JILL BILCOCK: DANCING THE INVISIBLE
Director: Alex Grigor
Screenwriter: Alex Grigor
Runtime: 78 mins.
Australian release date: 19 July 2018.
According to Francis Ford Coppola, “Editing is the essence of cinema,” and this is evident from the prolific work of the esteemed Australian film editor Jill Bilcock, who maintains that it is imperative to establish a ‘style’ in the cut of a film; a decision must be made from hundreds of options by strongly connecting with the emotion attached to the subject of a film. In Alex Grigor’s documentary, Jill Bilcock: Dancing The Invisible, we are taken on a fascinating journey that reveals the method behind the editor’s intricate work, which can make or break a director’s vision.
At the tender age of 15, Bilcock was one of the first students to enter the freshly created film course at Swinburne University of Technology in the early 1960s, and from there she went to work at Fred Schepisi’s commercial production firm, The Film House. Commercials filled a gap for budding filmmakers as there was no film industry in Australia at the time, and Schepisi’s company was a defacto training school for many – it was ‘a creative hot-house’. While there she was given the opportunity to try her hand at various facets of production and she found she had a feel for editing. Eager to travel and explore the world, Bilcock was offered a job in London but landed in Bombay en-route and, for the next year, ended up working as an extra in Bollywood films playing, in her own words, “a slut” – which gives credence to Fred Schepisi’s claim that Bilcock was an independent spirit and broadminded in her attitude to life. Needless to say, by the time she arrived in England the job was no longer available.
Over the following years Bilcock worked with a great many directors, among them Richard Lowenstein, the aforementioned Schepisi, Shekhar Kapur, Sue Brooks, Jocelyn Moorehouse, Ana Kokkinos, Phil Noyce, Rob Sitch, Kriv Stenders and, of course, Baz Luhrmann. She has edited some of the most memorable films in the Australian film industry, like Moulin Rouge, The Dressmaker, Muriel’s Wedding, Head On, Dogs In Space and A Cry In The Dark (aka Evil Angels), to name a few. Bilcock always knows what her directors are striving for and is known for her patience (a necessary skill for a good editor) and constantly challenging and improving her work on the rhythm of the film, putting scenes together that often surprise her directors. Examples of this talent that we see in the doco are in the creation of an extended clapping passage that drove an important dance scene in Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom and also her imaginative work on the opening of Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, which is acknowledged as ground-breaking.
All the interviewees, including the above-named directors and actors Cate Blanchett and Rachel Griffiths, speak with the highest regard for this talented, free-spirited woman. For anyone interested in embarking on an editing career, Jill Bilcock: Dancing The Invisible is a ‘must-see’ documentary. It is also highly informative for lovers of cinema because we are taken into the editing suite and shown just how integral the ‘cut’ is to the success of a film. It makes you realise that this is a skill that requires not only adroitness but also a passion for observation; you have to be a bit like a detective who takes all the clues on board and then works on a process of elimination to get the best results. Grigor’s excellent documentary leaves you in no doubt that this is a woman you want on your team; as Bilcock herself advises, “If you don’t go there 200%, you’re not going to make it”.