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Wanderings in India: Australian Perceptions

Chapter 11

Through an Australian Lens

Explorations of India in Jane Campion’s Holy Smoke!

Lisa French


In the half-light, a black man’s hand strokes Ruth’s neck. She flicks him away like an insect, oblivious to the sensual energy she radiates. This is how filmmaker Jane Campion introduces Ruth (Kate Winslet), the central character of her 1999 film, Holy Smoke! This opening scene, of Ruth on a bus amidst the colour and vigour of a busy Indian city can be read not only as representing an experience common to Western women abroad in Southeast Asia,1 but also as emphasising that Ruth is a luminous and irresistible beauty. This chapter begins by outlining the role India plays in Holy Smoke! (the film and the novel), then gives an overview of what makes this an Australian film (despite being made with international stars and money), followed by a discussion of how Campion uses the luminousness of her film’s central character to explore Western female experience,2 and finally, examines how the film explores ideas of how men and women might exist together in the world—or, what it is to be human.

Jane Campion was apparently inspired to make a film in India following a trip there (Polan 2001:142), and the film and the novel of Holy Smoke! Were both released in 1999. Campion wrote the novel with her sister, Anna Campion; the film is directed by Jane, but written by both of them. Although structured differently, the film and the book have the same story. An Australian woman, Ruth, backpacks through India with her friend Prue. In New Delhi, she finds herself drawn to an ashram and decides not to return to Australia because she has found truth and the meaning of life. Prue returns home to tell Ruth’s parents that a guru has indoctrinated her. The family flies into a panic3 and lures Ruth back to Australia to a waiting cult-exiter, the American PJ (Harvey Keitel), and most of the film and the book, centre on this process.

Exploring India

While the film begins in India, the novel begins with the cult-exiting and Ruth explains early in the book what had occurred, using the past tense

We’d travelled to India … we didn’t really know why we were going, we could have gone to many places. Anywhere that wasn’t known. Our knowledge was zero—pathetic as you’d expect. Taj Mahal, saris, elephants … no one persecuting you. Indians don’t get on your case, they don’t judge you, they judge themselves, self-deprecating (Campion & Campion 1999:13).

Although Ruth is critical of her initial contact, which brings forth the notion of Western travellers seeking the exotic or salvation, stereotypes of places in the East, Campion’s film does not explore India. The film presents India as an imagined place, a hippy utopia of the 1970s and, despite an opening scene that evocatively captures the look and feel of the place, it does not present India in a serious way that attempts to offer insight or understanding of the complex country that it is. It is a tourist’s eye that sees India in Holy Smoke! and, thus, the song of love, belief and miracles that features in the opening of the film, Neil Diamond’s Holly Holy (1969), perfectly captures the stereotype, the 1970s ambiance and the themes of the film. The ‘smoke’ of title of the film and the book evokes not just India’s temperature, but Ruth’s luminousness—her heat; she is hot. To be hot comes from the idea of being on heat and denotes that she gives off, or is charged with, sexual heat. Colloquially, ‘to be hot’ refers to arousing the interest of others in the hot person, who is sexually excited and has strong sexual desire. But the ‘smoke’ of the title also evokes a spiritual search for the fire of the soul, and is perhaps also about relationships—as Kathleen Murphy (2000:30) suggests, ‘falling in love (with a guru, God, or guy) might have somewhat to do with smoke getting in your eyes’, echoing Louis Armstrong’s song Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, in which love is blind ‘when your heart’s on fire’.

Although India itself does not receive any serious treatment, there is, however, a respect for the values or ideals that India represents to the West. What the film and book do is use India as a metaphor for different ways of thinking, particularly about spirituality. Campion has said, ‘I’m hoping that … the film will open up a line of inquiry about ways of Western thinking’ (quoted in Murphy 2000:30) and that she is ‘not really fascinated by cults, but … interested in the question of how you have a spiritual life in the 90s and in the connections of spirituality, eroticism, and love’ (quoted in Taubin 1999:138). Critic Kate Pullinger (1999:10) has described Holy Smoke! as centring on ‘the contradictions and complications of spirituality, a timely commentary on the West’s continual misappropriation of eastern mysticism’. While it could be argued that Campion misappropriates Eastern mysticism, it is true, however, that spirituality has been a recurring theme in Campion’s work from the beginning of her career as a feature filmmaker.4

