‘What we see or seem is but a dream within a dream’ – Edgar Allen Poe. I can’t recall the exact moment I realised I’d fallen in love with Picnic at Hanging Rock but when I did, like most love affairs, I fell hard. More than any other film I have seen in a lifetime of cinema experiences, the mystery of Hanging Rock still haunts me. A simple tale that tells of an unexpected occurrence, the disappearance of a group of school girls and its impact on a small Victorian township, it still excites me as much today as it did in my childhood, and is one love affair that has stood the test of time for me.
I was first introduced to Picnic at Hanging Rock the film on a school excursion. I remember the cinema was packed to the rafters with noisy school kids. I was one of them. I also remember being moved to tears when Sara is found dead in the film. And, I recall my excitement at seeing Australian stars up on the big screen for the first time. So, powerful the effect of the Picnic At Hanging Rock on me that I often quote from it in day-to-day life, and I’m known brag about it for hours on end with total strangers when given half a chance.
So why has Picnic at Hanging Rock stayed locked in my heart for so long? I reckon it’s because as a young school boy I had never heard an Australian accent or seen an Aussie character up on the silver screen before Picnic. The big stars were always American or British, except for on Aussie TV. More than any other film Picnic said to Australians at the time ‘Struth mate, take a gander at this, I reckon this is bloody us up there, warts and all.’
In the 70’s and 80’s nearly every Australian film was met with some degree of celebration, even an average Aussie film would sometimes be applauded, because Australians weren’t use to seeing themselves forty-foot high on a movie screen. It was a novelty and appeared to me as a youngster that the entire country (Australian press included) was behind the arrival of every new Aussie film release. Films like Newsfront, Gallipoli, Man From Snowy River, Mad Max and even the musical Starstruck, arrived with great fanfare. I remember going to the opening party where Starstruck played in all eight cinemas in the cinema complex. The film launch was huge, and was followed by a wild party featuring The Cockroaches, a popular band at the time. There was food, entertainment and drinks all round for thousands. If only the same attitude existed today towards promoting Aussie stories to the public there would be no stopping Australian creativity. I would go as far to say that my love affair with Australian cinema started because of my school excursion to see Picnic At Hanging Rock. There huddled in a darken cinema, dressed in my school uniform, watching a story set in my world, I was allowed to dream…and it resonated within me the importance of telling our stories and living our Dreamtime. Even today as a director I continue to work on Australian stories and with Aussie writers.
‘Everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place’ – Joan Lindsay. When I moved to Melbourne 11 years ago now (time stops for no one) the first thing I searched for in my belongings was a copy of Joan Lindsay’s classic Australian novel Picnic at Hanging Rock. I had decided before I left Sydney that I needed to read the novel again, as I was after all about to become a Victorian. So, once I had settled in and was regular on the trams, I started to read Picnic. I would read it on my way to the gym, while having lunch in Docklands, on my way home from Fed Square…in fact every spare moment in those early weeks was spent nestled between the pages of Picnic at Hanging Rock.
A few things struck me about the novel, it’s a timeless story using incredibly modern storytelling. Whatever Joan Lindsay was eating when she wrote it, I wanted it too, as a writer I wished I could write like her. Picnic the novel has characters that don’t just leap off the page, they Melbourne shuffled off the pages. It has memorable quotes, ‘Waiting a million years, just for us’… it reads like poetry and at its centre has a mystery that’s unsolvable, yet it begs the reader to still solve it… But most of all Picnic is Australian. It has the colour, texture and dreams of the people and land I call home. I reckon the story of Picnic at Hanging Rock gave me a sense of pride in my country… all this because someone at my school, maybe the school principal, had the bright idea to take a young school boy and his class to see an Australian story up on the big screen.
‘You are going to have to love someone else Sara…I won’t be here much longer’ – Miranda. Over time, the story of that ill-fated Picnic at Hanging Rock has mesmerised millions and millions of film buffs, writers, directors, critics, bookworms and audiences around the world. Yes, I’m just another fanatical fan that has fallen under its mysterious spell, ‘It stopped at twelve. It never stopped before. It must be magnetic’…a writer/director who dreams that one day I will create something as absolutely perfect as Picnic at Hanging Rock, be it a novel or a motion picture. So while I wait for that moment in time to occur, I see in the newspaper there’s to be a series based on Joan Lindsay’s classic novel of mystery and suspense, scheduled for 2017 release. While not a purist by any stretch of the imagination, when I first heard the news of a remake I was shocked. Why would any production company attempt to rewrite Australian Cinema History? But, as time ticked by I felt a stirring inside, this strange feeling, must be all of 350 million years old. Siliceous lava, forced up from deep down below, images from the film and prose from the novel took over my mind, reminding me over and over ‘That everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place.’ So, I say to my lover, my beloved Picnic at Hanging Rock, let the mystery begin…again.
News Report: The body of Mr Noel Anderson, Principal Writer at Harlequin Ink, was found at the base of Hanging Rock on Friday 27 March 2017. It is believed he fell while attempting to rewrite the ending to the classic novel. To this day his ending, like Hanging Rock, remains a mystery.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Noel Anderson recently directed the six part web series NEXT…about the perils of online dating. Noel completed NIDA’s Playwright Studio 1996, his written work includes: Hello Little Man (Melbourne Writer’s Social Anthology 2016), Kylie Kastle Throws A Party (performed in schools across the country), Germ Warfare (Bondi Pavillion) , The Carer (Belvoir St Theatre), Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes Of Fame (the Jewish Museum of Australia) and the new Australian musical Audrey Hepburn And I Consider Our Assets which premiered at the Melba Spiegeltent on 29th October 2015. Noel is currently working on his first feature film Sammy and Dave (Like Us on FB @sammyluvdave) and a music video for Audrey and I called ‘Travellers In Time.’ You can follow Noel on Twitter: @Randyandy42 or https://www.facebook.com/noel.anderson42 Noel has directed over 50 theatrical productions in one form or another.