Man, is it just me or is this SKIN-depth look project turning into a real sausage fest? How about we take a look at how a female director uses sex and nudity in her films? A great place to start is with Oscar-winning New Zealander Jane Campion, whose thirty-plus year career has been dominated by films with strong female protagonists, all of whom use sex as their way of bringing the men in their lives under their control—sometimes successfully and sometimes with catastrophic consequences.

While these female protagonists aren't necessarilyrepresentative of Campion herself, they're almost all united in their often voracious sexual appetites: Kerry Fox in An Angel at My Table, Holly Hunter in The Piano, Nicole Kidman in The Portrait of a Lady, Kate Winslet in Holy Smoke!, and Meg Ryan in In the Cut. These are all sexually liberated women stuck in a world controlled by men, and theyuse sex as a means to get what they need from these often insanely damaged and/or manipulative men.

Campion remains the first and only woman to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes, winning the feature prize in 1993 for The Piano, as well as the Short Film prize eleven years earlier for Peel. She's not prolific, by any means, with theperiodbetween her films growing longer with every subsequent project. Like many other directors, she's turned to television in recent years to explore longer form narratives. Her seriesTop of the Lake is every bit as masterfully controlled and constructed as the rest of her film work, but I won't be covering it here becausethis column is devotedmainly to feature films, and because she shared directorial duties with Ariel Kleiman.

Along with Baz Luhrmann, P.J. Hogan, and Stephan Elliott, Campion was one of the major influential voices in the Australian cinema renaissance that kicked off in the very late 80s and exploded in the early 90s. Films like Sweetie, Strictly Ballroom, Muriel's Wedding, and The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert shone a spotlight on the land down under as more than justthe gimmicky "Crocodile Dundee" novelty it had become for American audiences in the 80s.

The Criterion Collection has released Campion's first two films—Sweetie and An Angel at My Table—with the former disc containing three of her short films. Her entire catalog is more or less widely available, and I would recommend tracking down most everything in it. But let's start, as we often do, at the beginning...


Campion's feature directorial debut, this 1989 film established her as a director obsessed withsmall, intimate family drama. While the scope of her films widened as her budgets grew and she attracted bigger names to her projects, the focus of her films has always been painfully minute in detail, and that really begins here.

Kay (Karen Colston) is a shy, reserved young woman who consults a fortune teller about her nonexistent love life. Bolstered by a rather bold prediction, she begins a pursuit of an olderman named Louis, but her life is upended when her mentally unstable younger sister Dawn, aka Sweetie (Geneviève Lemon) comes back into her family's life.Their tumultuous relationship is exacerbated by the fact that their parents have always treated Dawn with kid gloves, with her father's spoiling of Sweetie a particularly sore spot for Kay.

24 minutes in, we get Campion's first nude scene as Kay and Louis decide to have sex. The tenderness of this shot is really stunning, with the composition not even fully inside the room, hanging outside like an observer to a real moment of intimacy that's not often depicted on film...

Once the shot moves into the room itself, things fall apart. Neither party seems particularly interested in pursuing sexual contact, and before long, Kay sits up and puts her bra back on...

This makes the hurt more palpable when he ends up romantically involved with Kay's obnoxious co-worker Cheryl. We've seen her in a very intimate, very vulnerable position with this dude, and his further actions in the film makethe audience dislike him intensely. One of the things Campion does so well, however, is juxtapose that tender nude sex scene with a rather uproarious scene where Geneviève Lemon's title character is naked and muddy in a treehouse...

And we bring it full circle with the other thing Campion is impeccable at executing: A sudden, violent turn that changes the course of the film. Sweetie meets an abrupt end when her half of the treehouse collapses and she falls to her death—the boy makes it down unharmed, thankfully. It's a shocking moment of violence in an otherwise quiet and focused character piece, and Campion's masterful handling of this turn in the film's final minutes established her immediately as someone to watch.

