Victorian Wildlife

So Valentine's Day is coming up. Do people celebrate this holiday? I mean, do you truly 'celebrate' it, or do you just use February the 14th as an excuse to eat a lot of chocolate? Well that's actually OK, cos there isn't even a religious tradition behind Valentine's Day. There is no one guy the day is named after, and while the Catholic Church has records of several Saint Valentines, none of them were martyred for love-related reasons; in fact, there really isn't much of a historical record of any of them. Valentine's Day was something Chaucer and other poets in his day made up as a plot device for the courtly love genre.

But no matter. There are still traditions associated with Valentine's. The Victorians, for instance, knew how to celebrate a hoax holiday: make everything lacy. So if you love fashion and want to celebrate Valentine's this year, I suggest watching Picnic at Hanging Rock, made in 1975 and directed by Peter Weir. It's the most beautiful film ever made.

A digression

I spent most of my childhood watching weird movies by myself and having lonesome spiritual epiphanies in their company. My parents never restricted what I watched, so I ended up watching a lot of stuff that was probably inappropriate for my age. For instance, I was completely obsessed with horror movies between the ages of 7-10. My favorites were The Fly (even though it almost made me throw up) and Candyman. I would probably let my kids watch this stuff. They didn't make me wet my bed, and I'm not a mass murderer or anything now.

But I think there were some movies I saw when I was a child that were so beautiful, and their beauty so emotionally captivating, that they traumatized me. These films made me believe there was a perfect, glimmering mystery behind every moment in life. I became convinced that I would grow up and live an enchanted, bittersweet fairy tale. I prepared myself throughout childhood to face tragedy and romance, not responsibility and boredom. In other words, sometimes movies are so good they make you lose all faith in reality, and you grow up to be a dreamer.

This is one of those movies that can do that to you. I first saw Picnic when I was eleven. It came on TV, and I had no idea what it was. The movie begins on the morning of St. Valentine's Day, 1900 in an all-girl's boarding school in rural Australia. The girls and their teaches visit a mountain called Hanging Rock, stab a cake in honor of Saint Valentine's, and some of them go hiking never to return.

Perhaps this doesn't sound romantic enough for you. If you have a heart (and you should, it's Valentine's Day, man!), it'll take your breath away. Just watch the opening here. Listen to those pan flutes! Soon enough you'll be wearing a corset and reciting poetry with ribbons in your hair, too.

But the best part of this movie is the haunting mystery at its heart.

It's about the force of nature over mankind, and girls blossoming into women, and repressed sexual urges. It's about things you'll never know in waking life. You have to watch it.

And I suggest doing so in full Victorian garb. Maybe your boyfriend will like it? Or maybe you should just dump him after all. You have less than two weeks. Get started now.

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