A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975)

Picnic at Hanging Rock is an unstable mix of a film, playing on, among other things, themes of sexual repression, homoerotic attraction, colonialism, and the curious draw of geological anomalies: Hanging Rock is to the characters in the film as Devil's Tower is to Roy Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977) or Sedona is to contemporary New Agers. We never learn how two schoolgirls and a teacher disappeared on their visit to the volcanic outcropping, but it doesn't much matter. What's clear is that the characters are misfits in both place and time, Australia in 1900. As one of the disappeared girls, Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert), says, "Everything begins and ends in the right time and place." Like the hoopskirted women and top-hatted men in the wilds of New Zealand in Jane Campion's The Piano (1993), these schoolgirls are uncomfortably muffled against the reality of an Australian summer, to the point that, when they set out for the picnic, they are prevented from even removing their gloves until they have left the village of Woodend, their outpost of civilization. So the three girls who set out on their rebellious adventure shock a fourth, the whining, conventional Edith (Christine Schuler), when they dare to remove their shoes and stockings and proceed barefoot. Edith, who decides to leave the group, will later report that when she met Miss McCraw (Vivean Gray), who followed the girls' path, the teacher was not wearing a skirt. And when one of the girls, Irma (Karen Robson), is found alive but with no memory of what happened, she has mysteriously lost her corset. Several other stories, including the persecution by the headmistress (Rachel Roberts) of the misfit student Sara (Margaret Nelson), are interwoven with the principal incident. But for all its inconclusive narrative and sometimes clashing themes, the movie works by creating a complex symbolic texture. Peter Weir and screenwriter Cliff Green, adapting Joan Lindsay's novel (which was initially thought to be non-fiction), craft a story that tantalizes without frustrating. (Lindsay drafted but didn't publish a chapter with a sci-fi solution involving time warps; her editor was smart to excise it, and Weir and Green were wise to ignore it.)