An Angel at My Table

Campion's first adaptation of another artist's work came the following year withAn Angel at My Table, based on the first three autobiographies of New Zealand author Janet Frame—taking its title from the second. Set during three key periods in the author's life, Frame is played by three different actresses:Karen Fergusson as a child,Alexia Keogh as an adolescent, and finally Kerry Fox as an adult, in her stunning screen debut.

Shot as a television miniseries, the film ended up being released theatrically both in New Zealand and abroad. The film runs nearly three hours and Kerry Fox is in nearly every frame of the film starting a touch before the film's halfway point. She continues the fine work done by her predecessors in the story, transcending it to deliver a complete portrait of the author who wrestled with mental health issues throughout her life. Anyone enamored by Geoffrey Rush's similar performance in Shine should really take the time to see this film as well, it's a magnificent companion piece.

Frame is not unlike a combination of Kay and Dawn from Sweetie, retaining Dawn's mental health issues, yet lacking all of her confidence as a person. She is much closer to Kay in her shyness and reserved nature, and Kerry Fox demonstrates this beautifully in her half of the story. She also makes her nude debut an hour and forty five minutes into the film while reading a book in a tub. It's another achinglyreal nude scene from Campion, who lays bare her heroines without hesitation, and always presenting their vulnerabilities as assets...

By the time her love life begins to flourish just past the two hour mark,the audience is more than ready for Janet to begin experiencing happiness. We've literally been through hell with her and the prospect of her finding love is heartwarming, in the truest sense of the word. Her seductive way of looking at her man while swimming nude is hopelessly dorky and highly relatable to anyone that has ever attempted to do the same...

Then they have another very awkward, very lovingly filmed, and very real makeout session on a rock, cementing this as one of the most honest portraits of love between two people who are figuring it out as they go along...

In just two films, Campion has asserted herself as someone concerned with magnifying the minute details of life, showing sex and nudity for how painfully awkward it can be at times. This not only sets her apart from her contemporaries, it sets her apart from all of the male filmmakers (save Todd Haynes) that we've covered up until this point. They admire the female form from a distance and show it with the same awe they themselves felt the first time they saw a woman naked. Campion presents it as real and normal and natural and there's a confidence to it that makes it powerfully sexy in its own right.

Fox's career trajectory is also a very interesting one to touch on briefly. She slowly but surely became a huge star in the UK, especially after appearing in Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave, but she was always very selective about her projects. Her 2000 film Intimacy brought a ton of scrutiny to her door—at least here in the prudish US—for her unsimulated sex scenes with Mark Rylance. She remains a well regarded actress and has been working steadily ever since, but her profile really dropped in the US after Intimacy.

Whatever normalcy Campion had brought to sex and nudity was about to get a perverse twist with her next, and arguably her finest, work.

The Piano

Campion made the leap to full-on auteur with her next film, 1993's The Piano. Writing solo and directing for the very first time, Campion's masterpiece is also the film that relied the most on her ability to deliver in both realms, and did she ever.

In the best performance of her career, Holly Hunter plays Ada, a widowed Scottish woman sold into marriage by her father to wealthy New Zealander Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neill) in the mid 19th century. Perhaps the only place in the world more dreary than Scotland at that time was New Zealand, and Campion portrays it as a cold, bleak, and desolate wasteland.

The homeAlisdair brings Ada and her young daughter (Anna Paquin in her Oscar winning screen debut) to live in is every bit as cold as the shore from which he made her abandon her beloved piano. The instrument accompanied them all the way from Scotland, but Stewart won't allow it to be brought from the shore. Their love life is lifeless and cold with Alisdair slapping his body against Ada's like a pair of cold, dead fish.

Enter George Baines (Harvey Keitel), a former whaler and foreigner to New Zealand, who has adopted Maori culture. He offers to pay Alisdair for the piano and has it brought to his home.Baines then makes a rather Byzantine arrangement with Ada: She can come to his house and do things for him, for which he will reward her a certain number of piano keys. It isn't long before the color palate of the film switches from cold greys and dark blues to warm, lush, amber-lit skin tones, as in Hunter's first nude scene in the film...

