Article — Bedevil: Australia’s Forgotten Cinematic Treasure

Australian cinema has been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride for quite some time. Aside from the odd critical success stories, such as Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975) or Ten Canoes (2006), Australian cinema has never been as beloved, nor taken as seriously, as films from other countries; mostly because of the success of those fantastically outrageous ‘Ozploitation’ (that wondrous period in Australian film filled with boobs, bobs and excessive violence) movies which, aside from perhaps Mad Max (1979) have being treated as simple and cheap entertainment.

And with all of the great Australian films that have and will no doubt continue to be made, there is one which, for one reason or another, has being denied its appropriate place in Australian film history. This is a film that is one of the finest cinematic achievements the country has ever produced. It is a film from 1993 called Bedevil.

This film is a miracle in its mere existence. It is directed by renowned indigenous artist, Tracey Moffatt, who is one of the most unique Australian artists working in the scene today and who also created the brilliant short film Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy (1990), which showed her keen sense for the cinematic. In Night Cries she creates an environment in which an aboriginal orphan has to take care of her dying, rich and white foster parent: feeding her, clothing her, bathing her, and regularly taking her to the outhouse. Despite this simple story, its brief ten minute running time is laden with breathtaking artificiality, using studio sets and exaggerated lighting to create a deeply troubling environment which is often quite disturbing to witness.

The film is about an anthology of  Australian based horror horror stories, starring some brilliant Australian actors such as the immortal Jack Charles recounting his tale of his childhood and of the ghost of an american soldier who drowned in quicksand. Lex Marinos playing a sympathetic yet still patronising landlord, and even Tracey Moffat herself playing as Ruby; a woman whose house is bewitched by the lost souls of the nearby train tracks.

This film was shown at Cannes Film Festival 1993 and won numerous awards, and Moffatt was celebrated immensely overseas, but forgotten and ignored here in her home country. So in 1992, she set about to produce her first (and so far only) feature film: Bedevil. In the film she creates the same sense of unease and cultural displacement which was featured in Night Cries and expands on it tenfold. Where Night Cries was more of an experimental horror film, Bedevil follows a much more digestible but by no means lesser creation of immense power and fortitude.

The images Moffatt uses within the film, blending intense artificiality with subtle touches of naturalism, to create one of the most unique, beautiful, weirdest, and most challenging of films that Australian cinema has ever seen. The film sparks with glorious beauty and sparkling originality. But why is it barely even seen by the general Australian public, much less celebrated?

The film’s historical significance within both feminist and indigenous circles already makes it go without saying. The fact that it is the very first movie made by an indigenous woman is an amazing achievement, but the fact it took until 1993 for an indigenous director to get international recognition is outrageous. It is strange that she faced so much resistance in making the film is also something that our film industry (being mostly controlled by straight white men) is almost sickening.

Aesthetically, it is most ingenious. The only other film directors that can come close to her style are British film makers Ken Russell (The Devils, 1971) and Derek Jarman (Caravaggio, 1986). She has created a style and a voice that is uniquely her own, and it is an absolute joy to watch her work unfold on screen.

Bedevil is a film that should be considered a national treasure. Moffatt’s worth to the Australian filmmaking scene is unparalleled in our cinema’s history. The fact that her films are slowly disappearing into obscurity is insulting, and she is one of the most unique and talented artistic voices working in the scene today.

When most well-known Australian cinema is being created by great European directors (Werner Herzog’s Where the Green Ants Dream (1984) and Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout (1971) for example, which are brilliant) or white males telling the stories of aboriginal people (Rolf De Heer’s The Tracker (2002) or Peter Weir’s The Last Wave (1977), which are both fantastic), it is more important than ever that Moffatt, as well as that of other aboriginal artists, be recognised and allowed to flourish. It is more important than ever to celebrate and cherish the work created by artists and filmmakers like Moffatt and that we protect them at all costs.

Currently it costs $80 to buy a DVD copy of Bedevil but it costs $5.50 on Vimeo, which I will provide the link for. Either way it is worth every single penny.

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