The Purloined Piano?

| September 13, 2000

The Purloined Piano?

Among the flurry of awards garnered by the 1993 film The Piano was an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. But according to the recently published Oxford Companion to Australian Film, Jane Campion's screenplay may not have been so original after all, writes Hilary Frey inLingua Franca. 'In its entry for The Piano, the volume notes that the film was in fact 'based on the novel, The Story of a New Zealand River, by Jane Mander, though the book was 'uncredited.''

The controversial charge has stirred up a considerable storm Down Under. Representatives of Mander's estate charge that The Piano was a direct rip-off. Frey points out that both Mander's book and Campion's screenplay 'tell the story of a young European woman who arrives on the wild New Zealand shore with a lively, fatherless daughter and a piano. In both stories, the woman falls in love with her husband's associate and eventually leaves a logging camp to live with him in the city.'

There are significant differences between the two, Frey adds, such as the Maori natives who appear in the movie but not the book, and 'the memorable bargain that Ada (Holly Hunter) strikes with Baines (Harvey Keitel): Ada earns her piano back from Baines key by key in exchange for letting him 'do things' with her.'

Campion maintains her innocence, and has even convinced the Oxford University Press to omit the reference from the next edition. Yet Mander's great-niece speculates: 'If Aunt Jane had been alive today, she would have kneecapped Jane Campion.' -- Leif Utne
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