A Chance to see A Master Editor at Work and Masterful Work
A triple bill program ‘People Make Papers’ (1965) ‘Devil’s Playground’
(1976)and ‘The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith’ (1978) under the auspices of
Cinematheque at ACMI Federation Square on June 1 should not be missed.
BILLED AS ‘EARLY SCHEPISI’ (I’m not sure what Fred would say about
that) each of these films was edited by one of our life members BRIAN
KAVANAGH ASE – Devil’s Playground and Jimmy Blacksmith were edited by
Brian on a 6 plate KEM flatbed at The Filmhouse, Fred Schepisi’s
production company at Fitzroy in Melbourne. In those days editing film
was not only an intensely creative process but a physical process too.
Handling 2000 ft rolls of 35mm film was not the sport of the faint of
wind and limb. Even when synch rushes were broken down into
‘manageable’ 1000 ft rolls, constant handling of the film and mag sound
ensured a very different ergonomic day for editors than experienced
Prior to returning to home base in Fitzroy, Jimmy Blacksmith was
assembly cut travelling on location with the cutting room in the back
of an Avis-Rent-A-Truck, with Brian’s motel room used for the
edgenumbering. A very young Ken Sallows (now ASE) was assisting,
suffering in the cramped conditions. The assistant’s role in those days
should be highlighted, not only as an aid to handling footage but as a
learning curve, the only path to learning, before filmschools became
Although the arrival of tape splicing in the 1960’s had made editor’s
lives a lot easier than the days of glued splices, decisions to change
sequences meant constantly rearranging work print. Sometimes, it simply
wore out and reprints of scenes would have to be made. A quick way to
ensure grumbles from the money people about budgets. To return to an
earlier version of an edit did not just mean pulling down a drop down
menu to another version saved in your sequences bin. The editor would
have to physically reconstitute that version as closely as possible. In
my experience this was like trying to repack something in original
packaging, not easy. From rushes to lock off of the finecut and right
through all the finishing processes to S.O.F answer print, Brian and
editors of those times, would be responsible for every stage as well as
giving every ounce of creative input possible.
With all this in mind, I find these words, written in an article by
Adam Bingham in 2005 about the editing of ‘The Chant of Jimmy
Blacksmith’ particularly interesting. Written about a film edited
nearly 30 years ago, his words tell us clearly that truly good editing
is timeless and of immeasurable value to any production.
“The style of the film, particularly its editing and mise en
scène, are perfectly attuned to this central political thematic core.
The opening, pre-credit sequence that cuts between the young Jimmie
undergoing his tribal initiation in the bush and the Reverend Neville
at home bemoaning his unexplained absence, perfectly lays out this
style. The disparity and distance between the races, between the whites
and the Aborigines, is immediately underlined in the contrast between
the cluttered, sterile and materialistic indoors of the Neville
household on the one hand (littered with crockery similar to that later
smashed as Jimmie murders the Newbys), and the natural, open expanses
of the bush on the other. To reinforce this, there is a later scene at
the Neville's dinner table in which Jimmie, on the eve of going out to
make his way in the world, thanks the Reverend and his wife for his
“education”. In one extended sequence shot, the camera begins framing
the meal on the table before tilting up on the Reverend (dominant in
the centre of the screen and at the head of the table) and slowly
tracking out to tightly frame the scene from a distance through the
doorway, with Jimmie hemmed-in screen left. This underlines Jimmie's
entrapment within his social position by visually stating his
constriction within the frame, a frame dominated by the Reverend and
all he represents”
Excerpt from ‘A Cry in the Dark’
The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and the “New Australian Cinema”
by Adam Bingham © 2005
Most importantly Brian survived all these experiences and many, many
others. He is truly one of our ‘Living Treasures’ Today Brian is a
published author, is actively involved in creating his own and other
people’s projects and has generously made himself available to younger
ASE members as a mentor.
I would recommend to any aspiring editor to think seriously about
making contact with Brian through the ASE. Opportunies to spend time
with a ‘Master Editor’ so steeped in the craft of editing should not be
The Devil’s Playground - Won Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor
(Simon Burke and Nick Tate), Best Cinematography, Best Original
Screenplay and the Jury Prize at the 1976 Australian Film Awards.
Although editing is not mentioned, I believe it is the Master
Editor’s work that lies behind the success of the film as a whole.
Cinematheque are screening three sessions of Schepisi work on Wednesday the 1st of June.
6:30pm Early Schepisi
Prize-winning docos from Fred Schepisi's The Film House studios,
including People Make Papers (1965, 18') covering a hectic day at
Melbourne's The Age.
7:10 The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith (1978) 124mins (R)
Fred Schipisi and Thomas Keneally adapt the historical events of the
Govenor brothers' 1900 murder spree into an explosive widescreen
allegory of interracial violence. A film that still has haunting
implications for notions of Australian nationalism. With Tommy Lewis,
Jack Thompson, Ray Barrett and Angela Punch-MacGregor.
New print from the Kodak/Atlab Cinema Collection!
(Please note the R classification on The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith. ID
will be checked at the box office and again at the cinema door.)
9:25 The Devil's Playground (1976) 107mins (M)
Schepisi's semi-autobiographical account of Catholic seminary school
life in the 1950s. The frankest study of childhood in Australian
cinema, its ensemble cast (including Nick Tate, Thomas Keneally and
Arthur Dignam) support teenager Simon Burke's film debut.
Cinematheque is a film society. Entrance to screenings is by
membership only. Memberships can be purchased on the night of each
screening from the ACMI box office from one hour before the first film
of the evening commences.
Mini membership (admission to four consecutive screening nights over a
1 month period- ) Full $18 Concession $15 (gst inclusive)
Annual membership (admission to 12 months of screenings) Full $85 Concession $75 (gst inclusive)
Watch the Cinematheque website for details of screenings in your states. Well worth a look.