The Kiwi who semi-adopted Australia has become an Australian face in the world's eyes: strangely unoriginal thing for Jane to do.
Sweetie, a movie about the sweetest parts of family life (...and a bit more).
Genevieve Lemon.................Dawn a.k.a. Sweetie
Jean Hadgraft........................Mrs. Schneller
Paul Livingston.....................Teddy Schneller
Sean Fennell..........................Boy Clerk
[extended casting list at http://us.imdb.com/Details?0098752]
Writers..........................Jane Campion and Gerard Lee
Producers......................John Maynard and William MacKinnion
Original Music...............Martin Armiger
Art Direction.................Peter Harris
Costume Design............Amanda Lovejoy
[extended production details at http://us.imdb.com/Details?0098752]
Runtime: USA 97mins
Certification: Australia:M; USA: R; Finland: K-12; Portugal: M/12; Sweden: 15
The film Sweetie was produced by Arena Films (Fr), New South Wales Film Corporation(au), the Australian Film Commission(au), and the Australian Television Office(au).
Details regarding Sweetie were sourced through:
This search was driven primarily with the key words, "Sweetie", and "Campion, Jane". Information appeared also through searching Continuum in its online state, and through the online Murdoch Library, as a starting point.
The movie Sweetie was released in September, 1989, in Australia and the United States, and then in October in West Germany. The following year the film played in France, in Sweden in 1991, and in Finland during 1992. Available box office records show that Sweetie grossed $938 065 in America: unfortunately box office data appeared unavailable for Australian release. 1
There are many avenues of research available for this film on the internet. The Internet Movie Data Base can source referential details on most of the cast and the production team, although is sparse on information regarding all but Campion's and Lemon's continuing careers. I could not locate any information regarding Sweetie at The Urban Cinefile site. Reviews on the film were available and primarily sourced through the Net, however paper copies of interviews with the director regarding Sweetie were much more difficult to locate. Within textbooks, there is available discussion of festival films like Sweetie, however, in depth analysis can located in theoretical journals such as Cinema Papers 2 and Continuum 3. Again, however, original paper copies were not readily available, although Net downloading allowed substantial information access.
Other reviews of Sweetie are gleamed through retrospective discussion of Campion's works in relation to her more commercially successful movies. This is particularly in evidence in relation to The Piano (1993) 4 and Portrait of a Lady (1996). 5
This was Campion's first feature film after graduating from the Australian Television and Film School (AFTRS), and received critical acclaim across the world: the George Sadoul Award for Best Foreign Film - 1989; the LA. Critics New Generation Award - 1990; American Independent Spirit Award for Best Feature Film , and the Australian Critics Awards for Best Film; Best Director; and Best Actress.6 It should be noted that Campion had previously impressed critics with her 1982 short film Peel, earning her the prestige of being the first woman to be awarded the Palm D'Or at Cannes (1986) . This film was produced while still an undergraduate at the Australian Film and Television School(AFTRS) in Victoria.
Critical regard for the film was displayed in newspapers in America and in Germany, as well as in Scotland through the Edinburgh University Film Society. These reviews offered insight in the viewing of Australian cinema through foreign eyes, and exposed the visual feast that is Australian art cinema. At the same time, however, Sweetie exhibited foreigness to the domestic audience: it does not appear to have had long nor wide distribution within Australia itself. The video itself is also somewhat difficult to locate, available primarily through specialist outlets such as Starland Video in Fremantle and Mosman Park Video in Mosman Park. It is obvious that the art cinema in Australia is less attractive than the mainstream (read:U.S.) cinema to the wider community. In fact any view of the box office figures comparing Australian films to 'dominant cinema films' show that the reality is that the majority of Australians prefer to be entertained by the laughable United states. The beautiful thing about Sweetie is that this is a film for those who enjoy something a little different....
