Dir. Peter Weir; writ. Cliff Green; feat. Anne-Louise Lambert, Margaret Nelson, Rachel Roberts, Dominic Guard, Helen Morse (PG)
As Guillermo Del Toro, director of the recent Devil's Backbone, knows, horror and beauty are inextricably entwined. A ghost should always be so entrancing that you can't stop looking at it even as you fear for your life.
Peter Weir's 1975 film has very little in it that's conventionally scary, but the kind of beauty he creates is so otherworldly that the tale's a ghost story even before people disappear: In a very late-19th century girl's boarding school, angelic virgins intone love poems while standing before ornately curtained windows. It's Valentine's Day, and in the absence of boys, romantic longings are unmoored, sweeping students up in a hazy euphoria that's echoed by golden-hued cinematography. The girls take a picnic out to an enormous, remote rock formation, and laze about in frilly white dresses.
But Miranda, the most impossibly beautiful of the bunch, is drawn to explore the rock's mysterious crevasses. A couple of her schoolmates follow her and something happens up there that no one ever uncovers. As they climb farther from the ground, wind rushing through rock seems to breathe. Pocket watches stop down below — because of some strange magnetism? The camera lingers on the sensuousness of a black stocking being pushed off in the warm sun, and the girls begin to lose their individual personalities as the rock pulls them into it.
They simply disappear, and what happened is never explained. For over half the film, those who are left look for them, wonder what could have happened, and deal with the fallout. But most of all, they are haunted by the loss of something beautiful. That mysterious loss, both the literal one and many metaphorical ones, fills every inch of this spooky, beautiful film.
Texas Public Radio's Cinema Tuesdays
Picnic at Hanging Rock
Tuesday, Feb 26
$10 members, $12 nonmembers
AMC Huebner Oaks 24
I-10 W & Huebner Rd.
Also available on DVD from Criterion Collection/Home Vision