Bilcock: Dancing the Invisible

BILCOCK: DANCING THE INVISIBLE,  Australia, 2017. Directed by Alex Grigor. 78 minutes. Rated M (Occasional coarse language)

A film buff’s delight. And a delight for all those interested in Australian filmmaking.

Jill Bilcock has an international reputation as being one of the world’s top editors. This film fills in the background of her life and career (she is almost 70 at the time of the film’s release). While it does not show all the films that she has edited (and the IMDb has quite a significant listing), it does focus with some detail on 15 of these films.

And the film gives some family background. It shows Jill studying the arts at Swinburne University in the 1960s, deciding on a career in editing, moving to the Melbourne company The Film House, under the leadership of Fred Schepisi. While practically no movies were being made in Australia at this time, there was lively activity in the industry, the making of commercials, with the government stipulation that all commercials for Australian television should be made in Australia. This gave many filmmakers the opportunity to develop their craft and be ready for the coming film renaissance.

Jill Bilcock also had quite some experience in spending time travelling, especially in India, even taking some small supporting roles in Bollywood melodramas.

It was in 1985 that Jill Bilcock launched her high-profile career, with the backing of director, Richard Lowenstein, collaborating with him and editing his docudrama, Strikebound in 1984. She further worked with him in his offbeat look at contemporary Melbourne society, Dogs in Space.

One of the values of this film is that it is very instructive for the average audience in just how significant editing is, quoting Francis Ford Coppola and others highlighting that cinema is editing and how important it is to connect with the audience. Jill Bilcock herself has done master classes and, throughout the film, there are explanations of the techniques of editing, the philosophy of editing, as Baz Luhrmann remarks, the technology, the personal inspirations, the judgements made, the sense of pacing, timing, the reworking of various sequences (15 attempts for the opening of Moulin Rouge), with comments from collaborating editors, especially her partner, Roger Savage.

In the early part of the film we see Jill Bilcock at work on Jocelyn Moorhouse’s The Dressmaker, looking especially at some of Judy Davis’s performance. There is also a great deal of attention given to Evil Angels as well as to Strictly Ballroom (even a mini masterclass on editing of the dancing, Jill Bilcock herself photographing legs, feet, movement that could be incorporated to give background to the continuing narrative). She worked again then with Baz Luhrmann for William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, the team working intensely together, finding creative ways of bringing Shakespeare into the 20th century.

It is interesting to note that Jill Bilcock has worked on more than one film for several directors, Bz Luhrmann, Jocelyn Moorhouse, Kriv Stenders (including some scenes from Red Dog and editing in the dog’s passive presence to create an active character). Phillip Noyce also has some comments on the editing of his South African story, Catch a Fire. As well, Jill Bilcock had an international experience on Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition, including sequences with Paul Newman and Tom Hanks.

Jill Bilcock is lively character as well as an expert. It is a pleasure being introduced to her. It is instructive to listen to her and the detail of her work and the reasons for her choices. And it is very enjoyable to watch the clips from various films which illustrate her career.

Film Art Media                                                                Released July 5th

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.