The impact of Sweetie can be paralleled with the launching of Campion's career in feature film. Although previously critically acclaimed for Peel- An exercise in discipline (1982) with a Palme D'Or at Cannes, she managed to carry this acclaim for short films on to the feature films she subsequently created. Campion has been able to maintain the "signature 'look'... for which she had become internationally famous" and extend it through the feature format in which she now works. 7 Further more, this poetic creation of dark and cantankerous imagery that is Sweetie can be seen as Campion's 'direction' craning towards the global community in an artistic frame. Campion can be seen as Australia's contemporary answer to art house films from around the world. Campion has exhibited in too many festivals to list and has, as such, become part of the defining (images) of Australia within a filmic nation. That is, as well as presenting psuedo-freaks to a infantile nation such as Australia that is still struggling to create an identity in a domestic sense, Campion has been party to portraying Australia within the international context. The Kiwi who semi-adopted Australia has become an Australian face in the world's eyes: strangely unoriginal thing for Jane to do.
In the title role of Sweetie, Genevieve Lemon plays opposite Karen Colston as Kay, Sweetie's older sister. Lemon has appeared in several Australian television serials, and mini-series, starting with Prisoner (Adshead, 1979 - 86), Neighbours (Adshead & Buffalo, 1991 - ), Heartland (Pringle, 1994), and Seven Deadly Sins (Cameron & Drew, 1993). She has also worked steadily on the film screen, in Billy's Holiday (Wherrett, 1995), The Well (Lang, 1997), and Soft Fruit (Andreef, 1999). Lemon has also worked repeatedly with Jane Campion since making Sweetie, appearing in The Piano (1993) and again in Holy Smoke (1999). Little information regarding Colston was forthcoming: however, she too appeared in The Piano.
The parents of these siblings are Gordon (Jon Darling) and Flo (Dorothy Barry). Jon Darling has listings regarding his work prior to Sweetie, but nothing past that date. He credits include The Dark Room (Harmon, 1982), and Running on Empty (Clarke, 1982). There was no further information on the career of Dorothy Barry, nor that of Tom Lycos.
The producers of Sweetie were William MacKinnon and John Maynard, both of whom remain involved in the industry. Maynard again worked with Campion in 1990 (on the film Angel at My Table) and with her sister Anna in 1994 on Loaded. Other credits for Maynard include Skin Deep (Steven, 1978), Strata (Steven, 1983), Vigil (Ward, 1984), My First Suit (Main, 1985), The Navigator (Ward, 1988), The Footstep Man (Narbey, 1992), All Men are Liars (Lee, 1995) and The Boys (Woods, 1997). MacKinnon has credit on the film Small Faces (Gillies MacKinnon, 1996).
Sweetie was written by Campion and Gerard Lee, who had also worked with Campion during enrolment at the AFTRS on Passionless Moments (1983). He appears in Sweetie as one of the jackaroos, and has gone on to other acting roles, as well as writing and directing All Men Are Liars (1995). Lee has also pursued his acting career, performing in Falling For A Dancer (Stadeven, mini-series, 1998), and In Loving Memory (Reilly, 1999). The photography by Sally Bongers remains one of the integral parts of the bizarre examination of families that is Sweetie. Bongers had worked previously on Campion's AFTRS productions Peel (1982), and A Girl's Own Story (1984). She had also worked in television (Talkback, MacLean 1987), and then continued in film, working on Resistance (Keays-Byrne, 1992).
At the time of release, American newspapers the Chicago Sun-Times and the Washington Post reviewed the film. Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun-Times, in fact needed to see the film twice to come to any sense it. He suggests, "Maybe the second time I found the heart of the movie, and the first time I had been distracted by the substance?" 8 Ebert, it seems, had been thrown by Campion's accomplice in the surreal, Bongers. In relation to the cinematography, he remarks on the "heightened sense of reality, or unreality." 9, and sees the film as one which "screams and shouts" through the passage of its showing. Although the review was positive in its appraisal of Sweetie, it seems that Ebert suffered culture shock in a cinematic sense.
