Monday, February 3, 2014

Film Atlas (Australia): Picnic at Hanging Rock

Country: Australia
Title: Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Valentine’s Day, 1900. The girls of Appleyard College take a holiday trip to Hanging Rock, a towering ominous formation in Victoria, Australia. They enjoy a light picnic. They shade themselves under parasols. The day is lazy. The women nap. Their watches stop. Four of the girls wander off to climb and explore. Only one returns. A great deal of panic and confusion ensues. Witnesses remember nothing useful. Search parties return empty-handed. Clues, if that’s what they are, provide only the vaguest outlines of something deeper, illogical, unnatural.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is an elusive period mystery, a puzzle of subtextual and supernatural elements with no specific answer and a masterpiece of sustained tension that tantalizes, terrifies and stays with you for life. And yet it defies nearly every horror film convention: there is no villain or monster, no blood or gore, no darkness and shadows. The tension is first stirred by a beautiful contradiction: civilized English schoolgirls brought into contact with rugged primordial geology. And yet the two harmonize, briefly, and something unfathomable happens. It is not seen, articulated or understood. There is an implication that, far worse than an accident or a crime, some intangible impropriety has been committed. Peter Weir’s direction soaks up the atmosphere, the sun, the undertow of sexual repression. His camera lingers over the dry golden grass, the pale lace dresses, the iron-rich volcanic rock, with a languor and peace at odds with the anxiety and desperation overwhelming the baffled schoolmistresses, their remaining wards and the menfolk from town. We are given, in the aftermath, less a procedural in which a mysterious disappearance is unraveled, than a study of reactions to loss, grief and confusion; the toll exacted from the disconcerted survivors. Over it all, a mood-matched soundtrack of panpipe and classical piano trickles over the outback.

My Favorites:
Picnic at Hanging Rock
The Proposition
Moulin Rouge
The Babadook
Wake in Fright
Rabbit-Proof Fence
Ghosts of the Civil Dead
Careful, He Might Hear You
A Cry in the Dark
Breaker Morant
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
The Last Wave
Mary & Max
The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Major Directors:
John Hillcoat, Ray Lawrence, Phillip Noyce, Peter Weir

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