Picnic at Hanging Rock 1975- Peter Weir (Friday’s Finest)

On Fridays I intend to post about relatively obscure movies which deserve in my estimation more widespread appreciation. They might be art-house, foreign or low budget films or a combination of all three. I have already posted about many films in the movie menu which I see fitting this description.

Picnic at Hanging Rock

To launch this series of ‘Friday’s Finest’ there is probably no better place to start than from whence I came. The movie Picnic at Hanging Rock is the quintessential Australian art-house cinema classic and has embedded itself into Australian folklore. When people think of Australian cinema the first movies which come to mind might be Mad Max or Crocodile Dundee. Lamentably very few outside of my island home have ever heard of let alone seen Picnic at Hanging Rock despite Australian director Peter Weir having achieved worldwide success and critical praise with movies like Dead Poets Society and The Truman Show.

When I was a young boy this movie appeared to me like a dream. It has haunted me ever since; the suspicion and wondering, like what really happened to those girls? I was fascinated by it and particularly fond of its beautiful score. Picnic at Hanging Rock is about the disappearance of several schoolgirls and their teacher during a picnic at Hanging Rock, Victoria on Valentine’s Day in 1900, and the subsequent effect on the local community.  The movie was based on the 1967 novel of the same name by Joan Lindsay.

All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream
– Edgar Allen Poe

Hanging Rock
Hanging Rock, Victoria Australia

Before I left to come to Colombia, I went to Hanging Rock as sort of a personal pilgrimage.  It is an archetypal character in the movie and I felt a great nostalgia wandering this ethereal and dreamy landscape. I can understand why some of the cast and executive producer were afraid to return to Hanging Rock. According to IMDB Executive producer Patricia Lovell said she went back once in 1985 and she left almost immediately and refuses to go back to this day.

I was impressed how Dindiosk in the Reddit Film Club Discussion of Picnic at Hanging Rock broke down the major themes in the movie and the audience connection:

Weir does a fantastic job at playing not only with the consequences of the girl’s repressed sexuality but also with that of almost every other character on the screen and – most amazingly – of its own viewers. As the girls enjoy a day out, feel mysteriously attracted to the core of Hanging Rock, or pine over their colleagues back at the school, the viewer remains a fascinated observer, some sort of Peeping Tom/Jane that gets to experience their world and yet remain unseen, undiscovered. What we believe happened to these girls, or our convictions about this mystery are very much connected to how we understand and deal with our own sexuality. And the “male gaze” here, manifested as an obsession in “finding the truth”, may also relate to this idea of wanting to be the savior, when in fact perhaps they didn’t need much saving.

And then you have the role of the headmistress, so stern and in such contrast to the girls: always wearing her dark clothes, and an everlasting frown that tells us a lot of what we need to know about her. To me, she’s “Victorian England”, rigid and intolerant with anyone who behaves against her expectations and reminding the new ones to keep their desires and wishes at bay, because “it’s dangerous out there”.

Interesting facts about the movie from Wikipedia:
*Weir recalled that when the film was first screened in the United States, American audiences were disturbed by the fact that the mystery remained unsolved. According to Weir, “One distributor threw his coffee cup at the screen at the end of it, because he’d wasted two hours of his life—a mystery without a goddamn solution!

*Despite this, the film was a critical success, with American film critic Roger Ebert calling it “a film of haunting mystery and buried sexual hysteria” and remarked that it “employs two of the hallmarks of modern Australian films: beautiful cinematography and stories about the chasm between settlers from Europe and the mysteries of their ancient new home.”

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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Posted in Movies and TV
6 comments on “Picnic at Hanging Rock 1975- Peter Weir (Friday’s Finest)
  1. selizabryangmailcom says:

    I remember this movie and always loved it because to me an unsolved creepy mystery like that is so fascinating. I’m sorry for the women, whatever happened to them, and find it amazing that it’s never been solved. Since it happened to so many at once you want to disregard just one man or even a few men: could they really overpower and kill so many? Of course, way on the other spectrum is the theory of UFOs. Australia’s pretty remote. You never know! (If you believe in that sort of thing)

    • Well the way the movie was presented people actually thought it was a true story. I know I did when I was younger. It was not until many years I learnt it was 100% fiction, but the intention of the author and Peter Weir was to present it as if it as if it were an historical event. They succeeded. The hoax duped many and I don’t blame them for it because it enriched the story. The irony is because the movie has entrenched itself into Australian folklore it has become real to a degree. Good stories have the habit of developing their own life-force or reality if you will.

  2. selizabryangmailcom says:

    Yeah! What the hell? I was just going on memory but when I looked it up I remembered after reading the facts that when I was a kid I, too, thought it was a true story and only found out much later it was fiction. But as time went on, I completely forgot that part! I thought that at least a couple of girls and a teacher had actually disappeared. That’s what intrigued me as a kid–where did they go? But it was completely fiction, lol! Thanks for the reminder. The themes of blossoming womanhood and sexuality were presented in a dreamlike manner that definitely boosted the dreaminess of the entire film, along with (as I read in an article) the fact that they dressed everyone in a variety of bridal outfits that sort of made them *glow from within*.
    So many movies I need to/want to see again. But so little time…………..!

    • As you alluded such is the dreaminess of that movie, it’s hard not to fall under its spell. I think they dressed the camera in a bridal cloth to give it a patchy visceral vision. I would like to revisit it too. It’s been a while but as you say so little time.

  3. badfinger20 says:

    I remember watching this movie in the 80s while searching the video store for another scary movie. The ending upset me then but now I love it.

    • I must revisit it. I haven’t seen it for a few years. We watched it regularly when I was a kid. My old man was kind of obsessed with it. I can’t blame him. I’m glad you love it as well Bad.

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