Production company: Illumination Films
Budget: A$46,000, including investment of half the budget by federal government funding body the Australian Film Commission (Oxford Australian Film); $50,000 (Colin Bennett, The Age); Cox told the Adelaide Advertiser on 12th July 1977 that the budget was $50,000, with $32,000 coming from the AFC, and the rest from Cox, Tony Llewellyn-Jones and other friends. (David Stratton puts the AFC investment at $33,000).
Locations: Melbourne, Victoria
Filmed: early 1977. The film's wiki here quotes David Stratton as saying the film was shot over three weeks. Cox claimed in the Advertiser interview that he spent six months on the filming and editing of the film.
Australian distributor: Self (i.e. Cox/Illumination Films)
Australian release: premiered at the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals, June 1977. It was given its first commercial screening, a week at the Glenelg Cinema Centre, Adelaide, in early July 1977 to qualify for the AFI awards. It then opened commercially at the Dendy Crows Nest Sydney, 24th November 1977, running through December, and opening in Melbourne at the Longford Cinema in February 1978
Running time: 88 mins (Oxford Australian Film); 90 mins (Paul Cox's website)
VHS copy: 1'25"49
Box office: minimal. The film did a reasonable tour of the arthouse indie circuit, but the determinedly interior, brooding, "relationships falling apart" arthouse material didn't reach a wide audience.
None known. It received no nominations or awards at the AFI Awards.
Perhaps in compensation, Cox's short We Are All Alone My Dear won the Silver Award in the Best Documentary category at the 1977 Australian Film Institute Awards, but this, his second feature, got tangled in the AFI's new requirement of entry into the awards being conditional on a commercial release.
Cox wrote an anguished letter to The Age complaining about being blind-sided, unsurprising given that such awards are much more important for arthouse product that for mainstream commercial films.
Under the header Prize nonsense on 21st May 1977, Cox wrote in praise of The Age's film critic Colin Bennett's attack on the restructuring of the awards:
Sir,- Despite Barry Jones' irrelevant protestations to the contrary ("The Age, 14/5), from my experience it would appear that Colin Bennett's article Our Film Awards Take a Step Backwards (7/5) is well timed and most appropriate. In the present climate it seems that the Australian Film Institute has lost sight of its role in the Australian film industry.
Once a body which embraced all aspects of film making, it has served the useful function of directing public attention to films which might otherwise have eluded commercially oriented Australian distributors. That is a role it has now abandoned. Entrants for the Australian film awards are now required to obtain a commercial release of their films before the time of the awards.
Not only is this regulation a last-minute calculation to limit the entries to what is deemed by distributors to be commercially viable, but if The Devil's Playground had been entered under the current conditions, it would have been rejected as ineligible to compete.
Commercial viability is quite properly a consideration for those playing the money game, but for an institution supposedly committed to the promotion ofthe Australian cinema such concern is nothing short of a scandal.
We recently completed a feature Inside Looking Out. Much effort was made to have the film ready in time for the AFI awards, only to find the AFI had seen fit to demote the issue of quality apparently in line with the demands of powers which have no place in determining the policy of the institute. Unless commercial distribution is obtained before the end of this month, Inside Looking Out will not be eligible for the awards in the feature category, but will be allowed to compete for the Jury prize! Thank you very much.
The aims of the AFI are "to provide a stimulus to Australian film productions and to call public attention to the latest achievements of the nation's film industry". The method used is most disheartening. Paul Cox (Illumination Films, Prahan).
Cox hastily arranged a screening at the Glenelg Cinema Centre, South Australia in early July 1977 for a week to qualify for the awards, but it was a wasted effort. The unhappy film-maker got only a consolation gong for his short film, and Inside Looking Out missed out altogether ...
Digital copies derived from a VHS source circulate amongst collectors, quality contingent on source. Some of these copies have time code in the top of the frame.
Surprisingly, the film is not part of the Paul Cox film collection available from artfilms, details here as of July 2013 (the package also doesn't contain Cox's first feature, Illuminations, and starts with his third film, Kostas - the collection is also relatively expensive in the home use category).
Just as surprising, Cox's first two feature films weren't listed in his personal website, unlike his later slate - not that this is a major issue, because when last checked, the website http://www.paulcox.com.au/ was no longer active.
The archive has preservation materials, details here.
Cox wrote the script several years before it went into production, co-scripting with Suzanne Holly Jones.
Ironically, Cox in one interview said that he proceeded to throw out a lot of the scripted dialogue, preferring to concentrate in the shoot on "the silences between people ... people usually trust these silences too much and suddenly it's all over." (Adelaide Advertiser, 12 July 1977 - this technique particularly irritated critic for The Age, Colin Bennett).
But then consistency wasn't Cox's forte, as in an interview in Cinema Papers July 1977 he suggested exactly the opposite:
Inside Looking Out is the first time I have used a lot of dialogue, and, as you know, the script was originally written with Susan Holly-Jones (sic, as per film's credits), who contributed a lot. Tony Llewellyn-Jones and Bernard Eddy also contributed greatly to the shooting script.
The rest has all been improvised. I find the awkwardness of Juliet's line (the babysitter at one point says "We all have our private madnesses") quite good: it fits her character, it fits the situation. She is with the man she is sexually attracted to; she is prying on his unhappy marriage and gets a lot of kicks out of it. But as she really doesn't know how to handle that in an adult sort of fashion, there is a awkwardness about her delivery. I don't mind that at all.
I know it is a long-standing criticism of my films. But you can't really talk about dialogue in all the other films, because it is hardly there. I have always avoided it. I have a great respect for the silent films which told very clear stories without ever resorting to dialogue...