An image that connects with India and with spirituality comes towards the end of the film where PJ, prostrate in the desert, hallucinates and has a vision of Ruth as a six-armed goddess. The Hindu iconography signifies India, as does the abrupt change in aesthetic, which is reminiscent of the spectacular qualities of Bollywood, particularly the saturated colour. This image is more than his view of her and more than any decorative reference to the many six-armed goddesses in the Hindu religion; it is a signifier of how luminous and magnificent Ruth is, which becomes evident if one considers what the goddesses themselves signify. While there is no research that indicates whether Campion was referencing any particular deity, the goddess that comes to mind is Rati, the Hindu/Balinese ‘goddess of desire’ (Davies and Dowson 2003:146), also known as Mayavati or Reva. Rati not only rules sexual desire, lust, love and sexual passions, but also regeneration, revenge, fear and dark magic, and she is a protector of women. The myth tells that, after a battle, ‘the gods, led by Kama-deva’s wife, Rati implored Tripura-Sundari to restore the god of love, whom Siva had destroyed. She does so, and desire is restored to the world’ (Kinsley 1997:116–117). Rati cried

What have you done?’ … Without desire, the bull will forsake the cow, the horse the mare and the bees the flowers. There will be no homes, no families, for men and women will not love each other. Society will collapse and life will be devoid of its very essence. Desire may be the cause of suffering; but it is also the reason behind joy. What is life without it? (Storl 2004:86).

Coupled with the idea of Ruth’s luminousness, which I discuss and describe below as ‘girlshine’, the vision of Ruth as a goddess links two ideas—that desire and sexual passion are necessary for the natural order of things and, more particularly, that the goddess is about the idea of painful humiliation leading to joy and enlightenment, which is an important theme of the film and book discussed later in this chapter. Gods and goddesses have shadow aspects, in the Jungian sense; like archetypes, they have multiple shades, some positive and some negative. The reference underlines the complexity, or duality of identity, and the epic journey of coming to know one’s self and others—another central investigation of Holy Smoke!

Australian suburbia as what Simpson (1999:24) has described as a spiritual and cultural desert, a depiction that Campion continues ten years later in Holy Smoke!.

An Australian lens

Jane Campion’s filmmaking career has for some years been international in its reputation and scope. Born in New Zealand, Campion trained as a filmmaker at the Australian Film and Television School (AFTS) in Sydney. She now lives and works from an Australian base and has ‘called herself an “Aussie directress”‘ (Rueschmann 2005:9). While some of her films are more directly linked to New Zealand (An Angel at My Table (1990) and The Piano (1993)), others engage in a dialogue with Australia (Sweetie (1989) and Holy Smoke! (1999)). She is, however, a transnational filmmaker because she can work across a range of industrial contexts, and attract international money and talent. She is one of a handful of women who have been able to work continuously in features in Australia and other countries, including in Hollywood. It is important for Australian filmmakers to be transnational, not just because the local market is so small, but because cinema is a global industry—national cinema is also international. Nevertheless, although it is transnational, Holy Smoke! is also strongly inflected with a sense of Australia as a place and draws on Australian cinema as a referent.

The link to Australian cinema is no more evident than in the characters of the family at the centre of Holy Smoke!. They are a significant reason for the film’s description as having been compiled from offcuts from Stephan Elliott’s The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) and Rob Sitch’s The Castle (1997) (Hall 1999:12). This is partly because of characterisation,5 and partly because some of its actors appeared in other films of the 1990s; for instance, Daniel Wyllie, who plays Ruth’s brother Robbie, is a family member in Paul J Hogan’s Muriel’s Wedding (1994). His presence works intertextually to signify some themes of Muriel’s Wedding and Holy Smoke!, such as dysfunctional families and the search for identity, particularly the idea of being yourself, which was a prevalent theme in Australian cinema from the 1980s. This is particularly true of the successful glitter-cycle films that preceded Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom (1992), Muriel’s Wedding and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Holy Smoke! also shares a sense of the bizarre that many of the glitter-cycle films champion. For example, when the Barron family gathers in the lounge room, a sheep casually wanders around with snack food placed on its back. The characters in Holy Smoke! intertextually reference characters from other Australian films. They reference them as pastiche—for example, the bizarre visual spectacle of a car with reindeer antlers speeding across the red landscape (shades of the silver figure on top of a bus in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert)—and also enter a postmodern dialogue with these figures of Australian cinema (for example, the character type, Yvonne, played by Sophie Lee).

