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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It'd been quite some time since I last saw Picnic At Hanging Rock, but as
soon as I heard that haunting Pan flute it all came back to me and I felt
the goosebumps covering my skin once again. This film still has that level
of quality to it, and I still consider it one of my absolute favorite films
of all time.
As soon as you push that tempting Play button on your remote control as you're watching the Criterion Collection release of this film, you're thrown into a dream that starts as a fantasy but quickly turns into a nightmare as those girls disappear at hanging rock. You know that they're going to and there's nothing you can do to stop it...
I have discovered that most people speak of this film as drama, or maybe something in the line of an art film, which is funny to me as I've always seen it as a horror film. I mean, this film is really scary. Those girls disappeared and noone ever knew what happened to them. I remember thinking of this film as I saw The Blair Witch Project back in 99. Those kids also disappeared in the middle of the woods, only; in that film, you saw what happened to them, something that remains a mystery in this. That's what makes it so great.
It has to be told though, that the film does lose it's pace a bit towards the end as all the scenes are centered around the Appleyard school and leaving out on the mysterious Rock, but that is when the Pan flute is reintroduced, which keeps you in the meditative state you've been lulled into during the course of the film. There's so many scenes that you'll end up thinking about for hours to figure out what they really meant, only to come out empty handed, or possibly with a headache as a result. For instance: I've never understood the importance of the brother & sister link between the kids form the orphanage. If a film touches you in the way that this film does, you can't help but giving it the highest of praise and the 10/10 rating that it truly deserves. This is Peter Weir's one, and unfortunately only, true masterpiece as of yet; a film you must see before you leave the face of the earth and vanish into that dark shadowy place beyond; running into your very own Hanging Rock.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Australians pride themselves on being direct, but Australian cinema is anything but. It is one of the most engaging trends in film today and -- so far as I can tell -- we first see it here. Actually we first see an inkling in "Walkabout,: a film set in Australia but by a Brit. It conflated constructed realities, Aboriginal mysticism embedded in the environment, and adolescent sexual awakening as metaphor for narrative awareness,
That film made overt negative comment on the (then popular) Italian philosophy of film as stories embedded in characters.
This is very much the same film, except the conceptual distance between it and "Walkabout" is the same as between "Walkabout" and "Amarcord." It is a remarkably sophisticated idea: to create a drama with essentially no story arc, where the characters are not prime movers but elements of the environment -- where sex has less to do with panting and ejaculation and more with universal intimacy, what we see and some unnamed yearning that we all recognize.
This is a film that changed the world, but my own theory is that it reflects rather than leads a larger awareness among Australian artists. And that all comes from one or two teachers at the Opera House, which in turn was awakened by the implied hidden forms in the design of that structure.
The idea is that film is not a play, that what you experience is not what the players show -- instead what they help you show yourself in your imagination. We can see this in the folded acting of Winslet and Kidman, in the projection into the next scene of Crowe. In the several mystical spaces of secrets Blanchett ephemerally sustains.
Many films along these lines fail, I'm thinking of Gillian Armstrong, Sally Potter and Jane Campion. Even this film is not widely admired and Weir himself evolved into "message" films. But thanks to Australia and New Zealand we have a particular approach to film that is cinematic. It tussles for control over our imagination with other memes in film: the Hollywood "film as play," the British "film as set," the Italian "film as characters," the Swedish "film as visited angst," the Hong Kong "film as ballet,"
What we have here in the Australian entry is closer to the Japanese "film as means to abstraction whereby one purifies reality by alert immersion."
One trick that I particularly appreciate is the focus on reading and how that is tied to what we think are clues to the mystery. We see a teacher in the wild reading a geometry text. We see the geometry text clearly; the camera dwells on a particular graphic which in a British/Hitchcock film means: "pay attention, here is something that will be important later on." Then we switch to an overhead shot of the girls in trance on a rock. They are carefully arrayed. This is a staged scene, which obviously relates to the drawing in the book. Subconsciously that part of our mind that is tracking the mystery is racing ahead. Simultaneously, that part of our eye that makes sense of patterns is puzzled.
None of this is ever closed and that makes the effect much more powerful. Not only was the clue never resolved, the hands holding it disappeared -- as if we charmed the scene into mischief by our watching.
Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.
I'd say no.
The movie looks pretty. Some of the acting is good but at other times is way over the top. I did not find the movie suspenseful or scary and I'm not sure why anybody would, although some people seem to.
Roger Ebert and Peter Weir (both people who liked this film) sum it up nicely.
Ebert describes it as a film that is "free of plot" That it is a film that doesn't have any final explanation and exists only as an "experience"
Weir says that he worked very hard to have the audience lose awareness of the facts. He did everything he could to hypnotize the audience away from thinking that there might be a solution.
