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Movietone News 62-63

“Everything happens at its appointed time” – Picnic at Hanging Rock

[Originally published in slightly different form in Movietone News 62-63, December 1979]

This is the second feature film from director Peter Weir, the first being the uneven but fitfully brilliant The Cars That Ate Paris in 1973. Though that movie was too scrappy to make Weir seem more than extremely promising, Picnic at Hanging Rock is something else: an absolute beauty, a movie entirely worthy of cult-classic status at the very least, and a major step forward for its director and, as far as I am able to tell from my very limited experience of it, for the Australian cinema.

That so delicate and subtle a movie could be made at all in Australia, a land much associated with crass behaviour and cultural gaucherie, may surprise some. It’s not, after all, a film made there by outsiders, like Walkabout. That so beautiful-looking and technically fastidious a film could emerge from Australia certainly surprised me: all the (few) other indigenous Antipodean movies that I’ve seen, including The Cars That Ate Paris, were very rough-edged, tending towards muddy colour and threshing-machine cutting, the hallmarks of cheapo filmmaking. Picnic at Hanging Rock is gorgeous, richly textured, full of pellucid colours and images that tremble between tableau and hallucination. It draws us into its web of mysteries, not urgently, not insistently, but seductively.

picnicwoods
"Picnic at Hanging Rock" draws us into its web of mysteries, not urgently, not insistently, but seductively.

It draws us, in fact, the way that Hanging Rock, the “geological miracle” that is literally as well as figuratively at the film’s centre, draws its own victims (if that’s the word for them) to … what? where? Once we are into this film, we are also into another world, where we in the audience tread only on the outskirts. Certain of the film’s inhabitants – a trio of schoolgirls and the most senior of their teachers, all visitors to the rock on the dazzlingly bright St. Valentine’s Day of 1900 – penetrate the very core of this other world. Others stay on the periphery but seem to become more aware of it, more knowing of its secrets, than we ever do. Unarguably, no one in the film who comes into contact with Hanging Rock is unchanged by it – not the fat girl who can’t keep up with her three friends and so returns to the rest of the party, at the Rock’s base, screaming and bleeding without knowing why; not the French assistante who muses that the leader of the Rock-climbing expedition has “the face of a Botticelli angel” immediately before losing sight of her forever; not the young Englishman who ventures onto the Rock in search of the missing and himself faces the unacknowledgeable. (He, incidentally, is played by Dominic Guard, the go-between of The Go-Between, now on the brink of adulthood and as baffled here by children as he was in the earlier film by adults.)

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“It doesn’t take any imagination at all to feel awed” – Peter Weir

[Originally published in Movietone News 62-63, December 1979]

Peter Weir was interviewed by Judith Kass in New York City on January 8, 1979, in connection with the U.S. opening of his new film The Last Wave. The Last Wave concerns a lawyer, played by Richard Chamberlain, who defends five aborigines accused of killing a sixth in Sydney, Australia. Through them Chamberlain comes in contact with what the aborigines call “dream time” and his own involvement with their myths.

Richard Chamberlain is principally known in this country as the star of the TV series Dr. Kildare. What is not so widely known is that after becoming a star he left the U.S. to learn how to act. Why did you choose him for The Last Wave?

I thought he’d always been photographed in white light. When I think back to Kildare I think of those hot lights and I thought he’d never been photographed at night. I don’t mean that literally, but there was something in his face; there was some alien quality, and in my story my character had that quality. I had one actor in Australia I’d thought of using, but he was unavailable. Also, we couldn’t raise all the money in Australia and we were looking overseas, and Chamberlain’s name occurred to somebody and I remembered that face, those eyes in particular.

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Rejoicing about things Australian: Phillip Noyce

[Originally published in Movietone News 62-63, December 1979]

Judith M. Kass interviewed Phillip Noyce, the director of Newsfront, and David Rowe, the production and marketing consultant for the New South Wales Film Corporation, when they were in New York City in September 1978 for the film’s showing at the Lincoln Center Film Festival. Newsfront uses Australian newsreel footage and integrates it—and the historical events portrayed therein—with the fictional story of Cinetone, an Australian newsreel company trying to survive in the 1940s and 1950s, until the advent of television in 1956.

Whose idea was the film?

Phillip Noyce: It was actually the idea of the producer, David Elfick. He conceived the idea, he says, in conjunction with some discussions he had with other filmmakers. Bob Ellis wrote the original script and I adapted it to produce the final shooting script.

Where did the funding come from?

PN: The funding came from the New South Wales Film Corporation, which is the majority investor in the film, but the budget was also met by private investors, one of the more significant being an Australian distributor called Marshak. For instance, the New South Wales Film Corporation is heavily involved in devising methods with consultant merchant bankers to fund and solicit investment from other sources, so some of the authorities are very much involved in production in an entrepreneurial way. Each bank would be termed, for want of a better description, as executive producers.

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Aguirre, The Wrath Of God: Extraordinary Images, Extraordinary Resonance

By Ken Eisler

[Originally published in Movietone News 29, January-February 1971, reprinted in Movietone News 62-63, December 1979]

We were looking at a back number of the magazine for quite another reason and happened on this piece by the late Ken Eisler. It was written at a time when most of us had heard little of Werner Herzog and seen less. Ken had caught Aguirre, Zorn des Gottes in Mexico City—one of the few places the film played before Herzog became a cult item; he wrote this appreciation sometime later. There are some misremembered details here, and maybe just a little Kunstwerk of Ken’s own. These factors do not contradict our fondness for the piece, even underscore its value as a personal response, one artist to another. Aguirre is firmly established as a cult item now, and a lot of our present readers will not have access to MTN 29 of January-February 1971. So here.
– RTJ

A strange breed of Katze, this “autodidact” film director Herzog. Lacks decorum, y’ know: Dash of this, dash of that … and that … and that. Just splashes it all together up there, out front; damned if the thing don’t come out echt Kunstwerk.

Pedro de Ursua of Navarre leads the conquistadore party
Pedro de Ursua of Navarre leads the conquistadore party

To begin with, a good story. Quasi-historical. It’s 1560. A party of conquistadores toils exhausted through deepest Latin America, looking for EI Dorado. Then, in mid–Amazonian jungle, a putsch! Pedro de Ursua of Navarre, servant of king and country, is out. The new leader: ruthless, crazy Lope de Aguirre—and screw king and country. Sort of based on the annals, I gather; but such liberties, such liberties. Like, Aguirre, the Rebel Conquistador! See the Bad Seed, in Pursuit of the Sud’s Boodle, Go Coco-Loco! He Blitzkrieged the Impenetrable Jungle! It Laughed Last!…

Well, speaking of Murnau, he surely would have relished the supple camerawork of Aguirre, its saturated Andean colors; but its reckless admixture of elements—now that might have been something else again. The pop adventure yarn, maybe; but the pop parable? Colonialism? Fascism? Take your pick.

The distancing, maybe, the cool. Example: On a surging river, a big raft revolves helplessly, crowded with panicky soldiers in gleaming heavy armor, horses, Indians at each corner locked in treadmill struggle with a maelstrom that just won’t quit. Long motionless take, telephoto, from across the river. It looks curiously static, this life-and-death struggle, suspended calmly in time and space.

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