Finally consenting to Baines' wishes, Ada makes the decision to embrace the man who has offered her warmth, kindness, and her piano back, rather than the one who acquired her through a more lucrative financial arrangement. Once Alisdair discovers their indiscretions, however, we truly see how tenderly Campion shoots the sex scene...

Alisdair is not just spying on his wife having sex with another man, he's seeing what lovemaking looks like for the first time. This is the touch it seems that only a female director can bring to this sort of scene. Adultery may be a cardinal sin in the minds of many moviegoers, but they put that instinct to the side when it comes to rooting for a story's protagonist. Likely this is because the context of the adultery often presents the justification for it on both sides. The audience has a strong understanding of the three points of this love triangle by the hour and eighteen minute mark, making it seem okay that Ada is breaking her marriage vows.

She's rewarded with the loss of her index finger to Alisdair's axe, though in the end,Baines and Ada do get a happily ever after. It's heartwarming to know that happy endings can be found in films like this, where misery seems to follow our protagonists everywhere they go. Chalk it up to Campion's ultimately optimistic worldview, I suppose.

As for the film itself, while you may not like it, one has to respect the artistry on display.Campion won her first and only Oscar for the film's screenplay, an award long seen as a consolation prize for a great film that got steamrolled by another. The Piano had the unfortunate displeasure of competing against Schindler's List for the top prize, so its three awards seem nothing short of a miracle in retrospect. Hunter and Paquin were both incredibly deserving of their awards, and Paquin's award in particular felt like one more way to reward this magnificent film.

The Portrait of a Lady

Campion returned to the world of adaptation with this film based on the Henry James novel of the same name.James was as close as the literary world had to a feminist ally in the late 19th century, and this particular work blends well with Campion's overriding theme of a woman confronting her destiny head on.

Nicole Kidman stars as Isabel Archer, an American woman who travels to England following the death of her father, and soon finds herself the object of desire for a spate of wealthy suitors. She eventually falls in with Gilbert Osmond (John Malkovich), a wealthy American expat whom she marries and together the two settle in Rome.

Just shy of the one hour mark, we get this artsy film-within-a-film where a naked Nicole appears helplessly enthralled by the charismatic Osmond...

It's not worth sitting through the entire film just for the nude scene, however, as this proves to be Campion's weakest effort. It should have been a home run considering the marriage of subject matter and director, but Campion can't quite streamline the story enough to make it worthwhile, with the film becoming something of a slog. Thank god for Mr. Skin allowing us to Fast Forward to the Good Parts!

Holy Smoke!

Hot off her work in the biggest movie of all time, Kate Winslet was incredibly careful in selecting her follow-up films and the timing couldn't have been better for her to pair up with Campion for this film about a rebellious wild child named Ruth (Winslet) who runs away from home to join a cult.Perhaps the biggest unspoken issue with Holy Smoke!at the time of its release is that it felt very similar to another Kate Winslet vehicle, Hideous Kinky, released the year before.

Both films star Winslet as a woman who travels to India and has a sexual awakening, and while that's pretty much the entire plot of Hideous Kinky, it's merely the set-up for Campion's film. Holy Smoke! also re-teams Campion with The Piano star Harvey Keitel, here playing P.J. Waters, a deprogrammer hired by Ruth's parents to help her reverse the "brainwashing" she received during her time with the cult.We first meet Keitel's character in an airport as Neil Diamond's "I Am, I Said" blares on the soundtrack...

Because of his demeanor and the baggage Keitel as an actor brings to the role—he was hot off two "fixer" roles in Pulp Fiction and Point of No Return—we assume he's got this whole thing under control. 24 hours alone with Ruth and his whole façade crumbles. The deprogramming is a failure as Waters finds himself falling for Ruth, especially an hour and four minutes in when Kate approaches him fully nude outside the remote cabin the two are sharing...

It isn't long before Ruth realizes that her sexually liberated nature is more than enough to crush Waters' masculine posturing, and as she comes to this realization, shegoes positively primal on him, urinating down her leg.