The casting of Sophie Lee in Holy Smoke! is important because it creates an intertextual link and dialogue with the typecast roles Lee has played in several very successful Australian films. Lee plays character type in Holy Smoke! that is the same as the types she plays in other films released at the time that Holy Smoke! was in development and pre-production: Muriel’s Wedding, The Castle and Robert Luketic’s short film Titsiana Booberini (1997). Lee’s character Tracey in The Castle is an affectionate portrayal, but in Muriel’s Wedding and Titsiana Booberini, Lee plays characters that are foils, particular comic types set up for ridicule—the self-obsessed, vain and highly sexual young woman. The character of Tania Degano in Muriel’s Wedding exemplifies this comic type. When she does not get her way, Tania says in disbelief, ‘but I’m beautiful!’. This is in marked contrast to Campion’s representation of Lee’s character in Holy Smoke!, which is filled with empathy for Yvonne’s plight as a housewife and mother trapped in very ordinary domesticity. Although she is still a young woman, she is starting to realise that her dreams of what her life could be are not going to be fulfilled. Campion recognises how Yvonne’s hopes for life have left her disappointed and makes her function in the film to offer the specifically female subjectivity of a woman whose luminous first flush of youthful beauty has passed who is wondering what happened to all her hopes and dreams of romance and intimacy. She is presented as someone cognisant of the passing of her youth, but who has not yet come to terms with it. She is sad, fearful and emotionally needy, and Campion offers a particularly empathetic female view of her character type and another way of understanding her.

An example of how sad, fearful and needy Yvonne is can be seen in the scene in which she comes to the halfway hut to bring clothes for Ruth. She meets PJ at the gate and tells a story of how Robbie thinks she is having an affair because he has found love letters addressed to her. Yvonne confesses that she wrote them herself and that she finds them romantic and beautiful. In this poignant moment Campion exposes Yvonne’s pain, disappointment and need. PJ laughs, however, and then so does Yvonne, thus illustrating that PJ is unable and uninterested in Yvonne’s call for help, which she makes more than once in the film and which is never answered. Yvonne has oral sex with PJ, and later, in an echo of this scene, Ruth accuses PJ of being interested in a particular kind of Barbie Doll woman and of hating women. He says that he doesn’t hate ‘ladies’, causing Ruth to scoff at his use of ‘ladies’ (indicating gender) instead of women (indicating sex). This scene reveals his construction of gender and how it filters how he is able to understand and interact with women. Following this exchange, PJ accuses Ruth of extracting the ultimate revenge against men by taking her beauty off to the ashram, as if her beauty rightfully belongs to men.

Another notable way in which Holy Smoke! is particularly Australian is in its representation of the landscape. The film sets the landscape up as a backdrop without mythologising it as many Australian films have.6 The outback in Holy Smoke! appears as a representation rather than a realistic vision. Ruth drives through it, but it appears very much as a backdrop, as in other films such as The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Tracey Moffatt’s short film Night Cries, A Rural Tragedy (1990) and Alex Proyas’ Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds (1989). Thus both the city and the outback are presented as artificial and an urban/rural juxtaposition that differs from that in early Australian film and in films of the revival is taken up, because the outback, while beautiful, is not a character and does not have mythic dimensions in Holy Smoke!. This use of landscape as backdrop locates Holy Smoke! in Australian cinema of the 1990s.

‘Girlshine’ and female experience

Jane Campion has described her central character Ruth as being full of

a fascist and fundamental energy. It’s elemental, beautiful, transforming, and it’s only available for a short period of time. It’s a kind of girlshine; as she learns more about life it will be shadowed. That is the nature of growing up. Holy Smoke! begins in joyous mystery before the shadowing (quoted in Murphy 2000:32).

I have taken the term ‘girlshine’ from Campion’s description of Ruth and adapted it as a concept (French 2007). It refers to women aged 16–21 or thereabouts, and denotes a time when young women experience a particular physical flowering and have a sense of power without the caution that age and experience impose. It is a brief, transient and liminal phase. Although women vary in their physical attributes, it is the proposition here that all women of Campion’s particular Western, socioeconomic and historical grouping go through this period/experience, whether they are cognisant of it or not, and, as such, it is a commonality of female experience.7 As I have argued at some length elsewhere (French 2007), ‘girlshine’ is a central exploration in Holy Smoke!, which offers a unique examination of in regard to female experience.