Hal Hinson's review
At approximately the same time, two reviews appeared in a single edition of the Washington Post. Hal Hinson sees Sweetie as essentially a horror movie, "the horror of having relatives who crowd you in, wear your clothes (and) occupy your guest room".10 And again it seems that this American is distanced from the film by Bongers cinematography: "the natural and unnatural (human) landscapes appear lush and saturated with colour, but at the same time barren and minimalist."11 Hinson then likens Sweetie herself to Dennis Hoppers' Frank in Blue Velvet. (Lynch, 1986) There again appears to be evidence of cinematic culture shock in this review.
Desson Howes's review
Opposing this clash of cultures is Desson Howes review, where the film is praised for "originality" and he thanks Campion's preference "to do things differently".12 Howe is not unaware of the idiosyncrasies of the movie, identifying Bongers cinematography as his first point of construction interest. The visual dislocation created by the extraordinary camera angles are a fresh view for this American critic, and allow him a greater range and depth of interpretation. In the opening paragraph of his review Howe initially identifies five different themes of importance within the film: abnormality, love, individuality, family, and sisters. This review seemed to grasp the essence of Sweetie in a way that appears to have escaped other critics, allowing insight into the culture of 'family' without national boundaries.
Jane Campion's 1989 film, Sweetie, is a story of family. But like all of Campion's pieces, this is also the story of much more. It is a story of neurotic siblings and confused parenting, healing paralysed relationships, and the impact of fear on everyday life. The film initially introduces Kay, the older of two sisters. She is a suburban girl, employed in a factory. Kay has a strong belief in superstition: tea-leaf reading helps her discover that she works with the man of her destiny, but doesn't help her to escape her family. Elliptically cut to 13 months later and Louis and Kay have moved in together, a house that looks unaffected by any 'personal' touch: it appears as a rental property and remains a visual rental, representing the mundane within the unusual. Kay's childhood neurosis of trees and their creeping, damaging roots climax when Louis plants a tree in their yard. She sleepwalks to the tree, riping it out and seeming to strangle it, then hiding it in a cupboard. This parallels the demise of their sexual relationship: Kay moves out of their shared bedroom and across the hall, claiming a cold has forced the move. On the occasion that Kay and Louis try to heal their sexual malaise, the flavour of incest causes them to again retreat into the neon glare of a cafe. On returning home, they find someone has broken into the house, and Kay realises that she knows the intruder: she claims that it is a friend, but is forced to reconcile the truth the following morning. Kay cannot own the relationship with this person, however, claiming that Sweetie had nothing to do with her, she was just born (and that's all?). This suggestion of incest falls much more heavily in relation to Sweetie and her father, a scene that Kay witnesses while Sweetie bathes her father. This is a theme that has re-occurred in Campion's work and is often examined closely in baccalaureate publications. 13
Campion's film Sweetie is dark and neurotic in many ways, but it is a film that also deals with the taboo theme of family madness: Kay is frightened of trees, so much so that she sleepwalks during tree nightmares; Sweetie is deluded and supposed to be taking medication, the named cause of which is never revealed; Gordon is completely controlled by Sweetie's demanding and conditional love - something that alternates with excessive demands for the attentions of father; and Flo, their mother and wife, is so exhausted by the entire scene that she leaves town to find herself (out on the plains where the cowboys sing and dance?). This seems to represent an ingrained cultural belief of Australian society: that madness is something that doesn't happen in our family. Although Dawn is an obvious candidate for psychiatric aids of some kind, this is never suggested or explored amongst the family members. Gordon won't even call for aid when she is in her most traumatic (manic?) moments. The innocent bystanders that are Louis, Kay's boyfriend, and Bob, Sweetie's narcoleptic/junkie/manager/boyfriend, seem benign but determined in their own ways: Louis leaves Kay when he realises that she's "not normal", but returns for the final scene, one of hope for reconciliation and growth within the relationship with which they have been persevering through out the trial that is Sweetie. Bob gets ditched by the father of this family in a dingy cafe, but not until he has used Gordon to assure his own fiscal legitimacy. These characters are so realistic in motivation that it is hard to see their sometimes classic narrative functions: Gordon must continue to bow to Sweetie's pleas for attention or there may be no problem: her mother and sister would be ready to act in a more appropriate fashion (institutionalise her for her own well being?). But at the same time Gordon can be compared with Louis who also bows to Sweetie's attention seeking behaviours: he drags Kay away from the moment of confrontation by her leg and then coaxes her to give up her mouth full of china figurines. This shows a theme of men who bow to women because of childish behaviour, thus representing childish behaviour themselves. Further, it presents the theme of the family troubled by a problematic fathering. (Perhaps this could be examined in relation to Peel, A Girl's Own Story, and Holy Smoke?)
