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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Australia > Civil Rights > Sex > Religion > The Devil’s Playground (1977) + The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith – 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (1978/Umbrella Entertainment/Region Zero/PAL DVDs)

The Devil’s Playground (1977) + The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith – 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (1978/Umbrella Entertainment/Region Zero/PAL DVDs)

 

Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C+/B-     Films: C+/B-

 

 

PLEASE NOTE: These separate releases can only be operated on machines capable of playing back DVDs that can handle Region Zero/0 PAL format software and can be ordered from our friends at Umbrella Entertainment at the website address provided at the end of the review.

 

 

There are many directors who start out great or with great promise, then find themselves unable to sustain their careers.  Before making the occasional film that did not work like The Russia House, Fred Schepisi made to unexpectedly raw, personal, honest films about himself and Australia in two critical and commercial successes that continue to be the peak of his career:  The Devil’s Playground (1977) + The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978).

 

Both now receiving much-needed restorations, Umbrella Entertainment is among the first to issue the new editions, complete with extras.  The Devil’s Playground (not to be confused with the documentary about child molesting priests) is about his time in a Catholic seminary in the 1950s.  It can be ugly, brutal, sad and has plenty to say about why he did not remain there or the problematic ways they deal with “temptation of the flesh” that ultimately hurts more than helps.  Well acted and made, it feels like its period, but does have some run-on and predictability.  Still, it was bold for its time and now seems a bit ahead of it.

 

The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith is from the Thomas Kenneally novel about the title character, an indigenous native who after years and years of tolerating the shortcomings of racism and the system, is pushed too far when his family (he is black, she is white and they have a child) goes too far.  He goes on a murder spree circa 1901 yielding an axe, joined by some friends who cannot take it anymore and instead of what would seem like a mere revenge film or even serial killer movie, the events stay in context to the story.  Some of the transitions do not work, but subtleties do and it is the better of the two films as a result, but know it can be brutal.

 

The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image on Devil and 2.35 X 1 image on Jimmie are nice upgrades from the bad copies we have had to suffer through, yet there is still some fading and excess grain (though we do not expect either film to be grain-free) in the two prints, which both could use a little more detail.  Jimmie was shot in real anamorphic Panavision and has a good look to it as a result.  Blu-ray version should bring out more nuances down the line.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono in both cases shows their age, but sound pretty good considering and playback well here.

 

Extras on both include making of featurettes, feature-length audio commentary by Schepisi, stills, trailers and on camera interviews with Schepisi and those who made each given film with him.  Jimmie is a double DVD set and adds separate on-camera interview with Tommy Lewis, a casting documentary Making Us Blacksmiths and Q&A session with Schepisi and Geoffrey Rush from The Melbourne International Film Festival 2008.

 

For serious film fans, each is a must see, no matter your conclusions.

 

 

As noted above, you can order these PAL DVD imports exclusively from Umbrella at:

 

http://www.umbrellaent.com.au/

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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