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Blu-ray Review


DVD cover

Picnic (1955)
(Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)

Starring: William Holden, Kim Novak, Betty Field and Rosalind Russell
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £17.99 (Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)
EKA70331
5060000703313
Certificate: U
Release Date: 18 February 2019


Picnic (1956) directed by Joshua Logan, screenplay by Daniel Taradash and William Inge from Inge’s Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway play is now gifted to us by the loyal film lovers at Eureka (eurekavideo.co.uk) in a ravishing 1080p Cinemascope original format (2.55:1) remastered for Blu-ray that exceeds anything Columbia mogul Harry Cohn ever witnessed in his studio projection room on Gower Avenue in Hollywood. The cinematography by the magisterial James Wong Howe and his young assistant operator Haskell Wexler captures the bright cloying atmosphere of central Kansas, thick with humidity and teeming with what cast and crew described as ‘carnivorous insects.’ The Eureka print is worth owning for that alone. But there’s much more here not even including abundant extras.

Eureka’s marketing department apologetically advises that "while its examination of middle American mores may seem quaint today, Picnic’s torrid romances, erotically charged dancing, and Holden’s torn shirt were considered bold and risqué in the conservative '50s although now it can be viewed as an honest and moving study of a long gone era." This says more about contemporary marketers’ mindsets than it does the movie. Sexual sensualism is not dated and it begins in what Frank Zappa called "the dirtiest part of your body: your mind."

Picnic begins with William Holden jumping off a freight train in central Kansas. He has nothing but charisma, sexual charisma. He hopes to make a new start here, become something, somebody. He is obviously attractive to women of all ages but can’t connect. Connecting is a timeless yearning, hardly quaint, because this is Inge talking about the timeless hunger of the heart. When Eureka consents Picnic is honest and moving, they’ve got that right. Worrying about a "long gone era" is contemporaneous ageism. If we accept such solipsism, then Shakespeare is dated.

Kim Novak is never more erotic than in this movie. Hitchcock would clutch her up to star in Vertigo after Vera Miles got pregnant. He would always grumble over the point. He had to settle for Novak over Vera Miles. I’m sorry but the mind reels. Novak here is repressed, suppressed and inhibited until she’s unbound by Holden. Her exposure of sensuality in the climactic dance scene is archetypal allurement unlatched.

George Duning lifts the old favourite ‘Moonglow’ and blends it with his score. Holden was very nervous about dancing. Logan got him drunk at roadhouses and had the choreographer work with him. It didn’t work. Novak was no better. Logan saw them as two elementary school kids lurching like stick dolls. The dance took ten days to film in Kansas. When you don’t see insects buzzing through those are the shots back at the studio. James Wong Howe became the production hero who swayed his camera so it danced to capture short clips of perfection. Editors Charles Nelson and William A. Lyon assembled it and shared an Oscar for their art. William Flannery, Jo Mielziner and Robert Priestley provided art direction including paper lantern light which gave Howe the pretext for subtle colours washing over them. Oscars for the art department too. Howe should have got a statue but didn’t.

The sexuality in the dance scene is infectious. It makes you think you can dance too, even if you can’t, which is fair because neither of the stars could. It’s one of the most sexual dance scenes in all cinema.

All the forces in the town are against them, Rosalind Russell bares sexual frustration and tears off Holden’s shirt. That busts the romantic interlude for sure. Things go from bad to worse and soon the local cops are after Holden. As he’s ready to jump back on a freight train like the one that brought him, he tells Novak: "You’re the only real thing I’ve ever wanted. You’re mine. I’ve gotta claim what’s mine or I’ll be nuts as long as I live."

The denouement is an aerial shot from a helicopter by Haskell Wexler. One of the most romantic shots in movie history even if it’s between a train and a bus. Goosebumps every time I see it.

Is all consuming love still possible? I believe it is and I can’t dance either.

10

John Huff

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