A decade has passed since Campion made the film Sweetie, and it remains a film of substantial investigation. It is included in many aspects of Tom O'Regan's Australian National Cinema 14, it was released for five years before the Edinburgh Film Society reviewed it. 15 It is often examined in relation to Campion herself. But above all it is in itself a point of internal cultural examination in its weirdness, in its representation of Australian cinema, in its multiple funding as an example of outsourced finances. More than anything, it is an example of continuing relevance.
This is a dark film in many ways, and is analysed in feminist representations, Freudian dichotomies, cultural clashes and, of course, in retrospect. In the frame of Australian Cinema this is an exceptional embodiment of suburban neurosis and familial chaos. This is a story that examines the freaks of Australia: eccentric, quirky, and in a (basket) case all of her own Sweetie is the outcast daughter who never grew up. It could be just another story about the troublesome youngest daughter, but it seems more than that: it is a representation of medium sized cinema. In this reference, it is a film that struggles for exhibition with the mainstream (read: Hollywood) cinema, as illustrated in the lack of available information regarding its box office details. It emerges from a country that produces only (approximately) thirty feature films in a year, as opposed to the three hundred or so from Hollywood. It also competes in a language familiar to the Western world, but one that consumes the majority of its films from the United States with their mid-Pacific accents compared with our own nasal tones. And the Hollywood genres also pressure exhibition of Sweetie: too like Hollywood and it would lose the essence of Australia; too different and it would be rendered unfavourable to foreign audiences. In any reference to Australian cinema, Sweetie is a film that will, and indeed has, held its audience enthralled with this view of the mundane suburban life. After all, isn't everyone's life an exception when viewed from from a different angle?
1. us.imdb.com/Details?0098725 (01.05.2000)
2. See Crawford, A. & Martin, A. (1989) Cinema Papers , 73, May 1989, pp 29-30
3. See Continuum, 7, 2, 1994. pp 70 - 91
4. See http://www.fys.vio.no/~magnushj?Piano/campion.html (01.05.00)
5. Smith, J.(1998) biography of Jane Campion : http: suite101.com/article.cfm/australian_cinema/9577 Also see Keough, P. "Piano Lessons: Jane Campion composes herself." This article was initially printed in the Boston Phoenix, 28 Jan to 4 Feb. 1999 located at http: www.bostonphoenix.com/archive/movies/99/01/28JANE_CAMPION_A_COMPLETE_RE.html (01.05.2000)
7. O'Regan, T.(1994) Australian National Cinema. London and New York: Routledge. pp 54
8. Ebert Column, Chicago Sun-Times; 23.03.1990 : http:www.suntimes.com/ebert/ebert_reviews/1990/03/537986.html#top (01.05.2000)
10. Hinson, H. (1990). "Sweetie" in Washington Post: 02.03.1990 : http:www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/sweetierhinson_a0a913.htm. (01.05.2000)
12. Howe, D. (1990) "Sweetie", Washington Post: 02.03.1990 : http:www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/sweetierhowe_a0b258.htm. (01.05.2000)
13. see Gilbert, S. ( 1998). "More Than Meets the Eye: The Mediation of Affects in Jane Campion's Sweetie. " given at the "Cinema and the Senses" Conference , Sydney, December 13 - 15, 1998. http://www.innersense.com.au/senses/contents/sweetie.html (01.05.2000)