Her transformation from a seemingly helpless and lost young woman to a determined and purposeful one is complete. When we see them again the next morning—post-coitus—both of them fully nude, she is facing up, fast asleep and comfortable.Waters, meanwhile, is in the more vulnerable face down position, woken up in a state of shock. She's fully aware of what has happened, and he's only just now coming to realize the power she has over him...

The film is an incredible use of Keitel's talent, especially at that moment in time, and he and Winslet are simply sublime together in this film. Winslet's journey from free-spirited and influential young woman to the dominant force in a feminist revolution of one is among her best performances. The way that Ruth's view of sex skews over the course of the film is fascinating to track,making this one of Campion's strongest efforts.

In the Cut

Looking to shed her image as America's sweetheart, Meg Ryan made a bold decision to take the lead role in Campion's 2003 adaptation of Susanna Moore's 1995 novel of the same name. Campion and her Portrait of a Lady star Nicole Kidman spent the better part of five years developing this adaptation when Kidman left the project due to her split from Tom Cruise.She does, however, retain a producing credit on the film for her efforts.

In the Cut has many parallels with the infamous novel and film adaptation of Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and Ryan is every bit as unconventional a choice for the role of Frannie Avery as Diane Keaton was for the lead in Goodbar. Both women are teachers who cruise bars looking for sexually experimental men, and they both find themselves in the midst of a murder mystery. Thankfully things end better for Ryan's fictional Frannie than they do for the based on a true story protagonist Keaton portrayed, but the number of parallels between the two is eerie.

Ryan's Frannie gets mixed up with a detective (Mark Ruffalo) whom she thinks is potentially the perpetrator of a murder she witnessed earlier in the film. Just eight minutes in, she sees Heather Litteergoing down on a dude in the basement of a bar—classy—and she notices a spade tattoo on his wrist, one also sported by Ruffalo's Detective Molloy. Here's the clip from our sister site—or brother site, I guess—, though, sorry guys, the dick's a prosthetic...

Campion only ramps up from there, with Molloy and Frannie having an aggressive sexual relationship that involves "anything but hitting." Frannie uses her sexuality to bring Molloy—whom she mistakenly grows to believe is the murderer—under her control. Once he trusts her enough, she handcuffs him to escape with Molloy's partner, the real killer.

Ryan goes all out in one of her most transgressively powerful, and nudest roles of her career. She was no prude prior to appearing here, having gone topless in four other films—most recently, at the time, in Flesh and Boneten years earlier. However, in the ensuing years, Ryan had adopted a thoroughly wholesome onscreen image as therom com queen in Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, City of Angels, the list goes on and on...

Seeing her fully nude was a bridge too far for a lot of her diehards—who were already souring on Ryan thanks to her alleged affair with Proof of Life co-star Russell Crowe. Campion's attempt to help Ryan reinvent her image were probably the victim of poor timing more than anything else. The film is far from high art, but Campion—along with her aces cast including Ryan, Ruffalo, and Jennifer Jason Leigh—help elevate it from Cinemax to cinematic. Still, any film where Mark Ruffalo eats Meg Ryan's ass can't be written off entirely...

Campion's last theatrically released film, 2009's Bright Star, was a much more chaste version of the typical Campion period piece, with a very good pair of lead performances from Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw. If you're looking for more from this director, it won't scratch your itch for nudity, but it's an excellent film.Jane Campion always makes the wait for her next project worth it in the end, and I can't wait to see what she cooks up next.

For further viewing, check out this awesome new video:Mr. Skin's Top 5 Nude Scenes from Jane Campion's Films

For further reading on Campion, I recommend this amazing piece from that covers the critic's relationship with Campion's films. It's an essential read.

Check out the Other Directors in Our Ongoing "SKIN-depth Look" Series

Bob Fosse

Dario Argento

Wes Craven

Tobe Hooper

Todd Haynes

Danny Boyle

Stanley Kubrick

Paul Thomas Anderson

David Lynch

Brian De Palma

Paul Schrader

Paul Verhoeven