Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Missing Scenes – An Evening at Hanging Rock

Missing Scenes – An Evening at Hanging Rock was presented by Louise K Wilson at Exeter Phoenix on 5th July - an evening during the final week of the Topophobia exhibition at the Spacex Gallery. This performance event consisted of Peter Weir’s original 1975 movie interrupted periodically with comments from three people who had read the book and then been interviewed about it by Wilson.

Louise K also introduced the showing, explaining  something about her obsession with the film and its subject matter. The introduction was entertaining, and the comments of the three participants, who came from disparate backgrounds and had contrasting views, added a new dimension to the viewing. However, the number of interventions was not great and they weren't distributed in anything like a regular pattern - which meant that the viewer often became immersed in the movie but was then rudely awakened by a reader's interjection. At the end Wilson tacked on a teaser - a rapid stream of text which might reveal the solution to the Hanging Rock mystery.

Oddly, at the end of the event there was no further discussion - just polite applause - which was a shame as it would have been interesting to hear the views of those in the audience and it would have rounded off the event, giving it a pleasing symmetry (although it has to be said that by the end there were a lot of restless people due to the very basic seating in the Phoenix Black Box 'cinema').

Equally interesting for me was the movie itself, which I hadn't seen previously. It is very much a movie of its time and all the while I was reminded of other movies and influences - The Go-Between, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Zabriskie Point, Sirens, Women in love and so on.

In fact the first half of the movie held up pretty well. It has a moody and eery feel combined with Jean Brodie-esque adolescent longings and preoccupations. The soundtrack is particularly effective, using aboriginal/pan pipe sounds which later build to a rousing crescendo of organ and choral work. For me the film would have worked if it had finished right then, when the girls took off their shoes and walked off through a gap in the rocks. This was, after all, 1975 and still close enough to the heyday of Erich von Däniken, author of Twilight of the Gods and its follow-up volumes.

After the girls disappeared, the movie seemed to lose its way. In part this was because the influences suddenly seemed to be more Hammer Horror and Granada's Sherlock Holmes. The film also seemed to lurch into whodunit and class conflict territory but with some oddly comic moments. The below stairs scenes had a touch of Benny Hill about them (and the guy cavorting with the maid was a dead ringer for the one who blows up the van in the Italian Job).

I think that perhaps the movie merits a second viewing in more comfortable surroundings (after a while the Phoenix chairs had really taken their toll on the viewers' concentration). Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable evening and an interesting commission by Spacex and the Topophobia curators.

If you're interested in Picnic at Hanging Rock why not try the quiz at rottentomatoes.com?  Alternatively, if you want to solve the mystery of Hanging Rock take a look at this and/or you can buy and read the missing final chapter of Joan Lindsay's book.

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