beDevil (as the title art has it) comprises three stories, each of which delves into mysterious and ghostly moments. In Mr Chuck a one time swamp that is now a modern housing development gives up the secret of an American soldier who disappeared during World War 2. In Choo Choo Choo Choo an Aboriginal family is haunted by the sound of ghostly trains that run on the track that passes their house and the memory of a child killed many years ago. In Lovin' the Spin I'm In a Greek developer and his family are confronted by an Aboriginal woman mourning for the loss of her son and his lover.
Review by Geoff Gardner:
Tracey Moffatt's only feature length film has been given a new DVD release presenting the film in a beautifully re-mastered disc which recaptures all of Moffatt's brilliant colour schemes. It is one of the highlight moments of Australian film distribution in 2012. The re-master was supervised by Scott Wombey and utilised the services of the film's Director of Photography, Geoff Burton, to advise on aspects of the scan that the distributors (Ronin Films) have made from the original negatives
Bedevil was made in 1993, after Moffatt had attracted much attention for her two short films, Nice Coloured Girls (1987) and Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy (1989). The film was eagerly anticipated and was instantly invited to participate in that year's Cannes Film Festival. It's still hard to know whether those who had championed Moffatt's shorts in the late 1980s would have expected such a film to emerge. Although there was already a significant pointer from Night Cries, no one quite expected Moffatt to make a film whose methods continued to be so far from the gentle social realism that characterised the largest, and the most publicly successful, part of Australian film production.
Instead, as the cover note on the Ronin Films disc astutely points out, Moffatt gave her public a film which eschewed realism in favour of the lushly stylish colour schemes that characterised the work of American master Vincente Minnelli and used the same narrative structures and studio production adopted by Japanese master Masaki Kobayashi's in his Kwaidan (1964), to assemble a compendium of tales mingling ghost stories and Aboriginal cultural experience in uniquely artificial settings
The credit sequence, a Maurice Binder-like selection of blues, reds and black silhouetted dancers, is then followed by three tales. In each, Moffatt has complete control over the settings. This allows her to apply a painter's brush, ensuring that every colour is as she wants it. Each episode is in turn characterised by a different schema. Green and brown are dominant in Mr Chuck, black and grey in Choo, Choo, Choo, Choo and shades of grey in Lovin' the Spin I'm In. All of this has been brought back to somewhat stunning life in the new version.
The stories themselves are not intended to be horror movies. They are much more precisely located in the gentle Kaidan tradition of storytelling that still flourishes in Japanese cinema today.
Each of the stories goes to an aspect of Aboriginal experience and each focuses on a moment where world of the spirit comes to the fore. Each acutely picks apart European indifference or incomprehension to that Aboriginal experience. When it was released almost two decades ago, the film clearly perplexed reviewers and Moffatt aficionados alike. It seemed perhaps too mannered and too low key for a feature film, too much a simple extension of the artifice of Night Cries. But a core of enthusiasts from the outset championed it as one of the finest achievements of Australia's cinema.
What was not expected by anyone was that no future feature films by such an outstanding talent would, it seems now, ever be made. Moffatt was expected to go on to have an illustrious career as a director, perhaps in the manner later achieved by Jane Campion. Her career has indeed been illustrious but not in commercial film production. She has relocated to New York more or less permanently and her work as a still photographer has featured in more than 300 exhibitions presented around the world. This has been a major loss for Australia's cinema and with the release of this DVD we are reminded of just how great that loss was and is.
The only extras on the disc are the film's original trailer. A future Collector's Edition would be ripe for a mountain of material, and perhaps might include Moffatt's own thoughts from today's perspective, a visual essay by a critic familiar with the Aboriginal cultural issues the film raises and her two short films.
Email this article
BEDEVIL: DVD (PG)
CAST: Lex Marinos, Tracey Moffat, Riccardo Natoli, Dina Panozzo, Mawuyul Yanthalawuy, Les Foxcroft, Banula Marika, Jack Charles
PRODUCER: Anthony Buckley, Carol Hughes
DIRECTOR: Tracey Moffat
SCRIPT: Tracey Moffat
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Geoff Burton
EDITOR: Wayne Le Clos
MUSIC: Carl Vine
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stephen Curtis
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: Original trailer
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Ronin Films
DVD RELEASE: April 2012