So if you watch this film you should NOT try to figure it out. Realize that it's NOT really a mystery and there is NO answer. If you try and apply any logic or reason to the film, you'll find yourself being frustrated. If you want to see it, expect a film "experience" but don't expect a clear story, realistic characters or a plot.
I found the film to be long, slow and plodding. The point where the three girls disappear is probably the best moment in the whole film, as somebody else noted, but one brief moment of entertainment in an otherwise ambiguous film is not enough.
I watched it thinking that it was a mystery. I watched the characters do odd things (like falling into fits of apparently simultaneous-narcolepsy) and thought to myself "What the heck was that?". I tried to use logic to piece together things that people did and said.
I obviously went into this film with wrong expectations. I thought there'd be a plot, I thought there'd be a mystery. I should have read Ebert and Weirs' comments prior to watching the film and I'd realize that there is no plot and that the director didn't want you to even think for one moment that there was the possibility of an answer. It is a film that is intentionally obtuse.
If you're looking for a dreamlike escapade or something to soothe you to sleep then perhaps this film is for you.
PS: This film is NOT based on any true events any more than The Blair Witch Project is. Search the internet for more information and educate yourselves.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It is easy to describe the film without giving too much away. Its plot
summary tells you exactly what happens:
"Three students and a school teacher disappear on an excursion to Hanging Rock, in Victoria, on Valentine's Day, 1900. Widely (and incorrectly) regarded as being based on a true story, the movie follows those that disappeared, and those that stayed behind, but it delights in the asking of questions, not the answering of them."
Peter Weir in his early film skillfully moves from the recognizable intimate world of the girls' school filled with poetry and high neck dresses, corsets and the mutual crushes to a pagan environment in which "modern" principles and standards have no meaning and no values.
If we assume that the movie does not belong to the straight realism genre but to the "magical" or "mythological" realism, a lot of things would make sense. We may never find out what exactly happened to the girls and their teacher but it would not matter - we could guess. I see this movie as Miranda's story. The girl of such beauty, charm, and charisma simply could not exist in this world for long time. She seemed to know or to feel it when she told her friend Sarah, "You have to learn how to love someone else because I am not going to be here for long time". I've read many times that this is a movie about sexual repression and I would not say that I completely disagree but I think that it has many interpretations, and with its open end and the mystery still present after all these years, any explanation is possible. During their ascend to the Hanging Rock and the noon day nap, the girls and especially Miranda don't seem repressed or unhappy; on the contrary, they are in the state of content and bliss. I'd say that they were longing for something miraculous to happen and I did not feel the presence of menace or nightmare luring through the trees and ready to materialize in the still hot air and swallow them.
I think that Miranda with her golden hair and ethereal beauty was reincarnation of the young Helen of Troy. At that day, February 14 1900, two parallel worlds came as close to each other as possible and there was a window inside the Hanging Rock. One was the turn of the 20th century Victorian world with its restrictions, rules, and laws of what is proper and not and another- the ancient world of the Greek Gods that used to rule the Heaven , Sea, Earth, and Underworld and sometimes, would kidnap the mortal women of immortal beauty. You'd ask "What? Why"? I say, how about the Flute de Pan, the instrument that was first invented by the God of Nature, Pan and which hypnotizing sounds lead the girls inside the rock? The Gods knew that Helen's beauty could destroy the countries and be merciless killing force for many men. They did not stop it thousands years ago from happening - they decided to do it on the Valentine day, 1900. They took Miranda -Helen and I hope they sent her to the Island of Blessed Spirits where she is happy and where "even the highest flying birds of memory could not reach her."
You know, I wish the film stopped right after the disappearance. As much as the further scenes involving the search for the girls and their teacher, the sad and heartbreaking Dickensian tale of an orphan Sarah, and the story of the "iron lady", Mrs. Appleyard are interesting and compelling, they seem strangely unnecessary - they don't add anything to the Miranda's vanishing. The movie is about eternal beauty and femininity, their rarity and impossibility to reach and to own them. The social aspects would work perfectly in another movie, not in this one. Anyway, first thirty minutes of "Picnic at Hanging Rock" are perfection, beauty, and unbearable sensual delight that I've not seen or experienced very often in the movies. I'd rate first 30 minutes 10+, the rest of the film 7.5.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What a movie. Australia started come out with films that received
worldwide attention in the early 1980s, with "The Last Wave", and a
cascade of them has followed, from the raucous "Mad Max" to more
contemplative issues. And on top of that, they've been putting out a
horde of toothsome blonds, from Olivia Newton John to Nicole Kidman.
