Picnic at Hanging Rock - 1975, One of Weir's Best

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Postby abcinyvr » Thu Jun 15, 2006 10:01 pm

I was a huge Peter Weir fan in the 80's. I saw his films over and over. 'Picnic' (available in book form, by Joan Lindsay), Gallipoli, and The Year Of Living Dangerously were some of my all-time favorite films. I have seen them again recently - Gallipoli just this week - and they do stand up - for me anyway. I saw The Last Wave only once (in a theatre) and found it Very affective.

My friends and I, and people who I had met, always believed that Picnic At Hanging Rock was a true story. And, in the 80's at least, the tourists in NSW were taken to the site on bus tours. It wasn't until much later that I learned that it was fictional.

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Postby Mister Tee » Sun Jun 11, 2006 1:14 pm

Count me as another who doesn't comprehend Weir's stellar reputation. I especially thought critics went wildly overboard in praise of Witness -- a totally derivative city-slicker-goes-to-the-farm story wrapped around a routine mystery, which was somehow labelled a profound study of violence.

Also, like many here, I have great affection for Fearless. It's certainly uneven -- I heard someone describe it as a great beginning and ending, connected by a rather wobbly middle -- but it reaches real emotional heights. And I loved the Bridges performance (as well as the underrated one by Rossellini).

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Postby Penelope » Sun Jun 11, 2006 12:49 pm

I did a Peter Weir DVD/film festival in my living room a few years ago (prepping for Master & Commander) and I came away unimpressed with him as a filmmaker--rather dull, in fact. Strangely, I felt that his earlier, more idiosyncratic Australian films (Picnic at Hanging Rock [which gets worse as it goes along], The Last Wave, Gallipoli [the last two get better as they go along]) aren't nearly as interesting as some of his later Hollywood stuff, especially Fearless--clearly his best film, but, even at that, a very flawed piece (as much as I love Jeff Bridges, it might've been better with a different leading man). Most of all, I think he's a slave to the script--watching his films I always get the distinct feeling I'm seeing a screenplay just playing itself out.
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Postby Big Magilla » Sun Jun 11, 2006 11:22 am

Of Weir's early films, I liked The Last Wave better than Picnic at Hanging Rock, but I didn't actually pay atention to him until Gallipoli, which I think remains his best film.

His screenplays seem coldly detached and his overall direction a bit austere, but he seems to be a good director of actors. I don't know whether he really is or merely lets them do their own thing, but there are a number of performers who've done some of their best work in his films - Rachel Roberts in Picnic at Hanging Rock, Richard Chamberlain in The Last Wave, Mel Gibson and Mark Lee in Gallipoli, Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously, Harrison Ford in both Witness and The Mosquito Coast, Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke in Dead Poets Society, Jeff Bridges and Rosie Perez in Fearless, Ed Harris in The Truman Show and Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, to name a few.

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Postby Damien » Sun Jun 11, 2006 10:00 am

Precious Doll wrote:Do you mean Fearless Damien?

Acutally Fearless is the only American film of Weirs that I like. The man has talent but seems to have trouble finding appropriate projects.

Whooops, yes Fearless. Interesting that Fearless was probably his least successful (at the box office) picture.

Weir is one of these people whose reputation completely befuddles me. Most of his movies I find unwatchable. He seems to have a good reputation merely because somewhere along the line he got a good reputation (good P.R. rather than actual telent). Milos Forman is another one.
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Postby Precious Doll » Sun Jun 11, 2006 2:24 am

Damien wrote:I only saw it once nearly 30 years ago and don't remember all that much about it other than it's being nonsense. But then again Peter Weir's entire career -- with the striking exception of the quite extraordinary Reckless -- is nonsense.

Do you mean Fearless Damien?

Acutally Fearless is the only American film of Weirs that I like. The man has talent but seems to have trouble finding appropriate projects.
"I have no interest in all of that. I find that all tabloid stupidity" Woody Allen, The Guardian, 2014, in response to his adopted daughter's allegations.

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Postby Damien » Sun Jun 11, 2006 2:12 am

I only saw it once nearly 30 years ago and don't remember all that much about it other than it's being nonsense. But then again Peter Weir's entire career -- with the striking exception of the quite extraordinary Reckless -- is nonsense.

Although, of course, Weir will always have a special place in my heart for casting Ethan Hawke in Dead Poets Society.
"Y'know, that's one of the things I like about Mitt Romney. He's been consistent since he changed his mind." -- Christine O'Donnell

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Postby Precious Doll » Sat Jun 10, 2006 6:10 pm

I liked it very much when I first saw the film in the late 70's and liked it even more when I watched it for the first time since then on DVD last year.