14. O'Regan, T. (1994) Australian National Cinema. London and New York: Routledge.
15. Steele, K. & Stephens, C. (!994 - 1995) Sweetie, http://www.eusa.ed.ac.uk/societies/filmsoc/sweetie.html (01.05.2000)
WEB SITES ACCESSED
A Girls Own Story (1984)
All Men Are Liars (1995)
Angel at My Table (Campion, 1990)
Billy's Holiday (Wherrett, 1995)
(The) Boys (Woods, 1997)
(The) Dark Room (Harmon, 1982)
Falling For A Dancer (Stadeven, mini-series, 1998)
(The) Footstep Man (Narbey, 1992)
Heartland (Pringle, 1994)
Holy Smoke (Campion,1999)
In Loving Memory (Reilly, 1999)
Loaded (Anna Campion, 1994)
My First Suit (Main, 1985)
(The) Navigator (Ward, 1988)
Neighbours (Adshead & Buffalo, 1991 - )
Passionless Moments (Campion, 1983)
Peel: an exercise in discipline (Campion, 1982)
(The) Piano (Campion,1993)
Prisoner (Adshead, 1979 - 86)
Resistance (Keays-Byrne, 1992)
Running on Empty (Clarke, 1982)
Seven Deadly Sins (Cameron & Drew, 1993)
Soft Fruit (Andreef, 1999)
Skin Deep (Steven, 1978)
Strata (Steven, 1983)
Small Faces (Gillies MacKinnon, 1996)
Talkback (MacLean 1987)
Vigil (Ward, 1984)
The Well(Lang, 1997)
Adams, P. (1995) "Introduction", in Sabine, J. (ed) (1995) ACentury of Australian Cinema, Port Melbourne: Mandarin/Reed & the Australian Film Institute: pp vii - xi
anon. Biography for Jane Campion. at Internet Movie Data Base: http://us/imdb.com/Name?Campion,+Jane (01.05.00)
Bloustien, G.(1990). "Jane Campion: memory, motif, and music" in Continuum, 5, 2, pp 29 - 39. Downloaded from: wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/ReadingRoom/5.2/Bloust.html (01.05.00)
Crawford, A. & Martin, A. (1989) Cinema Papers , 73, May 1989, pp. 5-7
Ebert, R. (1990) "Sweetie" in Ebert Column, Chicago Sun-Times; 23.03.1990 http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/ebert_reviews/1990/03/537986.html#top
Gilbert, S. ( 1998). "More Than Meets the Eye: The Mediation of Affects in Jane Campion's Sweetie"Conference, Sydney, December 13 -15, 1998. http://www.innersense.com.au/senses/contents/sweetie.html (01.05.2000)
Hinson, H. (1990). "Sweetie" in Washington Post: 02.03.1990: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/sweetierhinson_a0a913.htm. (01.05.2000)
Hjeltsuen, M. (no date presented). Barlow, Helen interview with Campion, Jane. at http://www.fys.vio.no/~magnushj?Piano/campion.html (01.05.00)
Howe, D. (1990) "Sweetie", Washington Post: 02.03.1990 : http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/sweetierhowe_a0b258.htm (01.05.2000)
Keough, P. "Piano Lessons: Jane Campion composes herself." Initially in the Boston Phoenix, 28 Jan to 4 Feb. 1999 located at http://www.bostonphoenix.com/archive/movies/99/01/28JANE_CAMPION_A_COMPLETE_RE.html(01.05.2000)
O'Regan, T.(1994) Australian National Cinema. London and New York: Routledge.
Smith, J.(1998) Biography of Jane Campion: http://suite101.com/article.cfm/australian_cinema/9577 (01.05.00)
Steele, K. & Stephens, C. (!994 - 1995) Sweetie, http://www.eusa.ed.ac.uk/societies/filmsoc/sweetie.html (01.05.2000)