An Angel at My Table
I have not been able to stop thinking about Kerry Fox’s face in Jane Campion’sAn Angel at My Table since I saw it a few weeks ago. I knew nothing of Janet Frame, the famous New Zealand author of which the film is based, but I wanted nothing more than to read all her books after seeing this film based off her three-volume autobiography. The film covers Frame’s childhood in rural New Zealand, her early development as a writer, her admittance to psychiatric hospitals in the 50s for schizophrenia, and finally her travels, writing throughout Europe.
I’ve been haunted by Campion’s mise-en-scène. Each frame is so purposefully shot. After seeing An Angel at My Table, I delved into Campion’s filmography, seeing her first feature, Sweetie, and her shorts, An Exercise In Discipline – Peel, Passionless Moments, and A Girl’s Own Story. After that, I viewed probably her most well-known film, which won several Academy Awards, The Piano. I had already seen Bright Star, a film based on the remaining years of John Keats’ short life and his romantic relationship with Fanny Brawne. All the films are engaging and beautifully conceived.
However, there is something about Campion’s early years that is so purposeful, almost more photographic than filmic, each frame able to stand on its own as an incredible still. Although her later films are also beautifully shot, the set, costume design, and scenery all breathtaking, her original, striking experimentation with canted angels and direct address is lost in her later, more commercial, Hollywood films. See A Girls Own Story:
and you’ll know exactly what I mean. I’m looking forward to catching up on the rest of her work: Holy Smoke featuring Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel, In the Cut with Meg Ryan and my man, Mark Ruffalo, and her retelling of Henry James’ novel, The Portrait of a Lady, featuring Nicole Kidman. Still, I have a feeling that none of these will touch the love I have for her earliest films.