All the elements of the film’s production work to underline that Ruth embodies pure sensual energy, from the hand that touches her on the bus to her arrival at Emu Farm, where she blissfully sings and dances to Alanis Morissette’s ‘You Oughta Know’ from Jagged Little Pill (1995). The song ‘celebrates a young woman’s life force, her soul. It’s a mantra. One can be on an amazing journey, while others are oblivious even to the possibility’ (Campion quoted in Murphy 2000:32).8 Anthropologist Piya Chatterjee has observed that it is no accident that Campion mines a tradition, which Chatterjee describes as Indian, ‘that from the beginning has seen spirituality and sexuality as completely entwined and has revered and, more significantly, feared the power of the female principle and female sexuality’ (quoted in McHugh 2001). The idea of entwined sexuality, in which a woman’s art, body and sexuality are described as entangled is arguably not only linked to India but also to Campion’s other films, such as in the character of Janet Frame, the writer in An Angel at my Table, and the singing Sweetie in Sweetie.9

Female jouissance

Ruth encounters the guru in Holy Smoke! in a scene where his touch leaves her with a third eye and light streaming from her forehead. Hilary Neroni (2004) describes this as a moment of female eroticism and the spectacle of Baba’s touch as female jouissance10—a concept linked to sexual, spiritual, physical or conceptual joy or ecstasy. Holy Smoke! thus places female experience of corporeality and enjoyment in the foreground. It is not Ruth’s emotional trajectory, however, but the reaction of the other characters, especially, as Neroni (2004:219) has observed, to Ruth’s moments of jouissance, that is significant in the film. The film explores how Ruth affects those around her and in doing so provides an example of how Campion’s films are structurally different to conventional Hollywood movies. Instead of working towards her character’s desire throughout the whole film, Campion stages Ruth’s desire and her jouissance for the audience up front. Campion is ‘less concerned with following the path of desire than with dwelling in a particular experience and the web of relationships that are connected to that experience … [and] how it disrupts and reconfigures the surrounding social reality’ (Neroni 2004:217).11

In conventional storytelling, the ‘happily ever after’ of the fairytale is never interrogated, so the ultimate satisfaction of the conclusion or the underlying ideology it masks is left unquestioned. At the end of Campion’s films we are left with many questions about the future of the central protagonists, and a certain ‘happily ever after’ is never confirmed, although the characters hold out the promise of their own resourcefulness as a possibility for optimism.

Human communication: men and women in the world

In a perplexing scene in Holy Smoke! Ruth stands naked in front of PJ and urinates. Just as gods and goddesses have a shadow aspect, or a duality, ‘girlshine’ also has an inverse, an abject side, which is signified in Ruth’s urinating. While this representation might appear to be at odds with the concept of ‘girlshine’, it is essentially a reminder that iconic beauty is only surface, and that we are all human.

There are several possible ways of reading this scene. The most evident for those who know Campion’s films, is that women urinating outside is a resonant theme from her early short films and features, including her most lauded film, The Piano (1993).12 In her short film Peel: An Exercise in Discipline (1982), the sister/aunt character (played by Katie Pye) squats in the grass and urinates by the roadside, and in her first feature, Sweetie, Sweetie (played by Genevieve Lemon) urinates next to her father’s car. These scenes are linked to the urination scene in Holy Smoke!. In urinating on herself, Ruth is doing something ostensibly animalistic, although animals avoid doing this by cocking their legs or squatting; animals do, however, seek dominance and mark their territory through urinating or spraying. When female characters urinate in Campion’s films, they are generally involved in power struggles with men. In Holy Smoke! the urination occurs when Ruth accuses PJ of wanting young women because he wants to show others what a ‘beautiful post [he] got to piss on’.

One way of reading the urination motif is through the lens of Campion’s own comments, which strongly brings to mind that human bodies are abject and that to be human is to leak and seep; as Julia Kristeva (1982) has written, the ‘abject confronts us … with the fragile states where man wanders in the territories of the animal’ (quoted. in Bloom 1999:93). The motif can also be read as an exploration of the concept of the abject across Campion’s films. Kristeva has written that ‘abjection is above all ambiguity … abjection acknowledges it [the subject] to be in perpetual danger.[it is that which] does not respect borders, positions, rules, that which “disturbs identity, system, order”‘ (quoted in Creed 1993:8). Through the character of Ruth, the act of urinating signifies Campion’s resistance to social and cultural conformity or homogeneity. Thus Campion breaks the taboo in our culture towards representing such fluids—confronting the horror of fluids13—and reminds us that the idea of a sealed and ‘proper’ body is impossible. PJ tries to cleanse Ruth’s mind with the implication that her body will fall into line, but his failure to do so challenges the concept of the supremacy of the mind over the body.14 This spectacle of female will is something that Campion’s central protagonists all share,15 and provides particular identification for female audiences.