GOOD ON YA, MATE! When it comes to magnificently featured blonds,
Anne-Louise Lambert, as Miranda, will serve in "Picnic at Hanging
Rock." It's true she's a bit tender, only in her mid-teens like the
other girls at Mrs. Appleyard's (Rachel Roberts') expensive boarding
school in rural Victoria. But the fact is that the film is full to the
brim with budding but repressed sexuality -- repression of all kinds,
in fact, with all that strict discipline and formality. Even one of the
other students seems to have a crush on Miranda. So blame Joan Lindsay
and Cliff Green, the writers, instead of my own admittedly warped
All is not well at the Appleyard School. The continent at the time was nothing much more than an English outlier and the school has imported its parent culture wholesale -- the strict class system, everything. It's already old fashioned. And it's feeling the financial pinch too.
All Mrs. Appleyard needs is some kind of scandal, and that's what happens. The girls go on a picnic to nearby Hanging Rock, a jagged jumble of bushes and gray boulders with stucco textures sticking up out of nowhere. A handful of girls, including Miranda, decides to climb to the top. A plump whiny girl follows and when she tires she loses contact with the others. Panic -- in self-disciplined British style -- follows when the other four fail to return. A search is implemented. Bloodhounds, aboriginal trackers, but there is no trace of the girls.
After a day or two, one girl is finally retrieved in an unconscious state and brought back to the school. She's out of it because of exposure and shock, but she is at least "intact", as the doctor puts it, although there is some mystery about why her shoes and stockings are missing, and why she isn't wearing the corset that is part of the girls' uniforms. No trace of the others is ever found. The affair effectively brings about the end of Mrs. Appleyard and her boarding school.
Not much of a story, is it? A couple of girls go missing from a school and that's that. Not a drop of blood in sight. Not a single motorcycle roar within hearing. And yet the film seems pregnant with a sense of languorous dread, of something that is not quite right -- cockeyed, off kilter. We can sense it from the very beginning, with a score drawn from the deep chords of an organ and from Zamphir's Peruvian nose flute or whatever it is. When there is no music on the sound track we can hear the buzzing of flies or the soft growls of wind about the stone mansion.
Why, when Miranda is leaving for the picnic, does she tell another that she's not coming back. And after all, what DID happen to those missing girls? Applause for director Peter Weir and for others of his ilk, like Nicholas Roeg, who have the courage to put out a movie that isn't all hustle and bustle, that takes care to establish an atmosphere that is almost a character in itself, that lingers over the contrast between elegant, lacy civilization and the indifferent implacability of nature's raw rocks.
Everything begins and ends at the right time and place, one of the characters insists repeatedly, and the world of movies have a place for films like this that challenge and mystify rather than just tickle your glands.
Most people remember Peter Weir's "Picnic at Hanging Rock" for for its almost horrific plot: an all-girl's school in Australia goes on a picnic on Valentine's Day, 1900, and all but one girl disappear without a trace. But it seems that there is a metaphor here: the collapse of the old order. What I mean is: after the disappearance, the oppressive school gets a lot of bad PR and is forced to shut down and headmistress Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts) withdraws from the public eye. By oppressive, here's an example: while driving out to Hanging Rock, when they reach a certain point, the girls get to take off their gloves. As for the frequent theme of communication issues in Australian, here it never gets communicated what happens to the girls. All that I can say is: be prepared to get unnerved by this movie.
This is one of the most dull and poorly made films that I've ever seen. I can't believe that I actually made it through the whole thing. The film fails to build drama and fails to create interesting characters. It has overbearing music that makes the painfully slow pace of the movie even worse. The idea for the story has some real potential, but I don't think someone could make a less interesting film given the general outline of the story that structures its content. I realize that this film has many fans, but I honestly can't imagine what the basis would be for enjoying this film. I guess some people are determined to find beauty and intriguing mystery where they don't exist. If you value your time at all, please skip this film.
On Valentine's Day in 1900, students of an all-girls college in
Victoria, Australia, embark on an excursion to Hanging Rock, where they
picnic and just generally appreciate the beauty of the surroundings and
the geological marvel of the rock formations. Unfortunately, some of
the students disappear in truly bizarre circumstances.
Early feature from Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show) is a story often subtly told, and this enhances the sense of mystery regarding the disappearance of the girls, a mystery that appears to be at least as deeply buried as the now "hanging" rocks themselves were prior to being spewed out of the earth one-million years ago.
The period setting and often beautiful locations add greatly to the overall effect. Hanging Rock is located in Victoria, but many other scenes were shot in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia and also the picturesque town of Strathalbyn (a mere half-hour's drive from yours truly's hometown of Murray Bridge) which to this day retains much of the aesthetic appeal of its early settlement heritage, but I digress. Also adding greatly to the atmosphere is the often haunting score, dominated by an eerie and beautiful wind instrument, perfectly suited to the natural surroundings and the mysterious quality of the central narrative locale. Truly spellbinding.
