Skip to main content

Everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place.


Picnic at Hanging Rock: Director’s Cut
(1975/1998)

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS My sympathies lie squarely with those who feel Peter Weir shouldn’t have gone and meddled with his film (removing eight minutes). Some of these individuals are actors and production crew interviewed on the feature-length making of documentary included on the Blu ray/DVD. Michael Mann is the biggest culprit in this inability to leave well alone (and then there’s George Lucas… ). Weir at least claims he’d wanted to edit out sequences that didn’t work so well since its original release outside of Australia. I can understand his reasoning, in particular with the excised scenes between Irma and Michael and their loss didn’t diminish my appreciation of the film as a whole; possibly their loss even had the desired effect.

It’s one of those horror films, like The Wicker Man, that you’re slightly shy of defining within that genre; so few of its scenes or elements are designed to frighten in a classical sense. This is a horror film by dint of what you don’t see and don’t know, the atmosphere created by that absence and the effect it has on the characters involved. As with Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, there is a sense of the supernatural infringing upon the everyday but this is a force evoked by the feelings of the principals rather than anything tangible. Also, unlike many horror films, the motivating event happens in the first third, in broad daylight, and the rest of the film plays out on the responses to this.

The audience and the characters share bewilderment at what has transpired, ever more so when one of the four missing characters (three schoolgirls and Mrs Mangel from Neighbours) is returned. It’s easy to see why the tale has retained the aura of “true story” long after it was established that it was not the case, because there is something very uncalculated about its ambiguity. Any number of explanations is possible, and characters voice many of these, but the power of the film is its pervasive resistance to a fully-formed, rational answer.

Mention of Roeg beckons a comparison between Hanging Rock and the earlier Walkabout. Both films dwell on the disturbing clash between the repressed (English colonial) feminine and untamable, pagan forces of nature as represented by the Aborigines and the Outback. There is an accompanying fractured approach to time and perspective. But Rock is more overtly mystical. It directly invites the horror film interpretation that something potent, powerful and primordial happened to these girls. The helicopter shot of Edith fleeing the three girls, who have just disappeared into the rocks, her screams augmented by Bruce Smeaton’s eerie use of melatron, is chilling. Later, the experience of Michael on the rock is revealed to have been nerve-shattering (and curiously ritualised by his marking a way to guide himself back from wherever he must go to find the girl).

But, perhaps the explanation is altogether mundane; Edith’s fevered imaginings as the girls leave her behind, the missing parties succumbing to accident or foul play (at points both Michael and Albert invite suspicion, even if it does not linger), the possibility of sexual indiscretion or transgression (it is revealed that Irma was not wearing her corset when she was discovered). But then, the peculiar disappearance of Mrs Mangel, sorry Miss McGraw, also in a state of discarded apparel flicks the register back to the mystical.

Certainly, the events following the disappearance on the Rock show characters haunted by the loss of the girls. Or, more particularly, the loss of Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert) who has been repeatedly remarked upon, or obsessed over, for her beauty and grace; Weir continues to remind us that she holds more of symbolic, archetypal role, Botticelli’s Venus (or an angel), than that of a fully-formed character. The toll is particularly exacting on Sara (Margaret Nelson) and the tyrannical headmistress Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts; superb, although reportedly little acting was required to put the fear of God into the cast and crew), while Michael is haunted by visions of her. It’s an aspect that, again, puts one in mind of Don’t Look Now; individuals struggling to cope with the fall-out of an event that sends one’s world reeling.

As I said, I can understand Weir’s rejection of the scenes between Michael and Irma; there’s something more powerful about the lack of head-on interrogation of either their experiences in the Director’s Cut. And it makes the scene where the other girls round on Irma, who has come to say goodbye, all the more chilling. I like also how the fate of Sara, tying into the revelation of her relationship with Albert, is highlighted, and the sense that this scene qualifies as support of the film’s more mystical themes.