It is interesting to note that the abject is also linked to the ‘gothic’—a form Campion has had an interest in, particularly in romantic gothic melodrama.16 According to Gerry Turcotte (1993:132), the gothic often deals with scatological or ‘the abject’ and is ‘a mode that explores borderland positions, which engages with the grotesque, which allows sexes to blur to the point of transformation, and which speaks the supposedly unspeakable remarkably well’. The gothic is something that has been regularly present in Australian film from the 1970s and also has a strong place in New Zealand culture.17

Another way of reading the urination scene is in relation to how it has been critically received. Some critics have seen Holy Smoke! as man-hating. One of these, Phillip Adams (2000:32) wrote that he could not think of the ‘versa’ of misogyny (which would be misandry) but, if there were such a word, it would be called for in regard to Campion’s ‘apparent detestation of blokes’. Adams reads the scene of Ruth urinating while standing like a man as providing ‘powerful symbolism of Campion’s hostility to the penis-wielding gender’. Critic Stanley Kauffmann (2000:26) also implied this in writing of PJ that, when he wears ‘the lipstick and red dress that she has put on him—in ridicule of his sexuality’, he does so because he has accepted that ‘he is her slave’; ‘After several more twists, she pities the reduced and now-impotent man’ and PJ falls for her. According to Stuart Klawans (2000:35), he falls ‘abjectly for a woman who was supposed to have been his conquest’. These accounts reflect the fury and disgust18 of some critics, and most likely some viewers, but they do not take into account the bond that develops between Ruth and PJ, which is evidenced, for example, when Ruth sits in the back of the ute cradling PJ towards the end of the film. In the final scene they write to each other about their connection and the profound effect they have had on each other.

Campion has been quoted as saying that she feels for men who desire women but for whom this desire is not reciprocated. She says that men ‘feel completely disempowered in relationship to [their desire]’ (quoted in Barber 1999:6). While Campion’s characterisation highlights PJ as self-deluded, chauvinist and sexually vain, she is not trying to demean men. Others have also noted this point. Dana Polan (2001:41) has observed that Campion’s most recent films involve ‘an effort to redeem men or at least to find mitigating circumstances for their inadequacies’. What Campion is much more interested in is exploring how men and women interact in the world and how one’s gender influences those interactions. For example, Campion has said that the film demonstrates Ruth’s awareness of how she is seen and objectified—her ‘girlshine’:

Ruth has a kind of battle cry … She acts toward PJ out of the full force of knowing what it is to be sexually objectified: to only be seen in terms of one’s beauty—which is not to be seen at all. This is why she dresses him up in the red dress, so that when he looks at himself he is seeing a woman of his own age, someone sexually undesirable. She wants to appal [sic] him with his own double standards (quoted in Holy Smoke! Press kit 1999).

While he is a man in drag, rather than a woman, his remark that he ‘was young once and handsome too’ and that she would have been ‘impressed’ indicates that he is making the connection Campion describes. She forces him to face the fact that his own beauty has passed; perhaps that the testosterone-driven days of his own boyshine are long gone. He admits, ‘I’m a dirty old man’.

The defence of PJ has been seen by critics, such as Kate Pullinger, as a mediation or attack on the ludicrous Hollywood convention of pairing old men with young women. Pullinger (1999:10) writes that ‘Ruth doesn’t go for PJ because he is powerful and authoritative and fatherly; she goes for him because she has spotted his Achilles heel—he is unable to control his libido. The moment Ruth sees this, he is lost’. While this describes what occurs, it fails to notice that he enlightens her in regard to her own state, which she comes to see and understand through her interaction with him.

David Stratton (1999:14) wrote that once PJ has sex with Ruth, ‘this proves to be his undoing.[she] demolishes the vanity of her tormentor and, in the process, negates his power’. This negation of power may be a crucial objection to the film for those wanting the myth of the male seducer to be maintained. PJ loses his symbolic identity, the power of that identity is dissipated and the social order threatened; he loses power both as a man (in the sense he has understood his masculinity until this point) and as an exit therapist (the surrogate god/guru). This demonstrates a way in which Campion’s cinema deconstructs dominant paradigms. Conventional cinema represents women as ‘a mystery for him [the man] to master and decipher within safe or unthreatening borders’ (Grosz 1994:191), but Campion’s films do not represent or allow the mystery to be mastered or deciferes, because Campion creates a threatening representation. Her film is without masculinist privilege in the sense that it does not favour the male symbolic and devalue the female symbolic, as feminist writers such as Kristeva have argued that society and culture have traditionally done. It is possibly this that unsettles, threatens or enrages some critics, especially male critics.19

