Jane Campion takes cinema to the darkest human places
They lived with the nanny for about five more years, until she died. Anna and Jane refused to go to his funeral. Over the years, they have tried to convince their parents of what it had been like for them, and they were never really believed.
Campion describes his parents as loving but fundamentally absent during his childhood. The Campions were an important couple in New Zealand theater. They became the founders of the country’s first professional touring company, the New Zealand Players, shortly before Jane was born. Richard Campion was a director and Edith was one of the great New Zealand actresses of her generation. In 1959, she received the MBE for her theatrical work. But it was a troubled home – Richard was engaged in a series of affairs and Edith suffered from depression, which led to multiple suicide attempts and institutional stays throughout her adult life.
Edith appeared in one of Campion’s first films, “An Angel at My Table”. (More than two decades later, Campion’s daughter Alice had a starring role in âTop of the Lake.â) Campion remembers her mother as delicate, sensitive, and witty. When her children were young, she turned to writing, eventually publishing a short story collection and a novel. She encouraged Campion’s creative pursuits, but she was also moody and distant. When Campion was little and visited friends’ homes, she interviewed mothers, trying to get a feel for their schedules, their habits, what they did. What were the mothers like?
Campion told me about the day her mother pulled her out of school for a dentist appointment. “We didn’t do a lot of things together, so I was very excited to show him where I had hung my coat.” After the dentist, they had a picnic in a park and Campion could sense that his mother’s spirit was elsewhere. âI tried to do all kinds of amazing things – somersaults and pear trees, to entertain her, to get her attention – but she was still looking into the distance. It was probably a depression. I remember she had an egg on her lap, and it just fell. “
There was a time when Campion was so stunned and persuaded by her mother’s despair that she told him that she would understand if she wanted to die. âIt really scared me to be close to her complete lack of hope,â she told an interviewer in 1995. At university, she decided to study structural anthropology, in examining how humans use myths and social structures to resolve the fundamental opposites of existence: life and death, light and darkness.
Campion said feeling vulnerable is more difficult for her than for most people: âI associate it with fear. “
âYou don’t like to feel vulnerable,â I said, âbut tenderness is at the heart of your work! “
âWell if that didn’t make a lot of sense to me it wouldn’t matter,â she said. âHe has power. And really, my attention decides: what in the world should I pay attention to? Can you pretend, really? Can you really pretend to attract attention? Attention is love.