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Hell Is For Hyphenates – April 2015

Filmmaker Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays) joins the Hyphenates as we look at this month’s new releases, ask if independent dramas need a high-concept hook to attract attention in the current media landscape, and explore the works of the legendary trans-Tasman auteur Jane Campion.

The Jane Campion Cheat Sheet

Jane Campion

Want to become an instant expert in our filmmaker of the month without committing yourself to an entire filmography? Then you need the Hell Is For Hyphenates Cheat Sheet: a double that will bring you totally up-to-speed before our next episode lands…

JC Films

THE PIANO (1993) and BRIGHT STAR (2009)

Campion was already well known for Sweetie and An Angel At My Table, but it was The Piano that really put her on the map. A critical and commercial success, it won three Academy Awards (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Screenplay), and earned $140 million worldwide, a figure that was even more extraordinary in 1993 than it is now. But all that money and those awards are just window dressing: the real reason you need to watch The Piano is that it is still a stunning masterpiece, from its rich, analogous script to its sweeping cinematography. 22 years on, it's every bit as powerful as it was on its release. Maybe even more so. You'll want to follow that up with a viewing of Bright Star, Campion's 2009 film about the romance between Fanny Brawne and poet John Keats. On the surface, it looks a lot like The Piano: a period film in which passionate people struggle to convey that passion through the performance and appreciation of art. But underneath those superficial similarities, Bright Star is an entirely different work, deliberately restrained and distant. Watch these two back-to-back to see how an auteur such as Campion can take two strikingly similar outlines and create two entirely distinct and almost antithetical works.

Substitutions: If you can't get or have already seen The Piano, swap it out for Campion's debut feature Sweetie (1989). If can't get or have already seen Bright Star, check out The Portrait of a Lady (1996), her Henry James adaptation starring Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich and Barbara Hershey.

The Hidden Gem: Want to seek out something from off the beaten track? Try Campion's controversial film In The Cut (2003), with Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Jason Leigh, a dark and surprisingly existential thriller about a woman who may possibly have encountered a serial killer.

The next episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Sophie Hyde talking Jane Campion, will be released on the morning of April 30 (AEST).