a walkmen as she’s striding among an emu farm in the middle of the outback. She’s full of life among her weary family members who believe she’s lost her damn mind. But, as this scene progresses and Ruth sees her father playing golf with other friends, the realization hits her that he wasn’t dying of a stroke and that her mother had lied to get her to come back home. Campion does a beautiful job of conveying this idea almost like capturing a wild creature and sending it off to be reevaluated, retrained, rewired for what society wants it to be. She uses this overhead shot, as the men in Ruth’s family trap her in a human made circle linking their arms together, preventing her escape. This shot conveys power the way it’s angled up high and in a way signifies or perhaps jostles the power in this patriarchal world letting the viewer know, who’s really in charge here. The men gathered around her (brothers, and father) tell her that PJ is going to get her, “fixed up” and that he’s going to, “straighten her out!” Of course from a place of love sure it makes sense but in a social context it’s kind of disturbing. From a philosophical standpoint, this reminds me of Michel Foucault theory addressed on the relationship of knowledge and power along with the influence of social control. Eventually, the entire premise of the narrative kind of backfires as PJ is trying to help Ruth, her own influence persuades PJ and reshapes his life. I love that Campion plays with the dynamic relationship between men and women.

There’s a scene in a club, where, “I put a spell on you” is playing and the look in PJ’s eyes as he’s watching Ruth dance and make out with a female friend all in slow motion definitely emphasizes the female gaze and how’s he’s losing his power over her. I believe, this is where the narrative shifts and Campion’s analysis on how women can disempower men. For instance, the scene where Ruth basically tells PJ how she likes to be kissed shaping it for her pleasure and not necessarily his. Or where Ruth dresses PJ in a red dress, with lipstick, and brushing his hair totally undressing him of his masculinity which shifts the power dynamic. Its not necessarily about humiliating him but opens the door about her perception of him. PJ sees women in a certain context and Ruth unleashes that notion by dressing him up in what she believes how PJ sees women. Consequently, PJ bluntly writes “be kind” on Ruth’s forehead because it’s how he sees in her; cruel, desirably mean, and possibly full of angst. This is then followed by a very vulnerable scene where Ruth shares her biggest fear with him when she says, “No one can be close to me.” You know what I’m scared of? I’m heartless.” It’s the big a-ha moment, for both of these characters because their cruel, strong willed exteriors begin to break down. Their breaking each other’s psyche’s down in the most unusual and unconventional way.

Consequently, Ruth turns the tables on PJ because in a way she’s become his guru leaving him wrecked in the desert chasing after her, while he’s still wearing a dress and red lipstick proclaiming his love for her. And, the look on her face is priceless, but also the realization of the power she holds over him is discovered. In the end, she shows him kindness by cradling him in her arms in the back of a pickup track as they return to civilization. Eventually, she returns to India with her mom and writes PJ a postcard about being in love with him and not understanding why. But, the conclusion is both of these characters shared a connection and it’s reshaped their lives which is something kind of beautiful.

The overall idea here is a girl’s belief in something is completely taken out of context from her overprotective, worrisome parents who believe she’s been lured into a cult. But, we don’t fully understand the cult’s purpose except for that it’s “bad”. My biggest concern is what was wrong with Ruth in the first place? She was experiencing a spiritual possibility governed by love and enlightenment. She wasn’t drinking the kool aid or killing people for sport! And, I think it was the fear of it that really set the ball in motion for this conflict to take place. We fear what we don’t understand which happens everyday to somebody or everybody.

Jane Campion’s theme of eroticism is often weaved through an assortment of her films, which is probably why I’m so drawn to her caliber of storytelling. Holy Smoke! is no exception. Its complexity may be uncomfortable for some, but Campion dives right in exploring the complications of sex, confronting spirituality, and embracing faith in extreme ways. It’s a beautiful, unique, explorative little film because in a way you have to either find a way to give in to the experience with an open mind or completely scrutinize for its heavy confusing ideology. There’s really no in between. You’re either going to like or dislike it. But, with extraordinary performances from Harvey Keitel and Kate Winslet, it’s kind of a win win.

Jane Campion is a remarkable storyteller and Holy Smoke! is only one of her many films that adhere to her talented exploration on subjects such as empowerment, eroticism, spirituality, and sexual desire. She’s a personal inspiration to me and I look forward to writing on more of her films which will result in my favorite film of all time, The Piano.