Picnic At Hanging Rock (Criterion Blu-ray/DVD) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Picnic At Hanging Rock Blu-ray/DVD

Studio: Criterion

Sep 05, 2014 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


On St. Valentine’s Day, 1900, students from the Appleyard College for Girls embark by buggy on a field trip to Hanging Rock, a steep volcanic formation in Southeast Australia. Following a mid-afternoon picnic, three girls are permitted to go off and explore the rocks on their own. They don’t return. A teacher follows behind in search of the young women and also goes missing. The group returns to the College numbering four short, spurring search parties toward the rock and inciting a local panic.

The unknown is an increasingly scarce commodity in film; while the Internet and increased availability of movies have led to lengthy discourses on every aspect of cinema, the drawback is how little remains left to the imagination. Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel, Picnic At Hanging Rock, arrived at a time early enough to fool its readers through fake newspaper quotations and interview excerpts. (In a way, the one-time bestseller read somewhat like a stylized, true crime novel, though absolutely nothing was true about it.) When Peter Weir’s film adaptation came along in 1975 it sparked new interest in the imaginary, missing turn-of-the-century girls. While we know now the story has no basis in fact, it doesn’t diminish the film’s enigma because the most intriguing question isn’t “did it happen?”, but “what happened to the girls?”

Gorgeously shot and carefully paced, Weir’s Hanging Rock has a dreamlike quality that sets it apart even among his fellow Australian New Wavers. (Cinematographer Russell Boyd famously filmed several scenes with an orange-dyed bridal veil over his lens, lending the shots their hazy, amber appearance.) The showpiece of course is the picnic itself, playing out over the film’s early minutes and setting the film’s foreboding, repressive tone. The girls’ ominous hike itself is a mesmerizing piece of filmmaking; the camera follows the three young women (in virginal white dresses) into the millennia-old maze of rock and watches them disappear into nature.

Back at the school the mystery kicks into full gear. The characters (and audience) are given a strange, seemingly unrelated set of clues to work from—simultaneously stopped watches; one girl’s strange behavior and another’s sudden memory loss; the two suspicious boys who were the last to see the missing young women—that could support any number of conclusions into the missing party’s whereabouts. (The sinister seems as equally likely as the supernatural.) Were they kidnapped and murdered? Were they swallowed by the rock? Did they run away? Were they abducted by aliens? Picnic At Hanging Rock leaves most viewers theorizing for long after the film’s ended.

Criterion have put great care into upgrading their previous edition of Picnic At Hanging Rock. The high definition image is night and day compared to the previous DVD release; Boyd’s beautiful cinematography can be appreciated on a whole new level in this brighter, sharper transfer. Also newly included are a selection of interviews, a vintage behind-the-scenes documentary, and Homesdale, an earlier short film by Weir. The most notable bonus, of course, is a copy of Lindsay’s original novel which had previously been out of print in the United States. This version thankfully does not include the excised final chapter (as some versions do) where Lindsay offered an answer to the central mystery; the definitive reason behind the girls’ disappearance isn’t nearly as interesting as the postulating.

 

www.criterion.com/films/565-picnic-at-hanging-rock

Author rating: 9/10

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