Though it contains nothing much to appeal to gore-hounds, Picnic at Hanging Rock has at least one foot firmly planted in the horror genre, and many seasoned genre fans will find much to appreciate.
The varied characters are well-drawn, telling us a story in themselves, often reaching a satisfying resolution of conflict, for better or worse.
Just don't expect a bunch of straightforward answers concerning the incidents at Hanging Rock. It's in exploring the mysterious where Picnic truly shines.
Picnic at hanging Rock opens on the serenity and excitement of
Appleyard College, an all-girls school on St Valentine's day in 1900.
As the girls run around, celebrating the day, it is announced that
there is to be a trip to hanging rock, a local geological site where
millions of years previous, a volcanic eruption formed a very
distinctive cluster of rocks, containing many hidden cracks, and
passageways to explore. The film is based on the true story of four
girls who break away from the titles picnic group to take a closer look
at hanging rock. They venture into the labyrinthine rock formations.
Only one of the four return, dazed and confused, having no memory of
what happened. One of their teachers had earlier gone looking for the
foursome and still not returned.
What happens after this is the obvious search and rescue routine. The spread of the story also has an effect on the school, which begins to fail financially, and the head mistress turns to drink. In these searches only one girl is ever found. She also has no memory of what happened. I'm trying not to go into too many details of the narrative itself, as I feel that it is pretty self explanatory from a small synopsis. What is incredible, and distinctive about the film is its visual beauty. This is not to say that the story is not good. It is a story of loss and the effects this has on the people involved and surrounding the incident. Much like the effects that the death of Laura Palmer had on the population of Twin Peaks.
This was Peter Weirs second feature film after the excellent pseudo- exploitation movie The Cars That Ate Paris. It is a piece of cinema that displays great direction, and an ability to work with actors. This is completely founded by Weirs subsequent work. This film also opened him up to American offers, as it was viewed as a prestige picture, more than likely viewed in the same vein as British costume dramas are in Hollywood. It also opened up Australia as a significant contender in the world cinema market.
The opening half of the film, particularly the scenes around the rock have an ethereal quality. This is exacerbated by a sound design that creates an unnerving atmosphere. The various sounds of wind reverberating through rocks, crevices and trees portray an impending sense of doom. The visuals also stunning here complimenting the sound design and incredible musical score. The visuals have a hazy, dream-like quality in these scenes. Cinematographer, Russell Boyd did clearly do a good job, even in the eyes of Weir, as they collaborated on much of his subsequent work.
Two of the four girls and the teacher who went searching for them were never found (and still their disappearance is a mystery). I like this kind of ambiguity. It is a natural element of life, and a narrative form that should be utilised more often. I thoroughly enjoyed the piece, and found its visual beauty illuminating.
A profound mystery hangs over this story. Yet, the film's theme is
crystal clear. "Picnic At Hanging Rock" presents viewers with a
scathing indictment of phony Victorian values.
Set in Australia in the year 1900, the film tells the fictional story of a group of young girls who journey to a local natural attraction, a rugged volcanic mountain, with its big rocks, lush vegetation, strange birds, insects, and small reptiles. The planned one-day outing is to be a pleasant diversion from the girls' cloistered lives at a boarding school, lorded over by Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts), a dreadful woman with an authoritarian attitude and a stiff, beehive-like hairdo, who tries to pump Victorian values into the girls.
Director Peter Weir really lays it on thick, with those horridly starchy clothes, rigid rules, ascetic lifestyle, underlain by the school's puritanical philosophy. If some of the plot segments at the boarding school had been excised, the plot would have moved faster. And that unctuous narrow-mindedness would still have come through. Also, the girls, being roughly the same age and dressed almost alike, are hard to differentiate.
Despite these complaints, the film exudes a wonderful aura of mystery, at least at Hanging Rock itself. Four of the girls go off on their own for a little adventure. Up through the jagged rocks they climb. Only one returns. What happened to the others? Naturally, with everyone at the school so accustomed to programmed behavior and rigid order, conflict and chaos ensue.
This is a film that encourages the viewer to think. On the mountain, one of the girls who goes missing blurts out to no one in particular: "A surprising number of human beings are without purpose, though it is probable that they are performing some function unknown to themselves". It's like she's part of the mountain itself. Strange. Unsettling.
Events at Hanging Rock lead to an unfathomable mystery. Alternate explanations can be suggested, but none are really satisfying. We come to a dead-end, wherein logic fails. And that's what makes this film so very, very intriguing.
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