The 5 films that inspired Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog


This is part of our on-going segment entitled Smart Creative People Recommending Good Stuff to Watch, in which we crassly scour the internet for great movie lists.

Jane Campion has just won the little gold man at the 2022 Oscars: Best Director for her western The Power of the Dog. That nod made her the only female director to have been twice nominated, capping a career that was kick-started when she became the first female director to win the Palme d’Or (for The Piano in 1993).

Campion recently told the Academy Awards blog A Frame the five movies that helped inspire her and director of photography Ari Wegner’s vision for The Power of the Dog. These are those films alongside her comments.


The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

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This 1948 neo-Western from filmmaking giant John Huston (The Maltese Falcon) follows two rough-and-tumble wanderers (Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt) and a veteran prospector (Huston’s father, Walter) as they head into the Sierra Madre mountains to find gold.

Says Campion: “Huston is a brilliant storyteller reminding me of the simple power of causation, one story point after another… There is also a moment when Huston’s story loses its subtlety, such as when Humphrey Bogart’s character too suddenly becomes suspicious and you realise the importance of not doing that, of making sure each plot point is well manoeuvred.”

The Master (2012)

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Campion is a big Paul Thomas Anderson fan (“all his films are a source of inspiration for me”). On The Master, loosely based on the founding of Scientology, she says “I like the way that Paul’s films play loose with narrative, sometimes following tight causal patterns, then breaking away to more tangential expressions, seemingly in service of discovering some more elusive quality than the straightforward closure of narrative.”

Birth

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Jonathan Glazer’s 2004 fantasy stars Nicole Kidman, who comes to believe her dead husband is alive inside the body a young boy. “This is such a preposterous proposition”, says Campion, “Yet slowly, then rapidly, it begins to unsettle the new relationship in all too real ways. One of my favorite moments in the film is an emotional slow track into Anna’s face at the opera as we see her thinking about the boy as her dead husband’s reincarnation.”

And then there’s a Terrence Malick deuce, staring with Badlands which Campion calls “A perfect film… Sissy Spacek is beautiful and unique in a way we rarely see in films. Reading about how Malick works with his actors, I discover that he makes adjustments to his story to include the unique qualities of his actors, such as Sissy’s baton twirling.”

Days of Heaven

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This is Malick’s second feature, with Richard Gere playing a poor farmhand who convinces the woman he loves to marry his wealthy, dying boss in order to claim his fortune. Says Campion: “Returning to this film, I appreciated the sustained mood of romance and impending doom. It is a long way from the atmosphere of The Power of the Dog, but very close in period and the importance of nature. It helped me think about my film and the right choices for my story.”