Saturday, 7 July 2012

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Picnic

A/N: On Wednesdays Nathaniel (The Film Experience) holds his Hit Me With the Best Shot Series where we watch a movie and choose our favourite shot. Last Wednesday was my Literary Theory final exam, and I came home so tired I had no energy to watch the film or write a lucid post. Apparently many people didn’t care to watch Picnic, and the film is dear to my heart, so I decided – better late than never.

Joshua Logan’s film adaptation of William Inge’s Picnic hasn’t endured well in the minds of the critics. This doesn’t surprise me. Like many of Inge’s works, particularly the stage to screen adaptations, have a certain focus on the zeitgeist and few are quite as steeped in that zeitgeist nature as much as Picnic. Still, it’s a film I happen to like a whole lot – it even appears in my list of 150 favourite films.
Picnic uses the “all-in-24-hours” dramatic trope that cinema (and stage) are both enamoured with. Sometime, maybe soon, I’ll attempt a legitimate review of the film (I did do a comparison of sorts of it and Rebel without a Cause a few years ago).

The eponymous Picnic occurs for about a half of the film as the entire town make their way to the town Picnic for Labour Day. It’s been some time since I’d seen this and I’d forgotten all the way brief, but effective, ways Logan tries to “open” the film up by showing life in the small-town. For, admittedly, Picnicis very much a stage play – the entire play surrounds a group of interspersed characters reacting to each other. But, there’s a series of shots at the picnic that just work for me – curiously, all four of them with children.
Truthfully, they add little specific to the film but I appreciate the way that Logan – very much a stage director and even with this (what I think is easily his best film) it’s clear that he’s better at typically “theatre” things.

When I say theatre things I don’t mean it as a pejorative, for my favourite things about Picnic are those “theatre” things. For, with the theatre, the opportunity to see all the actors at once is always a great effect of the stage compared to the film where shots with multiple performers is not as – I am reticent to say essential, but that is perhaps the best word. Thus, my two favourite shots are both ensemble shots.

The first is the entire lot assembled at Marge’s house as the two gents come to pick the ladies up.
I’m not very fond of Holden, not just because his age shows (and hurts the film somewhat) but I find the performance unnatural. He’s better in the ensemble when he’s trying make Hal as benevolent as possible. It’s ironic, he’s uttering the line, “Nothing like being loose.” And his performance is anything but.

My true favourite shot is this one, though.
It’s one of the few scenes where I buy into Hal being such a magnetic force that he really shakes this town up. The way the shot is set up with him as the focal point thrills me. All eyes are on him, but for Alan who has his reasons for turning, and Margie who has hers. Is my love for Picnic unwise? Perhaps, but when is love ever really wise? Even if Holden doesn’t quite work, or even if Novak is often just a bit too timorous in her cadence the film works for me. The melancholy, the sad hope, the fickleness of friendship – it all really works for me in a way a number of “better” zeitgeist works of the fifties don’t.

So, late or not, I had to write about it.
(Head to Chez Nathaniel and read the entries.)

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