The Witch of Kings Cross
…a unique story that looks and feels rough but ultimately reveals a fascinating gem of Australian post-war history that was previously consigned to the dustbin of history.
Socialite artist Rosaleen Norton shattered 1950s Australian conversative customs with her scandalous paintings that combined explicit nudity with the occult.
Her story has been unveiled by director Sonia Bible through a painstaking seven-year process. Bible self-financed the majority of the film, uncovering rarely seen artwork banned at the time for its subversive content.
Although Norton’s paintings caused consternation within Australia, her undeniable artistic talent was shamefully ignored. The documentary explores the philosophical themes present in her work, such as Carl Jung, as well as worshipping the Pagan God Pan. The tragedy, however, concerns how all cultural institutions refused to showcase any of her work, largely on account of her orgiastic parties and rambunctious lifestyle that drew the ire of newspapers and the wider community.
Given the paucity of resources and information available on the artist, director Sonia Bible films recreated footage in rich black and white that manifests the vivid imagination of Norton. It is also accompanied by choregraphed dance sequences in slow motion, whereby the actors give compelling physical performances that offer insight into Norton’s enigmatic mind.
Understandably, the limited primary knowledge available gives little alternative but to utilise these recreated scenes. Though, at times, it feels like the documentary leans too heavily on filmic flourishes, that it loses a sense of focus. It is also clear that these narrative scenes are filmed in modern-day Australia, with a black and white filter added over the top, which does not always capture the essence of a stultifying 1950s Australia.
At the same time, Norton’s unwavering conviction to follow her creative passions, often at the expense of others, invokes a femme fatale quality about her. A line-up of close acquaintances and art historians supplement the sense of danger Norton elicited in Sydney at the time, describing in detail her fetishes and interests, as well as the broader reactions to her public persona.
The Witch of Kings Cross is a unique story that looks and feels rough but ultimately reveals a fascinating gem of Australian post-war history that was previously consigned to the dustbin of history.