While talking at times, I say something absurd, just to break through the codes It breaks down the whole nonsense game and gives us a chance to relax and touch.
Images are the most unshakeable arguments. In fact there are no arguments about them. I often become so frustrated about words, and how to use them that I have, at times, overstated things on purpose.
Cox's co-writer, Suzanne Holly Jones, was born 20th September 1944, and came to early attention by writing her first novel Harry's Child, at the age of 19 (published in 1964), and then publishing her second in 1974, Crying in the Garden. She then only published a couple of short stores, and died 19 March 2009. Jones went through a career change in the 1970s, attending Toorak State College and becoming a distinguished figure in maths and science education. In the film, she is credited as "Susan Holly Jones".
Austlit provides these details for the period up to her working with Cox:
Suzanne Holly Jones was educated at Huntingtower School, Mount Waverley, Victoria, and began a degree at the University of Melbourne. She worked with physically handicapped children in Melbourne and 'studied as an apprentice playwright' (Under Twenty-Five (1966): 194) before marrying and living for a time in England. She wrote her first novel, Harry's Child, when she was 19. Jones also also wrote screenplays and with Monique Schwartz she made a videorecording, Pauses (1980) on the lives of three Australian working women...
...The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature comments that her novels are 'distinguished by a striking, impressionistic style...[and] explore elusive elements in human relationships'. Further details on Jones at Aust Lit here.
This was director Paul Cox's first film in 35mm. He had begun his working life as a photographer, and helped launch the photographic department at the Prahan College of Advanced Education, where he became more interested in moving pictures and began lecturing in film.
The production was finished over over a lengthy period - it took six months to complete the shooting and post-production.
Actress Briony Behets, bored with television work, offered her services at a reduced rate, and Cox's "stock company" of friends and crew also lined up to help - actor Tony Llewellyn-Jones, as well as playing the co-lead, invested in the film.
Cox devised new ways of working with his actors - new to him at least, including improvisation, as he explained in his July 1977 Cinema Papers interview:
... giving freedom to actors has brought a lot of fresh ideas and a new way of looking at things. When you learn a new language, it takes a long time to learn the right words, and explain exactly what you are on about. And finally when you have learned to speak, you realize that a whisper is more powerful. So you become more pronounced in your whispering, and if you can find the right actors to quietly "live" in front of the camera you should be able to make silence speak ...
Jean Campbell, who featured in Cox's documentary We Are All Alone My Dear, about her life in an old people's home where she was unable to share her interest in the arts with others, appears briefly in a cameo in the film, as a neighbour.
The film didn't perform well, even in arthouse venues, perhaps because it was considered too bleak and depressing.
Ironically, Cox himself felt the same way about the material, and the characters he'd filmed:
To me they are very weak, portraying something that's a terrible disease in society. It's their own weakness and they haven't got the ability to look at themselves. Their jobs become an escape, their daughter becomes an escape - everybody escapes from one another, including themselves. (Adelaide Advertiser interview)
In his early days, Cox was inclined to moralism, given a philosophical dressing. He suggested in his interview with the Adelaide Advertiser:
Everybody should investigate his own life all the time, every day. We should check where we're going ... what we've been up to ...
He was also inclined to sound alienated:
Basically if you make a film about the human condition, even talk about it, what you feel and what you're all about (and not about the weather) - you're already an outcast. You've had it. People don't really want to know about themselves, about their own potential.
Cox expanded on these notions in his July 1977 Cinema Papers' interview:
Everyone looking at the film must somehow be looking at him or herself. That is the idea. Look at yourselves, investigate your lives, your motivations. The purpose of our lives lies in very small things, but if we can't find the time or the answers, we must be careful not to ruin other people's lives. People do this constantly.
Cox proposed that there was hope for the two main characters:
Yes, if they learn to investigate their existence and situation properly and not use any little thing as an excuse. Elizabeth uses her daughter as an excuse; Robert, his work; and both use the comfort of their friends as an escape, and their little daughter communicates better with her pet rabbit than with her parents.
We look for something warm, a little corner to sneak away into. We all need shelter and warmth, but it mustn't become an escape. One must be aware of the process that one is going through ..
Fortunately Cox left behind the brooding about relationships that featured in his first two films - Illuminations in 1976 started him on this "personal cinema" path, and Inside Looking Out is in the same style, but his 1979 film Kostas, took on a more social realist air while looking at a Greek man and an Australian woman in what Cox anticipated would be a kind of variant on Lady Chatterley's Lover down under.
Fortunately it also attracted a little more attention at the box office, which helped justify Cox's attitude to money in his Cinema Papers interview:
... why is it that we always come back to the money question? You know, when Von Sternberg was here, someone asked him, "How do you start in film?" His answer was simple and to the point: "Just get yourself a camera."
As I said before, if you believe in something strongly enough it will happen.
Cox went on to compile a remarkable list of independent, arthouse inclined feature films, but significantly his first two films aren't available commercially, while the rest are. Perhaps it's a sign that he considers them juvenilia.
Cox did the music with Norman Kaye, a long time member of his stock company, as performer and composer. In an interview in Cinema Papers July 1977 Cox said this about his approach to the film's sound:
Sound is important too. It is vital to have an idea of sound before you start making a film. Why start to compose sound after you have done the film? Why not compose the soundtrack first? I was very conscious of the sound for Inside Looking Out., though not the particular notes. I knew exactly how it should be, and because of my relationship with Norman Kaye, and the way in which we tend to feel the same things through music, he was able to create what I wanted. He is a very musical man, though much underrated. We managed to coperate well.
So the sound becomes part of the whole structure of the film and it integrates. It has a thematic and emotive function. It helps to make people move with whatever you feel.