I had not been aware of the original ending of Joan Lindsay’s novel, upon which the film is based. It was excised by the publisher and eventually saw light of day several year’s after Lindsay’s death. Reading the synopsis of “Chapter Eighteen” it came to mind that the sequence wouldn’t have been too out of place in a novel of Alan Garner’s devising. The ideas also further emphasise the theme mentioned earlier of the discord between British and Aboriginal systems and values. But, while the events of the chapter felt consistent with the possibilities raised by the film, that’s in no way to suggest that attempting to render them (even if the filmmakers had known about the ending) would have worked.  The power of Picnic at Hanging Rock lies in its being so close to an explanation one can grasp but paradoxically so far from one at the same time.

*****

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

You can’t just outsource your entire life.

Tully (2018)
(SPOILERS) A major twist is revealed in the last fifteen minutes of Tully, one I'll happily admit not to have seen coming, but it says something about the movie that it failed to affect my misgivings over the picture up to that point either way. About the worst thing you can say about a twist is that it leaves you shrugging.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Well, you did take advantage of a drunken sailor.

Tomb Raider (2018)
(SPOILERS) There's evidently an appetite out there for a decent Tomb Raider movie, given that the lousy 2001 incarnation was successful enough to spawn a (lousy) sequel, and that this lousier reboot, scarcely conceivably, may have attracted enough bums on seats to do likewise. If we're going to distinguish between order of demerits, we could characterise the Angelina Jolie movies as both pretty bad; Tomb Raider, in contrast, is unforgivably tedious.

If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.

Phantom Thread (2017)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps surprisingly not the lowest grossing of last year's Best Picture Oscar nominees (that was Call Me by Your Name) but certainly the one with the least buzz as a genuine contender, subjected as Phantom Thread was to a range of views from masterpiece (the critics) to drudge (a fair selection of general viewers). The mixed reaction wasn’t so very far from Paul Thomas Anderson's earlier The Master, and one suspects the nomination was more to do with the golden glow of Daniel Day-Lewis in his first role in half a decade (and last ever, if he's to be believed) than mass Academy rapture with the picture. Which is ironic, as the relatively unknown Vicky Krieps steals the film from under him.

Outstanding. Now, let’s bite off all the heads and pile them up in the corner.

Venom (2018)
(SPOILERS) A 29% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes can't be wrong, can it? To go by the number of one-star reviews Sony’s attempt to kick-start their own shred of the Marvel-verse has received, you’d think it was the new Battlefield Earth, or Highlander II: The Quickening. Fortunately, it's far from that level of ignominy. And while it’s also a considerable distance from showing the polish and assuredness of the official Disney movies, it nevertheless manages to establish its own crudely winning sense of identity.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

Yes, cake is my weakness.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
(SPOILERS) Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is good fun, and sometimes, that’s enough. It doesn’t break any new ground, and the establishing act is considerably better than the rather rote plotting and character development that follows, but Jake Kasdan’s semi-sequel more than justifies the decision to return to the stomping ground of the tepid 1995 original, a movie sold on its pixels, and is comfortably able to coast on the selling point of hormonal teenagers embodying grown adults.

This is by some distance Kasdan’s biggest movie, and he benefits considerably from Gyula Pados’s cinematography. Kasdan isn’t, I’d suggest, a natural with action set pieces, and the best sequences are clearly prevized ones he’d have little control over (a helicopter chase, most notably). I’m guessing Pados was brought aboard because of his work on Predators and the Maze Runners (although not the lusher first movie), and he lends the picture a suitably verdant veneer. Wh…

The whole thing should just be your fucking nose!

A Star is Born (2018)
(SPOILERS) A shoe-in for Best Picture Oscar? Perhaps not, since it will have to beat at very least Roma and First Man to claim the prize, but this latest version of A Star is Born still comes laden with more acclaim than the previous three versions put together (and that's with a Best Picture nod for the 1937 original). While the film doesn't quite reach the consistent heights suggested by the majority of critics, who have evacuated their adjectival bowels lavishing it with superlatives, it's undoubtedly a remarkably well-made, stunningly acted piece, and perhaps even more notably, only rarely feels like its succumbing to just how familiar this tale of rise to, and parallel fall from, stardom has become.