Friday, November 26, 2004

Picnic at Hanging Rock

I have just reacquainted myself with Picnic at Hanging Rock, Peter Weir's archly ambivalent hall of mirrors from 1975. An interval of over twenty years has passed since I last watched it on Betamax. As an early teen this movie and the story behind it completely captivated me. It's a film that flirts with you, and to an adolescent boy any kind of flirtation, however unskillful and Anglo-Saxon, is utterly mesmerising!

It's undoubtedly a very beautiful and canny piece of film-making, but the symbolism now comes across as more heavy-handed than coquetish to me - e.g. those wretched enigmatic swans drifting elegantly to Beethoven's Emperor Concerto.

I also found that the wheels of supposition and speculation appear not to spin quite so giddily now that I know that Joan Lindsay probably made it all up. It seems that she wrote a concluding eighteenth chapter which was removed from the book and not published until 1987 as The Secret of Hanging Rock, though this is one mystery that actually works precisely because it doesn't depict UFOs or people walking towards the light. (Or worse still, gang rape.)

Weir's film version is a study of sexual sublimation that is itself a presentation of apparent historical fact through the medium of dreamy sublimation. In much the same way that Pop Art both reflects and propagates the signs of America, Picnic at Hanging Rock reflects and propagates the mystery of refined and tamed femininity, juxtaposed with that of un-refined and un-tamed nature.

Anne-Louise Lambert played Miranda as an ethereal exemplar of cloistered girlhood - the epitome of everything I then wanted to put on my pedestal. She even rolls her head and screws up her lips like Diana Spencer did when standing next to Charles the day they publicly announced their engagement.

There's no denying that this film haunted me for a long while. Perhaps you need to be of a certain age or disposition in order to be deeply touched by this sort of arrant nebulousness. It is ultimately an ecstatic rather than an ironic piece, spinning until all sense disappears, shining as pure and empty.

The DVD encodes a director's cut which, unusually, has been tightened up through the removal of seven minutes from the original release.

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