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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Picnic at Hanging Rock
The Director's Cut


Starring: Rachel Roberts, Vivean Gray, Helen Morse and Kirsty Child
Second Sight
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 15
Available 26 July 2010

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975 - 1 hr, 46 min, 52 sec), directed by Peter Weir, was at the forefront of the new renascence in Australian film making, along with other films - Walkabout (1971) The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) - and is one of those films which break national boundaries and change perceptions of a country's film making abilities. Prior to this Australian film was mostly notable for cheap and usually tacky movies. The film won a BAFTA and a Saturn award, it was nominated for a further four awards, but honestly it deserved to win a lot more than that.

The original novel by Joan Lindsay caused a sensation on its original publication. Written in the form of a false document, lending what is was a total fiction the air of possible fact - so much so that people actually tried to prove that the events in the book and film happened. Oddly enough the book had a final chapter which was removed to maintain the mystery and likewise the film was to end on the girls being found until Weir's editor, Max Lemon, suggested that the film end with shots of the picnic, suggesting that the girls existed but were no longer alive, thus continuing the mystery. This draw to discover the truth of a fiction was further helped by the fact that Hanging Rock is a real place.

The story concerns an outing in 1900 on St Valentine’s Day by a group of genteel young ladies, from the local school, to Hanging Rock. During the course of a dreamy day a number of the girls disappear, along with one of their teachers. Only one of the girls returns, but even though she is hysterical she has no memory why. Searches are made, but the girls are never found and the thoughts of the local population dwell on the possibility of sexual molestation. With the mystery unresolved, its impact starts to destroy the school.

Peter Weir optioned the book, imbuing the mystery with an ethereal quality which gave the impression that the events may have come about, with the girls succumbing to a form of aboriginal dream time, Weir even shows the girls falling asleep and on awakening appear to still be in a dream state before they move off and get lost in the rock.

The film was originally put out on DVD and then as a director’s cut. Unlike many director's cuts Weir actually cut out several minutes of the film, which he felt slowed the movie down. The version that is presented on the Blu-ray is the shorter directors cut.

If you haven’t seen the film before then be warned, it is deliberately shot to have a very soft focus, adding to the dream like quality of the story, which gives the film a rich and succulent feel. However, its transition to Blu-ray has had some definite advantages, colours are stronger and not as diffused as they were on previous DVD releases, edges are sharper, as are the darker parts of the film. The beautiful pan music of Gheorghe Zamfir is crystal clear. There are three audio options on the disc a LPCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and a DTS HD Master Audio track plus subtitles for the hard of hearing.

The disc comes with a good range of extras, even though some have already appeared on previous DVD releases.

A Dream Within A Dream (1 hr, 53 min, 16 sec ‘making of’) which is a new feature length documentary on the making of the film, with exclusive interviews with Peter Weir, Patricia Lovell, Hal & Jim Mcelroy, Cliff Green, Russell Boyd, Bruce Smeaton, Jose Perez, Helen Morse, John Jarratt, Christine Schuler and Anne Louise Lambert. The superb documentary was created by Mark Hartley, who was responsible for Not Quite Hollywood in 2008.

A Recollection - Hanging Rock 1900 (25 min, 54 sec) is the 1975 documentary which was made on the film set with contributions from both cast and crew.

Joan Lindsay interview (14 min, 59 sec) an interview with the original author, which is interesting but quite old now.

Hanging Rock and Martindale Hall - Then and Now (5 min, 41 sec) which takes a look at two of the locations.

The Day of St Valentine (3 min, 43 sec. 1st screen adaptation), this was the first attempt to film the book by 13 year old Tony Ingram, who got this far before Weir gabbed the rights to the book, the film is narrated by the director.

Audio Interviews (14 min, 52 sec) with the actress who played Irma, though this sounds like it was recorded over the telephone.

Stills and Poster Gallery.

Scenes deleted for The Director’s Cut (8 min, 26 sec) footage which was removed for the director’s cut, mostly revolving around one of the girls relationships.

There is little doubt that the film is a modern classic and one of the most hauntingly beautiful films you are likely to see, once watched it will never be forgotten.


Charles Packer

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