Picnic at Hanging Rock

Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975) prod. Jim & Hal McElroy, prod. Patricia Lovell, wr. Cliff Green from novel by Joan Lindsay, dp Russell Boyd; Kirsty Child, John Fegan, Vivean Gray, Dominic Guard, John Jarratt, Anne Lambert, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Ingrid Mason, Garry McDonald, Helen Morse, Rachel Roberts, Martin Vaughan, Jacki Weaver; thriller

Possibly the classic Aussie film? ... I watched this again recently. I came to the realisation that there is (almost) no subtext. What lies beneath is only Joan Lindsay's fey imagination of an alternative universe: that is where the girls go. As almost no-one else believes in that, it can effectively be disregarded as a possible 'interpretation' (or exegesis) of the film. So what almost all of us are left with is fine cinematography, editing and art direction, and Peter Weir's (literally) inestimable brilliance.

One more thing that might be worth saying is that the Blu-ray version of the film (which is the one I've just watched—and thanks to the director for signing my copy :) returns the viewer to the surface more than any earlier version did. One is aware of textures, particularly of rocks and such like. Consequently, the people also look like signs, possibly without signifieds.

The mysteries of Joan Lindsay's book were scrupulously cultivated by the film-makers. Weir created a thorough network of visual, verbal and aural imagery which deepened the mystery: flower symbolism, scars that appear on the foreheads of sympathetic characters, the singing of 'Rock of Ages', haunting panpipe music, and much more, supported its animistic force. Enigma also surrounded the source of the story: the public was encouraged by both the novelist and the film-makers to believe that the disappearance had actually happened. Pike & Cooper: 290.

The film is essentially a carefully controlled mood piece, a leisurely, evocative, sensual hymn to the magical Australian bush summer, its colours and sounds, and the fin de siècle beauty of the ill-fated girls. The early scenes at the school as the girls prepare to leave for the picnic carry a strangely erotic charge, the scenes at the rock, although they go on rather longer than they should, create a powerful feeling of mystery and the unknown, with moments (such as the watches of various people stopping at the same time) carrying a strangely unsettling feeling. Stratton: 71.


New: 4 November, 2012 | Now: 3 November, 2013 | garrygillard[at]gmail.com