FILM OF THE WEEK
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) was Australian cinema’s first real international sensation. Peter Weir’s atmospheric mystery, about a private school for young daughters of the Empire, appealed to the aesthetics of the international art-house audience: stunning visuals and a screenplay suffused with repressed sexuality. Its ethereal white frocks, flowing blonde hair and expressive slow-mo influenced a generation of film-makers, not least in advertising, although he wasn’t to know that.
The story, about the disappearance of three girls and a teacher on a trip to a weirdly anthropomorphic volcanic outcrop, retains the power to grip and intrigue. At the time of the film’s release, it was widely believed to be true, a notion the author of the source novel did little to dispel. No evidence for such an event has ever been found, and yet it feels believable, playing on our persistent suspicion that the truth is stranger than fiction.
Picnic ushered in an era of films in which the bush, rather than serving merely as the setting for masculine adventure, comes to take on a sinister, almost supernatural role. At the same time, it addresses a key moment in Australia’s Imperial history. It is set in 1900, when the continent was a series of separate colonies; in January 1901, it would become a Federation, a major step towards independence. But these teenagers and adults (led by haunted Rachel Roberts) are wholly colonial in outlook. Their clothes, their customs, the late-Romantic poetry they worship, their social relations, their class structure and their morals are still those of the Victorians. No compromise is made with the alien landscape in which the drama is played out: it is merely a stage-set on which to perform their stifling Home Counties rituals. The disappearance of the girls (one is found) might be seen as the continent’s revenge for their heedlessness.
Only one Aboriginal appears in the film. He is a tracker, sent up on to the rock to look for the lost children, and we barely glimpse him. It is almost as if Weir wanted to tackle the otherness of Australia one step at a time: geology, flora and fauna first. The indigenous people would have to wait. Picnic at Hanging Rock is on Film4 on Thursday (3/6) at 23:25.
On Sunday (30/5) at 00:10, Film4 has One Cut of the Dead (2017). This micro-budget Japanese comedy-horror about people making a zombie movie caused a minor sensation in its day. Luckily, everyone has forgotten it, so its myriad twists and turns should still have the requisite shock value.
On Monday (31/5) at 02:40, Channel 4 has Amanda (2018). A young Parisian (Vincent Lacoste) has to take care of his seven-year-old niece (Isaure Multrier) after her mother is killed in a terrorist attack. Director Mikhaël Hers skilfully dramatises the intrusion of 21st century realities into the lovely, but complacent, City of Light.
On Wednesday (2/6) at 01:25, Film4 has Birds of Passage (2018). In 1970s Colombia, an indigenous group, the Wayuu, with their own economy and rituals, are destabilised by the burgeoning marijuana industry. I found it both original and thrilling, but it didn’t get enough support when we thought about showing it in 2019/20. Stephen wasn’t very keen. At 01:45, Channel 4 has Eeb Allay Ooo! (2019). These are three words used by the professional monkey-repellers of New Delhi to painlessly dispel the sacred simians. In this satire on communal politics, a newcomer to the city takes on the job, despite his obvious shortcomings.
On Thursday (3/6) at 13:00, Sony Action has Durango is Coming: Pay or Die (1971). A spaghetti Western about a debt-collector. One for genre completists, judging by its IMDB score (4.5).
On Friday (4/6) at 02:20, Channel 4 has Market (2019). A free-flowing drama set and shot in Lewduh, the busiest market in Shillong. The first film in the Khasi language of North-East India to receive wide distribution.
On Sunday (30/5) at 17:20, Channel 4 has Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018). An entertainingly self-aware and inventive Marvel animation.
On Monday (31/5) at 15:30, Channel 5 has Planet of the Apes (1967): the original, with Charlton Heston and a fur-clad Roddy McDowall. “Quickly paced, completely entertaining, and its philosophical pretensions don’t get in the way,” said Roger Ebert at the time of its release. At 22:15, ITV has The River Wild (1994). Meryl Streep’s rare venture into the action genre. She wasn’t best pleased when director Curtis Hanson almost got her drowned.
On Thursday (3/6) at 23:00, Talking Pictures has What a Crazy World (1963). Cheerful East End pop musical with Joe Brown, Susan Maughan and Mary Wilde.
Other modern films of interest
On Saturday (29/5) at 22:00, BBC2 has Moonstruck (1987). Charming, larger than life Brooklyn romcom, with Oscar-winning turns from Cher and Olympia Dukakis. The male lead is Nicolas Cage, who was unlucky to miss out.
On Monday (31/5) at 22:45, BBC2 has Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017). In the twilight of her career, film noir legend Gloria Grahame comes to England and has an affair with a much younger man. Based on a memoir and well-reviewed. At 23:15, Film4 has Professor Marston & the Wonder Women (2017). William Marston was a 1920s Harvard psychology professor, who enjoyed troilism in his spare time. Inspired by the dressing-up and bondage he enjoyed with his wife and mistress, he later created the comic-book Wonder Woman. Sexier than most academic period-pieces.
On Saturday (29/5) at 13:10, Paramount has The Comancheros (1961). In Michael Curtiz’s last film, John Wayne tackles a gang renegades running guns to the Comanches. The director was hospitalised during the shoot and Wayne had to take over.
On Monday (31/5) at 12:00, Paramount has Behold a Pale Horse (1964). Odd Fred Zinnemann drama about an exiled Spanish Republican (Gregory Peck) who returns to Spain to kill a Guardia Civil captain and see his dying mother. From a novel by Emeric Pressburger. At 13:30, BBC2 has Guys and Dolls (1955). Irresistible musical from a Damon Runyon story, with Sinatra, Brando and Jean Simmons. MGM, who made most of Hollywood’s classic musicals, has just fallen into the hands of Amazon, leaving its precious intellectual property ripe for pillage. Expect a silly updated miniseries in due course.
On Tuesday (1/6) at 12:15, Paramount has Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971). Corny comedy Western with James Garner as a cowardly womaniser entangled with Suzanne Pleshette.
On Wednesday (2/6) at 13:40, Film4 has In Harm’s Way (1965). Big-budget, star-packed Otto Preminger naval drama, with John Wayne and Kirk Douglas as US commanders after Pearl Harbor.
On Friday (4/6) at 23:45, BBC1 has A Fish Called Wanda (1988). John Cleese’s effortful comedy hit, with Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline and Charles Crichton. I spent three fascinating, occasionally difficult hours in a hotel room interviewing John Cleese to write about this film for a couple of magazines. A troubled product of Weston-super-Mare and Clifton College. Comedy is not an easy profession.
Don’t forget the Cheltenham International Film Festival is in full swing online. Details from cheltfilm.com.
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