Friday, September 25, 2015

#1,866. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) - Spotlight on Australia

Directed By: Peter Weir

Starring: Rachel Roberts, Anne-Louise Lambert, Vivean Gray

Tag line: "A recollection of evil"

Trivia: Executive producer Patricia Lovell admits to being genuinely afraid of Hanging Rock. In an interview she explained that she has only gone back to Hanging Rock once since the shooting

For years, I was a bit fuzzy as to whether or not Peter Weir’s 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock was based on an actual event (turns out it wasn’t; while Hanging Rock is a very real locale in Victoria, Australia, the story is a complete fabrication). But then, a picture as hauntingly enigmatic as this one practically invites ambiguity. As gorgeous as it is bewildering, Picnic at Hanging Rock is a movie you’ll think about for days afterwards.

Valentine’s Day, 1900. A group of young women from Appleyard College head to Hanging Rock, a geological formation situated near Victoria’s Mount Macedon, for a picnic. Chaperoned by two of their teachers, Miss McCraw (Vivean Gray) and Mademoiselle de Poitiers (Helen Morse), the girls enjoy what appears to be a peaceful day in the country.

Their quiet afternoon takes a dark turn, however, when three students, Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert), Marion (Jane Vallis), and Irma (Karen Robson), as well as Miss McCraw, disappear without a trace.

As the police, led by Sgt. Bumpher (Wyn Roberts), carry out their investigation, the college’s headmistress, Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts), struggles to keep her school afloat amid all the bad publicity. The police fail to turn up any clues and eventually abandon their search, at which point young Michael Fitzhubert (Dominic Guard), who was picnicking in the area at the same time and was the last person to see the girls before their disappearance, feels compelled to take matters into his own hands.

With the help of his family’s servant Albert (John Jarratt), Michael tries to solve this puzzling case, and what he discovers during his time at Hanging Rock will shock not only the local authorities, but all of Australia as well.

Director Peter Weir weaves an aura of mystery throughout Picnic at Hanging Rock. Along with a few strange occurrences (during the picnic, both Miss McCraw and Mr. Hussey, who drove the cart that brought the girls to the area, notice their watches stopped at exactly noontime), Weir shoots the rock formation in such a way as to make it look incredibly foreboding. He keeps his camera down low, shooting upwards, giving the illusion that the rock is towering over his characters. And because of this, we feel a bit uneasy whenever the action switches back to this seemingly menacing locale. When Michael Fitzhubert,who is determined to find the girls, decides to spend the night at Hanging Rock, we fear for his safety, and wonder if we will ever see him again. Along with introducing a sense of dread into the proceedings, this adds a supernatural element to the movie that makes its central mystery all the more perplexing.

A beautiful motion picture that will have you turning its story over and over again in your head, Picnic at Hanging Rock is one of the seminal Australian films of the 1970's and, in my opinion, ranks among the greatest the continent ever produced.

1 comment:

James Robert Smith said...

Now...THIS is a great film. One of those rare movies that's absolutely unforgettable. Believe it or not, the book's even better. (I know, almost impossible to believe.)