Saturday, July 19, 2014

#507: Picnic at Hanging Rock

Directed by: PETER WEIR
1975, TSPDT Rank #515

Picnic at Hanging Rock is one of those rare films which does not have any of the typical hallmarks of the horror genre, yet which envelops the viewer in a mood so eerie and relentless that it's hard to avoid classifying it as a horror film. The first line heard in the film is an Edgar Allen Poe quote - "What we see and what we seem are but a dream... A dream within a dream" - and this line seems to capture the feeling that the film conveys. It has an impossibly dreamlike feel that is very ethereal and haunting, and the effect that I got from watching it was just about as implausible as the disappearance of three Australian schoolgirls and a teacher from their Victorian girls' college, which the film is centered around. One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about the art of film is how the disparate elements involved in a film's production can combine to create a mood as palpable as life with just the right touch. And Picnic at Hanging Rock has "the touch" in spades. After watching it, I felt overcome by the same strange, unnameable feeling which seemed to haunt those who returned from the excursion to Hanging Rock - and the hazy feeling of unrest didn't shake entirely for a few days afterward. Now as I think back on the film I can feel it flooding back...

With this sort of film, you only need to see it once for it to leave a permanent trace in the back of your memory. It's truly a weird and hypnotic gem - and a great example of a horror film that ventures well away from the beaten path, while retaining an accessibility that will ensnare the imagination of anyone not too unsettled to venture on with it.  "What we see and what we seem are but a dream... A dream within a dream."

Saturday, July 5, 2014

#506: All That Heaven Allows

Directed by: DOUGLAS SIRK
1955, TSPDT Rank #303

All That Heaven Allows is one of the more famous Douglas Sirk and Rock Hudson collaborations - and it is also one of the most extreme, uncompromising melodramas I have ever seen. Many retrospective assessments of Sirk's work have read large amounts of irony into his sweeping Technicolor melodramas, interpreting them as over-the-top criticisms of 1950s society and the type of films that the Hollywood system of that time produced. From what I've read about Sirk, it seems that this is a pretty credible interpretation - especially since it seems that he considered most of the films he directed to be trash. However, All That Heaven Allows is still an extremely effective melodrama with stunningly beautiful and sophisticated visuals. It is impeccably crafted, and what irony Sirk might have intended is concealed discreetly beneath the surface of an immensely powerful love story that is anything but discreet. I knew basically what to expect before the film even started, but by the time it was over, I was overpowered and wrapped up in it to a ridiculous degree. That's the definition of a knockout melodrama.