Picnic and The Last Wave are by far Weir's best Australian films.

It's also one of the most erotic films every made, without so much as a bare shoulder being shown. Repressed lesbiansim abounds, something Weir himself denys. It's also one of the very few films that was able to make sunlight creepy.

For me Margaret Nelson as the tragic Sara is the standout in a fine cast.

The fact that there is no resolution is one of it's greatest strengths.

For those who are fans of the film (not many here by the looks of it) there is an outstanding double disc R4 version of the film.

Weir recut the film some years later, shortening it by a few minutes.

It is the shorter version that has been released on DVD, including the Criterion copy.

However the R4 contains a wealth of extras, most notably a 90 minutes documentary on the film (a great doco in it's own right) and discussion on the re editing of the film, including the scenes that were removed.

The one compliant about the R4 disc is that it is oddly non-anamorphic.
"I have no interest in all of that. I find that all tabloid stupidity" Woody Allen, The Guardian, 2014, in response to his adopted daughter's allegations.

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Postby rudeboy » Sat Jun 10, 2006 12:25 pm

Didin't like it much at all, I'm afraid. Tedious, endless but very pretty.

Nicolas Roeg proved with the wonderful Walkabout that it's possible to make a beguiling, memorable Outback set movie in which very little happens. Weir failed miserably.

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Postby Penelope » Fri Jun 09, 2006 11:22 am

Hated it.
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"Cruelty might be very human, and it might be cultural, but it's not acceptable." - Jodie Foster

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Postby Heksagon » Fri Jun 09, 2006 5:25 am

I didn't like this film either. Once you realize what the film is about - very early into the movie - the film has nothing more to offer.

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Postby anonymous1980 » Thu Jun 08, 2006 11:39 am

You know for some reason, this movie really creeped me out. The fact that we don't know EXACTLY what happened to those girls got under my skin.

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Postby Mister Tee » Thu Jun 08, 2006 10:40 am

Well, I'll take the contrarian view. I haven't seen the movie since the late 70s, but my recollection is, it got my back up as an example of pretentious Art with a capital A. As the friend I went with said, after 15 minutes you knew it was going to be one of those "and there was never any explanation" movies, and all you could do was admire its prettiness and get annoyed with its sense of its own self-worth.

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Postby flipp525 » Thu Jun 08, 2006 10:30 am

PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975)

Rachel Roberts, Ann-Louise Lambert, Tom Llewellyn-Jones, Ingrid Mason, Helen Morse; dir. Peter Weir

****

Picnic at Hanging Rock stands as one of Peter Weir’s best film to date and was Australia’s first bona-fide international hit. Set in 1901 Australia, the film explores a fictional account of a St. Valentine’s Days picnic at the Appleyard School, an all-girl’s school, that turns tragic when several students and a teacher go missing. The location shots are magnificent and the atmospheric tone of the entire film lends an eerie sense of foreboding that is compounded by its lack of formal answers to the viewer’s questions: What were these girls doing? What happened to them? Why doesn’t anyone talk to the one girl who is found?

The large “hanging rock” itself looms over every other scene, almost anthropomorphically goading the searchers until it becomes one of the main characters, itself. Its tall, dark, menacing presence throughout the film makes it seem as if it’s been conspiring against the girls’ rescue and recovery the entire time. As the embodiment of Nature, the Rock has an army of surrounding hills, grass, dirt, and desert animals that help trap rescuers and victims alike in its intricate and mysterious web.

Rachel Roberts as the stone cold founder and headmistress of the school, Mrs. Appleyard, is the obvious standout. Her fear of what will happen to her school overtakes any compassion for those left behind in the wake of the incident as she quickly goes into damage-control mode, much to the shock of the remaining teachers and students under her charge. Her treatment of one orphan schoolgirl, who is infatuated with one of the missing schoolgirls, is particularly cruel and unfeeling, leading to yet another tragedy. It’s hard to see how this performance got overlooked. Apparently, Roberts took over the role of Mrs. Appleyard with only a few days notice when Vivien Merchant (Best Supporting Actress nominee, Alfie) took ill in Hong Kong.

Tom Llewellyn-Jones, as a young man who might've been the last to see the girls alive, is also quietly powerful in a key role.

The movie reminded me of an Alice Munro short story called “Open Secrets” concerning a girl who goes missing during a girl scouts camping trip in Canada. The story leaves the reader with a similar feeling of uneasiness about the lack of resolution.

While the film offers a couple possible explanations to the viewer, the open ending leaves the mystery subject to individual interpretation. An intriguing mystery that is well worth watching.
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