Other critics, mostly female, have an alternative view to Adams, Klawans and Kauffmann. Ruth Hessey (2000a:8) has observed that Campion’s investigation offers the position that ‘humiliation, though painful, can lead to enlightenment’; for example, the wearing of a dress signifies humiliation, in the light of PJ dismissal of Baba (the guru) early in the film because he wears a dress, and, therefore, a link between Baba and PJ is signified when PJ wears a dress. Hessey (2000a:8) also writes, ‘Ruth subjects PJ to a humiliation so total it represents what every man probably fears when he lets a woman get on top’. However, Campion says ‘[h]umiliation is an important part of the process … [h]umiliation of the ego can be a very positive thing’ (quoted in Hessey 2000b:34).

Holy Smoke! is focused on, and offers a profound insight into, the foibles and failings of humans and what they might become through their interactions with and experience of each other. In her review of Holy Smoke!, Stella Bruzzi (2000:48) observed that ‘it is essentially a film about the tenuousness of most people’s sense of self—our decentredness, our malleability, our vulnerability in the face of our own desires and the manipulative skills of others’. Campion explores the development of a sense of self and the unequal power in human relationships, and is quoted as saying that what she was interested in developing and what interests her is that Ruth and PJ

fundamentally alter each other … even married couples, might never have such an intimate or naked experience as these two share. I admire them for the courage to stay in dialogue with each other however confronting and raw and even cruel it got. In this way, PJ shows his love. It is also why she cannot forget him. He is the first man to really love her, to risk his life for her. In fact to frighten her with her own erotic power (quoted in Holy Smoke! Press kit 1999).

Ruth is altered in that she becomes more compassionate, comes to understand her power and makes contact with her own core values, such as the importance of kindness. The interesting thing about this is that she is not offering relations between the sexes as a binary of powerful/powerless. While Ruth finds this experience frightening, Campion is not portraying this trauma as a negative, but rather as part of the process of understanding. PJ emerges from the experience able to see himself with greater clarity, as Ruth does, and Campion seems to imply that they are now both better able to negotiate the future.

Works cited

Adams, Phillip 2000, ‘Holey smoking reputation’, Weekend Australian Review, 5 February.

Barber, Lynden 1999, ‘Holy spirits’, Financial Review 24 December.

Bloom, Lisa (ed) 1999, With other eyes: looking at race and gender in visual culture, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Bruzzi, Stella 2000, ‘Holy Smoke!’, Sight & Sound 10(4).

Bush, Christopher E 2000, ‘Smoke and fire’, Christian Century 1 March.

Campion, Anna and Jane Campion 1999, Holy Smoke!, Bloomsbury, London.

Creed, Barbara 1993, The monstrous feminine: film, feminism, psychoanalysis, Routledge, London.

Davies, John and John Dowson 2003, Classical dictionary of hindu mythology and religion, geography, history and literature, Kessinger, Whitefish MT.

Davis, Michael 2002, ‘Tied to that maternal “thing”: death and desire in Jane Campion’s The Piano’, Gothic Studies 4.

De Lauretis, Teresa 1984, Alice doesn’t: feminism, semiotics, cinema, Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

Diamond, Neil 1969, Holly holy, Prophet Music, New York.

French, Lisa 2007, ‘Centring the female: the articulation of female experience in the films of Jane Campion’ PhD thesis, RMIT.

George, Sandy 2006, ‘Baz sees the big picture in Australian landscape’, The Australian 23 November,, viewed 12.3.2012.

Grosz, Elizabeth 1989, Sexual subversions: three French feminists, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW.

— 1994, Volatile bodies: towards a corporeal feminism, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards.Hall, Sandra 1999, ‘There’s smoke but little fire’, Sydney Morning Herald 23 December.

Hendershot, Cyndy 1998, ‘(Re)visioning the gothic: Jane Campion’s The Piano’, Literature Film Quarterly 26(2).

Hessey, Ruth 2000a, ‘Lord, it’s hard to be humbled’, Sunday Age 9 January.

— 2000b, ‘Where there’s smoke …’, Independent Filmmakers (IF) December 1999 / January 2000.

Holy Smoke! press kit 1999, Miramax Films and Jan Chapman Productions.

Irigaray, Luce 1991, The Irigaray reader, edited by Margaret Whitford, Blackwell, Cambridge, Mass.

Journeywoman: the premier travel resource for women. 1997–2011., viewed 12.3.2012.

Kauffmann, Stanley 2000, ‘A passion in the desert’, The New Republic 7 February.

