Thursday, September 24, 2009

Frame footage online

NZ ONscreen Biography of Janet Frame:

Janet Frame is famed for creating unique fictional worlds, yet her biography is entwined in her works' critical and public reception. Her writing was influenced by her early life: a working class childhood during the Depression, several family tragedies, and a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia in her early twenties, led to a special understanding for the poor and marginalised.

Another of Frame's key themes is that of the writer or artist struggling to survive in the face of a conformist society; a topic pointedly evidenced through her own experience: Frame narrowly escaped a lobotomy only because she won a major literary prize.

Yet David Gate's 2009 New York Times' review of Towards Another Summer notes, that Frame's "sanity became, and continues to be, the subject of tedious and condescending debate - as does the degree to which her fiction was autobiographical. Since few readers of Sylvia Plath's novel The Bell Jar (published in the same year Frame wrote Towards Another Summer) worry any more over the similarity of Esther Greenwood to her creator, why worry over [Summer protagonist] Grace Cleave?"

Frame herself warned her readers of the danger of treating her fictional statements as autobiography and long maintained her privacy. This reticence, along with the vivid interiority of her writing, might seem to make Frame a challenging subject for adaptation to screen, but her work and the drama of her life has appealed to filmmakers.

Three New Zealanders: Janet Frame (1975) is a documentary based around a lively interview with Frame and contains dramatised excerpts from Frame's fiction.The first significant adaptation of Frame's work was A State of Siege (1978).

Vincent Ward's first short film was made when he was fresh out of Ilam art school. Adapted from a Frame novel, it's the story of a retired art teacher dealing with loss and loneliness, told over one stormy, terrifying night.Produced by Tim White, the film announced Ward as an emerging talent. "This, without all doubt, is the most sensitive and intelligent film that has ever been made in New Zealand" (Evening Post, 1978).

An Angel at My Table (1990) saw Jane Campion adapt the three volumes of Frame's bestselling autobiography (To the Is-Land, An Angel at My Table and The Envoy from Mirror City). Produced by Bridget Ikin and starring Kerry Fox, the poetic interpretation of Frame's memoir of her early life was initially made for television, to be screened in three parts, but attracted such strong reviews that it was released theatrically as a 158min film.

The film cemented Campion's international reputation (it is the only New Zealand film to be selected for the Criterion Collection) and won numerous awards (including the International Critics' Prize at Toronto Film Festival and the Grand Special Jury Price at Venice).

Campion's iconic shot of the young Frame walking down a deserted southern road visually captures the charge of Frame's writing: "Electricity, the peril the wind sings to in the wires on a gray day". Following on from the publication of Frame's prizewinning autobiography (received with unanimous acclaim in New Zealand and internationally) the film's success saw Frame's readership further swell.

Wrestling with the Angel (2004) by Ninox Films is a 70 minute documentary based on the celebrated biography by Michael King of the same title. Directed by Peter Bell it explores Frame's private life and writing through the perspective of her friends and associates. King's untimely death in March 2004 meant that the interview he gave for this film was his last. He provides an informative and entertaining overview of her life.

Screen adaptations of Frame's work, particularly An Angel at My Table, have helped enshrine its reputation as a taonga of New Zealand arts and have inspired new generations to engage with "the mirror city" of Frame's imagination.

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