Writer-director Jane Campion is the second of seven women to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Directing, for her 1993 film The Piano. She received the Best Original Screenplay award for that same film. Her latest feature, The Power of the Dog, debuted on Netflix this month. Here, she shares with A.frame five films that inspire her.
These films I watched to inspire me and Ari Wegner, my director of photography, in making The Power of the Dog. The films may seem to have little to do with the story we were attempting to make, but what they have in common is that they are masterful in their own way, and this gave me the confidence and inspiration to find our own way to tell this story strongly and beautifully.
This is a film I often revisit. [Director] Jonathan Glazer brings together a certain design beauty and purity with elegant shot construction and wonderful performances. He builds a world that feels seductive and real, as well as surprising, and then introduces an outrageous thesis just as Nicole Kidman’s character, Anna, is about to remarry after the death of her husband. Her husband has reappeared inside the body of a young boy. This is such a preposterous proposition, yet slowly, then rapidly, it begins to unsettle the new relationship in all too real ways. One of my favorite moments in the film is an emotional slow track into Anna’s face at the opera as we see her thinking about the boy as her dead husband’s reincarnation.
For me, John Huston is a brilliant storyteller reminding me of the simple power of causation, one story point after another. Huston’s father is also in this film, giving the central performance so much reality and character that it works like glue around the story. Everything is strong because he is strong. The lead characters are all sensing betrayal and plotting to undo each other. There is also a moment when Huston’s story loses its subtlety, such as when Humphrey Bogart’s character too suddenly becomes suspicious and you realize the importance of not doing that, of making sure each plot point is well maneuvered.
This is one of those rare creatures: a perfect film. Terrence Malick understands the poetry in every character and particularly in this fated teen murderer and his newly met runaway girlfriend. The Martin Sheen character does terrible things, but he is also in love and not long for this world. Sissy Spacek is beautiful and unique in a way we rarely see in films. Her voiceover is matter-of-fact and grounding. The couple’s brief time together in a kind of enchanted wasteland is unforgettable. There is a delicacy of shooting style and observation. Reading about how Malick works with his actors, I discover that he makes adjustments to his story to include the unique qualities of his actors, such as Sissy’s baton twirling.
Malick’s second film is likewise beautiful and elegiac, filmed almost only in the magic hour. It’s hypnotically golden, the amazing summer no one will ever forget. There is, however, the secret that cannot hold and the anxiety of wondering how it will fray, especially as we get invested in the love affair between Sam Shepard (the farmer) and Brooke Adams (Abby). Returning to this film, I appreciated the sustained mood of romance and impending doom. It is a long way from the atmosphere of The Power of the Dog, but very close in period and the importance of nature. It helped me think about my film and the right choices for my story.
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of our greatest filmmakers today and all his films are a source of inspiration for me. I am his best audience; I simply appreciate everything in his films and, in particular, the texture of his world, the feeling of reality, and the photography of his characters that is qualitatively different, somehow more tender and curious than everyone else’s. They are loved and held by the film, as much a portrait as a story. I like the way that Paul’s films play loose with narrative, sometimes following tight causal patterns, then breaking away to more tangential expressions, seemingly in service of discovering some more elusive quality than the straightforward closure of narrative. This can give a sense of poor completion, but positively, it overrides the narrative to keep the film open even as it is over.