Kinsley, David R 1997, Tantric visions of the divine feminine: ten Mahavidyas, University of California Press, Berkeley.

Klawans, Stuart 2000, ‘Rescuer down under’, The Nation 31 January.

Klinger, Barbara 2006, ‘The art film, affect and the female Viewer: The Piano revisited’, Screen 47(1).

Kristeva, Julia 1982, Powers of horror: an essay on abjection, translated by Leon S Roudiez, Columbia University Press, New York.

Longhurst, Robyn 2001, Bodies: exploring fluid boundaries, Routledge, London.

McHugh, Kathleen, 2001, ‘Sounds that creep inside you: female narration and the voiceover in the films of Jane Campion’, Style 35(2),, viewed 12.3.2012.

Mein Smith, Philippa 2005, A concise history of New Zealand, Cambridge University Press, New York.

Murphy, Kathleen, 2000, ‘Jane Campion’s passage to india’, Film Comment 36(1).

Neroni, Hilary 2004, ‘Jane Campion’s jouissance: Holy Smoke! and feminist film theory’, in McGowan, Todd and Sheila Kunkle (eds), Lacan and contemporary film, Other Press, New York.

Polan, Dana 2001, Jane Campion, British Film Institute, London.

Pullinger, Kate 1999, ‘Women directors: soul survivor’, Sight & Sound 9(10).

Rueschmann, Eva 2005, ‘“Out of Place”: reading (post)colonial landscapes as gothic space in Jane Campion’s films’, PostScript, 24(2/3).

Silverman, Kaja 1988, The acoustic mirror: the female voice in psychoanalysis and cinema, Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

Simpson, Catherine 1999, ‘Suburban subversions: women’s negotiation of suburban space in Australian cinema’, Metro: Film, Television, Radio & Multimedia Journal 118.

Storl, Wolf-Dieter 2004, Shiva, the wild god of power and ecstasy, Inner Traditions, Rochester VT.

Stratton, David 1999, ‘No place like Om’, Financial Review 24 December.

Taubin, Amy 1999, ‘Fear and desires: Jane and Anna Campion make a religious-cult classic’, Village Voice 30 November.

Thompson, Kirsten Moana 1999, ‘The sickness unto death: dislocated gothic in a minor key’, in Coombs, Felicity and Suzanne Gemmell (eds), Piano lessons: approaches to The Piano, John Libbey, Sydney.

Turcotte, Gerry 1993, ‘Footnotes to an Australian gothic script’, Antipodes 7(2).

1   Web sites for women travelling in India (for example, Journeywoman: The Premier Travel Resource for Women 1997–2011) warn that Indian women do not ordinarily travel alone and that this can make Western women a curiosity. Touching members of the opposite sex is also a taboo.

2   Female experience is taken to mean an ongoing process by which female subjectivity is constructed semiotically and historically—a definition taken from Teresa de Lauretis (1984). De Lauretis (1984:182) offered experience as meaning effects ‘resulting from the semiotic interaction of “outer world” and “inner world”, the continuous engagement of self or subject in social reality’. Note that the concept of ‘female experience’ here is complex and contested and understood not as homogenous, but rather as to be viewed as multitudes of perspectives that might be considered.

3   Campion constructs the Barrons’ panic about Ruth’s subscription to a cult as unwarranted. In the film’s mise-en-scène she makes it clear that Ruth has not been indoctrinated when she stages her in front of her bedroom mirror back at home in Australia. Ruth places her hands together in religious prayer, but this is a moment of narcissism; what Ruth is most interested in here is in observing her own image as she does this. Moments later she has moved on and she lights a cigarette, or perhaps a joint. Ruth’s own remarks to PJ reflect that it is not a religious experience what she seeks; what she seeks is in relation to her selfhood and she admits that she had hoped Baba would help her grow.

4   Her films are scattered with symbols of faith and superstition, from reading tea leaves in her first film Sweetie (1989) to the buddha that sits outside Pauline’s door in In the Cut (2003). Ruth’s family, the Barrons, are represented as spiritually barren. That the name Ruth is from an Old Testament story of family emphasises the theological themes of redemption and kindness. (In the film Ruth refers to the Dalai Lama’s message of the importance of kindness.) Australian cinema throughout the 1970s and 1980s depicted

5   The Barron family as characters also work to construct an ironic voice in the film—a postmodern feature—and Campion has described them as a ‘Greek chorus’ (Hessey 2000a:8). In Holy Smoke!, the choral interludes are the briefing of the family: her capture at Emu Farm, watching the cult film at the farm, Day three at the pub, and the rescue. The classical Greek chorus gathered to comment on what was going on in the play. Thus Campion’s use of this description could indicate that she has used them as a way of structuring the story. Through images linked to Australian cinema, the family help to point to the incongruous state of things—that things are never what they seem and can suddenly shift ground.

