'Adalita and the Mystery of Hanging Rock' – SPOOK

It might come as a surprise to hear that the front woman of one of Australia’s preeminent ‘90s grunge bands is a sucker for movies about blonde girls in lacey dresses who chill out in the sun on Valentine’s Day, but we’ve all got our vices and Picnic at Hanging Rock is one of Adalita Srsen’s.

The prim and traditional world of Appleyard College is a far cry from the musty, tattooed, beer-soaked bars where Adalita had her start as a founding member of Magic Dirt, but there’s just something about the mystery of the rock that she and many other Australians just can’t resist. I recently visited the rock myself for the first time, with a car full of nervous energy, a reproduction of the cake the girls took with them on that Saturday morning in 1900, and fistfuls of Freddo Frogs.

It was dusk when my friends and I reached the top of rock and, as I clutched my sides from the physical exertion of making it that far, I understood why Miranda, Marion, Irma and Miss McCraw said a collective, “fuck it” and took off their corsets in the excised final chapter of the book, ‘The Secret of Hanging Rock’. Adalita was unaware of the existence of the chapter – which remained unreleased until it was published in 1987, after Lindsay’s death – so for her, like so many others, the mystery of the girls’ fate remained intact. (Until this interview, when I blurted it all out.) Adalita’s love of the film has been widely documented over the years, starting with Magic Dirt’s music video for the 1998 release She-Riff, which right down to the dizzying, cross-fading camera work and delirious, enigmatic girls in their frilly Sunday served as a direct homage to the film. As part of this year’s Melbourne Music Week, Adalita will present a screening of Picnic at Hanging Rock, followed by a discussion about its creative impact on her work. We took a minute to get to the bottom of what it is about Peter Weir’s classic film about “the rock that took the girls” that resonates so deeply with her.

SPOOK: Do you remember the first time you saw Picnic at Hanging Rock and what it made you feel then?

Adalita Srsen: It’s hard to put into words. I think I really liked the whole look of it, and of course the story’s great; it’s just one of those films that seems like it came together at the right time with the right cast and the right director. It seemed like a lot of love went into it and the director really got the story. Everyone I know that’s seen it has had a similar reaction and formed a bond with the film. It’s got the X Factor; you don’t know why you like it, you just like it.

SPOOK: I get a thrill seeing or hearing Melbourne mentioned in movies or TV – did growing up in rural Victoria, near the rock, form part of your attachment to the film?

AS: 
Yeah, I really have a thing for Australian films, especially of a particular time. I’ve got a real thing for those indie Australian films where you see landmarks or countryside, or just “Australiana”; I really love that aspect. I was debating between showing Picnic at Hanging Rock and Monkey Grip at MMW. The Hanging Rock area is not far from where I grew up, and it’s really beautiful and haunting.

SPOOK: Did you visit Hanging Rock as a kid?

AS: 
Yeah I did, I’ve been there a few times. It’s not spooky like it is in the film though; it’s a pretty normal place to visit. It’s not hugely spectacular, but it’s interesting and it is definitely worth going. And it is beautiful. But it’s not as imposing as it comes across in the film.

SPOOK: What was the thinking behind the She-Riff video? Do you remember coming up against any resistance from your band or the label to get it made?

AS: 
Oh no, there was no resistance at all! It was actually Dean [Turner, a founding member of Magic Dirt who passed away in 2009] who came up with the idea. He really liked the film, too. It was really easy: the idea came up and we all went, “Hell yeah!” and the director was really into it and we filmed it over the course of a weekend. It all came together really smoothly. And it is actually my favourite film clip, absolutely, without a doubt.

SPOOK: You mentioned your love of Australian film earlier, which reminded me of your cover of Liz Phair’s Supernova from the Looking for Alibrandi soundtrack. That’s one of my favourite movies of all time. What are some other local films you really love?

AS: 
I love watching films; it’s one of my favourite creative mediums. My favourite Australian films are Picnic and Monkey Grip – those films are very high on my list. But there are others I enjoyed a lot. I love little, lesser-known films like All Men Are Liars, The Getting of Wisdom, Japanese Story, Peaches…Somersault is another one of my all-time favourite films. I absolutely can’t fault that film at all. I love going to the cinema by myself and catching a film.

SPOOK: After the screening at Music Week, you’re going to discuss the personal and creative impact Weir’s film has had on your career. Can you give us a preview of that discussion? Have you re-watched the film recently to prepare?

AS: 
No, I’m going to wait ‘til the screening! I haven’t seen the film in a while, so I’ll wait. It hasn’t had a huge impact on my career…it did at the time when we made the clip, and I’ve got some anecdotes about that time, but, as a general creative inspiration, it’s one of those films that inspires you to want to be great at what you do, and it inspires you purely as a piece of art. It transports me to another place and sucks me into this other world, then spits me back out. It nourishes my soul as an artist, as a work of art. In that sense, it’s a part of me.

Published on Spook on 22 November, 2013.