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.
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
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.”