6   In early Australian cinema the landscape was represented as eternal, monumental and mythic in films such as Charles Chauvel’s Jedda (1955) and Harry Watt’s The Overlanders (1946). Many films of the revival, including Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout (1971) or Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), perpetuated this representation. There is some evidence that there is a return to the early interest in the landscape in recent cinema. For example, Baz Luhrmann has said that the landscape was used to amplify the emotion and drama of the story in his film Australia (2008) and refers to Jedda and The Overlanders as influences (George 2006).

7   Although all young women experience the flowering of youth, the experience may differ in non-Western cultures because of their different material conditions.

8   Campion was noting that the song was proposed by Kate Winslet. The song has been described as a ‘pop anthem to feminine rage and power’ (Bush 1999:249). Although it connects with feminine power, the idea of rage doesn’t appear to have the sense in which in is used here. The chorus, ‘‘Cause the love that you gave that we made wasn’t able / to make it enough for you to be open wide’ strongly connects to the idea of human connection, such as that between Ruth and PJ in Holy Smoke!. However, it could be read as signalling the rage that is to come.

9   The idea of creativity as central to the evolution of the self is a prevalent theme in Australian cinema from the 1990s, including in glitter-cycle films such as Strictly Ballroom, Muriel’s Wedding and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

10 The term jouissance is used by French feminist theorists, such as Luce Irigaray (1991), who stress its multiple, ambiguous and fluid nature. For further discussion, see Grosz (1989:115–116).

11 Neroni (2004) notes that Campion has at times described her films as presenting an experience rather than a story.

12 Kaja Silverman (1988:218) has noted that there are ‘nodal points’ in any director’s work—’the sound, image, scene, place, or action to which … [the author’s work] repeatedly returns’. This idea can be directly applied to Holy Smoke! in relation to female jouissance and the repeated motif of urination. Silverman has claimed that a ‘nodal point’ is often a sound, image or a scene that is ‘marked by some kind of formal “excess”, indicating a psychic condition such as rapture … fixation … [or] intoxication’. Campion’s film can be understood as part of what Silverman has described as a libidinal economy—a ‘fantasmatic’ cinema of desire.

13 Using the arguments of Irigaray, Grosz (1994:195) locates the horror of the fluids as being because they are culturally unrepresentable within prevailing philosophical ontological models. Because of the implicit association of fluids with femininity, maternity and corporeality, all of which have been subordinated to the masculine, Campion can be understood as inserting the feminine here through her use of fluids.

14 Throughout history there has been a historic dualism—a mind/body split—in which women have been associated with nature and men with culture. Campion’s film effectively works against such distinctions between the sexes.

15 Many writers have observed this; Klinger (2006), for example, has referred to extreme versions of ‘female will’ and the confrontation between the ‘obstreperous female and her dominators’ in The Piano, which is emphasised by a line of dialogue; Stewart tells Baines that he has heard Ada in his head, and points between his eyes and says she is afraid of her will because it is ‘so strange and strong’ and that she wants him to let her go.

16 For example, much of the writing about The Piano has considered the influence of the gothic and her film In the Cut was screened at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in 2005 as part of a focus on the female gothic. Numerous articles deal with the gothic in Campion’s films, including pieces by Michael Davis (2002), Cyndy Hendershot (1998) and Moana Thompson (1999).

17 New Zealand film has been described as gothic by Philippa Mein Smith (2005:241).

18 This scene is singled out because of disgust, a reflection of the cultural horror of the materiality of the female body. Kristeva offers that the cost of the clean and proper body emerging is what she terms abjection—’the affect or feeling of anxiety, loathing and disgust that the subject has in encountering certain matter, images and fantasies—the horrible—to which it can respond only with aversion, nausea and distraction’ (Longhurst 2001:28).

19 This chapter is not arguing that all male critics react negatively to Campion’s work, David Stratton clearly warms to her films, but many of the most indignant reviews are by male critics and I raise this here to offer some discussion of the meaning these men are taking, or not taking, from the films. It is possible that these threatening representations would equally enrage female critics with a patriarchal worldview. However, my research has not found evidence that female critics have responded in this way.

Wanderings in India: Australian Perceptions

   by Rick Hosking and Amit Sarwal