DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND, THE: DVD
A semi-autobiographical retelling of the director's own training for the priesthood in the early 1950s, the story follows 13-year-old Tom Allen (Simon Burke), a serious, likable boy whose calling for the church is complicated by guilt associated with his masturbation and sinful thoughts. While the ascetic Brother Francine (Arthur Dignam) prowls the school's corridors looking for evidence of ''the undisciplined mind'', the hard-drinking Brother Victor (Nick Tate) refutes the harsh discipline that scars the hearts and minds of the students - though they each battle a desire to consummate the pleasures of the flesh.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Fred Schepisi's smash debut, winning 6 AFI Awards including Best Film, Best Director, and then 15 year old Simon Burke's first (and so far  only) Best Actor Award, instantly established Schepisi as a cinematic force. He had honed his craft in TV commercials, where economy, discipline and focused storytelling are primary requisites. In this film, his cinematic skills are put to great use, telling a story set in an environment he experienced personally: a seminary.
Simon Burke, in his acting debut, shows remarkable maturity as an actor, as if he'd been doing it since the age of two. Acting is not visible, as he journeys through a young man's tussle with puberty at the same time as struggling with a vocation that is a lifetime commitment.
Nick Tait (who shared the Best Actor Award with Burke) is a standout as hard drinking Brother Victor, and Arthur Dignam makes a ferocious, troubled, multi-layered Brother Frank. Everyone makes a terrific contribution as Schepisi peels away the surface to reveal a morass of personal demons that rage throughout the seminary, among the students as well as the Brothers.
Thomas Keneally makes a cameo appearance as Father Marshall, who runs the retreat; it was on this set that he first mentioned to Schepisi the story that was to provide Schepisi's next film: The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. Both these films are significant foundation stones for Australia's re-awakened film industry of the 70s.
Schepisi's audio commentary is intelligent and informative; it's especially valuable in providing insights into his excellent filmmaking techniques.
Published November 6, 2008
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DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND, THE: DVD (M)
CAST: Arthur Dignam, Nick Tate, Simon Burke, Charles McCallum, John Frawley, Jonathan Hardy, Gerry Duggan, Peter Cox, John Diedrich, Thomas Keneally, Sheila Florence
PRODUCER: Fred Schepisi
DIRECTOR: Fred Schepisi
SCRIPT: Fred Schepisi (book by Thomas Keneally)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ian Baker
EDITOR: Brian Kavanagh
MUSIC: Bruce Smeaton
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Trevor Ling
RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes
PRESENTATION: 16:9; DD 2.0
SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary with Fred Schepisi; featurette with Fred Schepisi and key cast and crew - 43 mins; interview with Fred Schepisi - 39 mins
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Umbrella Entertainment
DVD RELEASE: November 1, 2008
RIVERSIDE SNEAK PEEK PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 4 consecutive Tuesdays - March 10, 17, 24, 31, 2015 - at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.