Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Arthur Dignam, Nick Tate, Simon Burke, Charles McCallum
Director: Fred Schepisi
Acclaimed writer/director Fred Schepisi s (Roxanne, The Russia House, Empire Falls) first feature is the accomplished and currently pertinent story of boy s coming of age set in an Australian Catholic boys school. — Based o... more »
Extraordinary movie in a great DVD release at last
J. Martin | Upstate New York USA | 04/07/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie is much more than a prurient peek at repressed pubescent male sexuality, which is what you might expect from other reviews. If that's all you're looking for and you're determined to find it here, you may find enough to satisfy, but you'll be missing the point. This isn't soft-core kiddie porn disguised as social commentary. The Devils' Playground is a very serious, warm-hearted, generous and very beautiful work of art.
It's astonishingly beautiful, an economically and beautifully executed movie, full of well-developed, richly varied, entirely believable characters, a fascinating, deeply satisfying story that is never tedious or boring and yet never exploitative, melodramatic or cheap, and photography and music that are so extraordinarily perfect and beautiful that each frame could hang in a major museum. That this was any director's first full-length movie is nearly incredible--it would be a major accomplishment for any director even at the peak of his career.
Before I bought this DVD, I'd only seen it on an old VHS tape from the library, where it was cropped to fit a 4:3 TV screen and the sound was so poor I couldn't understand about half the dialog. I loved it anyway, but it was hard to watch. In fact, much of my reluctance to buy the DVD was fear that it might just be that old taped version transferred to disc. When I saw that there were two DVD versions available, but neither one with subtitles (which I was convinced it needed), I didn't know which one to order, so I just picked the newer one almost arbitrarily. Boy, am I glad I did. This one is a treasure.
The case notes don't make any claims about being newly remastered or anything like that, but they could. The video looks brand new, with rich, subtle, gorgeous color, perfect contrast, not a scratch or a spot anywhere, and in the original 16:9 aspect ratio. I can now see that this may be the most beautifully photographed movie I've ever seen. It's a low-budget movie, but it sure doesn't look like it. (I know I'm using the word "beautiful" an awful lot, but believe me, that's because it's the right word.)
The sound is as clear as a bell now, so I can understand every word even without subtitles, and I hadn't even noticed the music before because I couldn't really hear it, much less the many wonderful scenes when the "music" is just the background sound. That's all been fixed perfectly in this DVD.
But that's not all. Not only has this long-overlooked treasure of a movie been perfectly restored and preserved on DVD, but a very generous collection of newly recorded additional material has been added, and none of it is the cheesy promotional junk studios usually cram onto DVDs (there's not a single trailer or celebrity-hype "making of" feature).
There is an excellent audio commentary track by the director Fred Schepisi, plus two long video interviews with him and others involved in making the movie (and not one of them looks like George Clooney, thank God.) All of it is intelligent, informative and very interesting. To be honest, I'd never heard of Fred Schepisi before this, and I've never seen any of his later and more successful movies, but I'm a fan now.
I cannot recommend the older DVD version of this movie, still available through Amazon sellers, with a salacious and completely misleading cover photo of a priest leering at a cowering naked boy. Amazon describes that DVD as 1.33:1 [4:3] aspect ratio, so it may well be the same as the awful VHS. But I would recommend this new DVD enthusiastically to anybody with the slightest interest in this movie, or in intelligent, beautiful movies of any kind.
Just in case Amazon at some point combines reviews of the two DVD versions into one, I'm going to belabor the point: the version worth having is copyright 2008 and distributed by Industrial Entertainment, its ASIN is B001EAWMPG, and the UPC on my copy is 858334001381. The cover photo has a large profile of a boy, with an apparently naked adult man sitting in the background (the photos are from two completely separate scenes, by the way). I advise you to get it while you can."
Amos Lassen | Little Rock, Arkansas | 11/30/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
""The Devil's Playground"
Fred Schepisi who went on to direct "Roxanne" and "The Russia House" has now had his first feature film, "The Devil's Playground" released on DVD. It is based on his own experiences in a monastery when repressed desires meet the doctrines of Christianity and collide. It is the coming-of-age story set in an Australian Catholic Boy's School and went on to win five Australian Academy Awards.
With a name like "The Devil's Playground", it is naturally expected that there will some very sexual material here and Schepisi went as far as the censors would allow him. There are so many stories of what goes on in boys' boarding schools and we see here that some of what we have heard is indeed true.
The "devil" seems to prefer to work at night or in the shadows where young boys on the verge of puberty discuss the strange things that are happening to their bodies, masturbation and wet dreams. When the Christian brothers are questioned about such things, they tell the boys to use more self-discipline and to pray against committing sinful acts. The brothers maintain a strict disciplinary code but it does not solve all of the problems. The sins of the flesh are heightened in the film by the amount of flesh bearing that is done.
It is not just the boys that succumb to temptation. We see the brothers dressed in civilian clothes enjoying nights out on the town and visiting the local bars. The film documents the strengths and weaknesses of life within the Catholic educational system and although we see the problems, we are given no answers. We do, however, get the idea that Schepisi finds the system to be lacking.
We know that it is impossible for pubescent males to remain sexless, especially when they are living in close proximity to others. They are not taught about their bodies and they have not much of an idea what is happening. There is little privacy at school and even though we see this in a movie, we must remember that this also happens in real life. The director's attempt was to give us a picture of life as it really is and even though the film was made in the 70's. it is still very relevant today. The emphasis in sex is realistic--by refraining from sex. it does mean that it is not being thought and wondered about. Civilized men who live in a closed society can lean toward some kind of sexual outlet and the setting can very well influence their views.
I understand that the film is semi-autobiographical and Schepisi has directed it in grand style. It is interesting and thought-provoking and does shed light on what really goes on behind closed doors.
The Bookworm Sailor | All at Sea | 07/14/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I can see why this film won so many awards when it came out in 1976. It is beautifully acted by all the principal players, has some fine photography and at its core is the theme of the stultifying atmosphere of a Roman Catholic school for boys destined for the priesthood. But the hormone-laden youngsters fight a losing battle, and while some manage to suppress and progress down the path of righteousness, others fail and sin. It is a wonderful film thoroughly worth watching, unless you are looking for sexual titillation in which case you will be disappointed, as the subject is treated tastefully with subtlety and finesse."