Picnic at Hanging Rock on DVD

Picnic at Hanging Rock. Picnic Productions ; a McElroy & McElroy Production produced in association with Patricia Lovell ; a film by Peter Weir ; screenplay by Cliff Green ; based on a novel by Joan Lindsay
Publisher Number: [S.l.] : Classic Collection, c1998.
Call Number: DVD- 001179

If you love mysteries, Victorian period pieces, or horror of an implied nature, then I have a film for you.  Picnic at Hanging Rock is an Australian film directed by Peter Weir, released in 1975.  The film closely follows the book of the same title by Australian authoress, Lady Joan Lindsay.

It’s St. Valentine’s Day, 1900, rural South Australia.  A party of upper class school girls and two teachers, from Appleyard College, are taking a day trip to Hanging Rock.  The field trip ends in tragedy, when three girls and one teacher mysteriously disappear somewhere on the rock.  To avoid spoiling the mystery, that’s all I will reveal plot-wise.  The narrative itself is worth the viewing, but the film has much more to offer.  Picnic at Hanging Rock is an excellent interpretation of Victorian ideals and attitudes, and how ill-suited they were to rural Australia.   Besides, all those pious, pretensions, unnatural and restrictive social rules of conduct, prove to be fertile ground for horror and high tension.   The ever present portraits of Queen Victoria loom down from practically every corner of the Appleyard School.  The constant pressure of potential impropriety builds upon itself, infecting the school, the town, and everyone affected buy the disappearances.

Australia is key to the story.  It could also be considered a character onto itself, perhaps even a corruptible element.  Many ambiguous avenues are explored, including the supernatural.   This is definitely the kind of film that leaves you with more questions than it answers.  The film is not without it’s over-the-top moments.  A few hysterics almost seem appropriate though, when portraying a tightly wound, oppressive culture.  Trying to enforce the confined, restrictive, Victorian ideals of England on a landscape as vast and wild as Australia, proves ultimately to be a lost cause.  Beautiful landscapes aside, photography is utilized to its greatest advantage throughout the film.  Images are used to set the stage as well as convey narrative and mood.  Costumes and set pieces are spot on, making it easy for the viewer to dissolve into the past.

Hanging Rock is an actual geological formation about an hour north of Melbourne.  Lady Joan Lindsay was herself a privileged school girl in Melbourne in the early 1900’s.   She is known to have based Appleyard College on her own school girl remembrances.  Even though the narrative is pure fiction, the historic everyday details feel quite true to life.  It’s also worth mentioning that this was one of the first Australian films to enjoy international distribution, with both acclaim and commercial popularity.  Picnic at Hanging Rock is so beloved that it is still screened annually on the grounds at Hanging Rock, Victoria, on St. Valentine’s Day.

-Michelle Melancon, Bindery Specialist (Baking with Medusa at Blogspot)

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