In 2011 a film about Captain Moonlite and James Nesbitt was slated for release. It took inspiration from the film Sin City – a gritty noir anthology filmed entirely on green screens to emulate the look and feel of the graphic novels that it was based on – and featured Barry Crocker and Tasma Walton. But somewhere along the line the film just disappeared like a summer cloud. So why has Moonlite never seen the light of day?
Moonlite was surprisingly not the first film depiction of Captain Moonlite. In 1910 John Gavin directed and starred in a silent film also called Moonlite. The film was produced by Herbert Forsyth and based on a play by William Joseph Lincoln, who himself was a prolific writer and director of films. As with most early films it no longer exists, the typical practice of the time being to exhibit the film for a limited time the same way a play would be, then to destroy the film. Celluloid burns tremendously well and it was not uncommon to see furnaces on steam ships blazing away full of reels of cinematographic entertainment. What little we can piece together about the film indicated that it would have been essentially a series of tableaux portraying a fictionalised interpretation of the historical Captain Moonlite with added Aboriginal companion and a female love interest, whose brother’s money troubles set this version of Moonlite on his path of criminality. The film was well received and did very well indeed at the box office. Only one image from the production is known to exist.
It perhaps speaks volumes that it took a century for another Captain Moonlite film to raise steam. Of all the most well-known bushrangers, Moonlite has always been an outlier. Mainly known for his dramatic nom de plume, very few people know the story of Andrew George Scott. In recent years, however, with the increasing prominence of the pro-LGBTI+ movement, Moonlite’s story has gained new interest. The notion of a gay bushranger is one that certainly resonates with parts of the community and creates a bold new perspective for examining the story. This is where the twenty-first century Moonlite enters the scene.
As with nearly all Australian films, a good place to start is with Screen Australia. This government body who is tasked with getting Australian films, television series and web series off the ground tends to have useful information on their site pertaining to productions that they have had a hand in. On Screen Australia’s website it claims the film is completed and describes it thus:
The rollicking adventure tale of charismatic bushranger Andrew George Scott, alias, Captain Moonlite, and his close companion, James Nesbitt. Fated to meet in prison, the pair become lifelong friends and embark on an adventure through the Australian bush. A police constable pursues them, a young newspaper journalist commentates on their journey in print and a mysterious lady in black watches from afar as the story reaches a shocking conclusion.
It seems very odd indeed that a film could be listed as officially completed, yet never released. In searching for any clue as to a speculative release date via that vast directory of internet domains, Google, one comes across the film on the credits of many of those involved in the project. Martin Kay, sound recordist on the film, lists it as “yet to be released” with 2010 listed beside it. In fact it is the only film in the list that hasn’t been released. One could suppose that it merely hadn’t been updated, however there are films and awards on the same page as recent as 2018. Continuing on, actor Richard Stables lists the film on his website. Stables was cast in the lead role as Captain Moonlite and his website simply states:
‘Moonlite’ – Captain Moonlite (lead role) Rohan Spong and JGD Productions Hits cinemas nationwide in 2012
2012, it would seem, was the most recent estimated year of release, indicating it had been pushed back from it’s initial slated release dates in 2010, then 2011. This is not unusual in the film world where attempting to get projects off the ground is more akin to the birdman rally than an airstrip.
The Stale Popcorn blog mentioned Moonlite in its list of Australian films for 2011, even going so far as to include links to the official website, IMDb, Facebook and Twitter, which no longer exist. So with all of these scraps of information dotted around the internet, the story becomes even more muddled and mysterious, but there was one avenue yet that could yield the answers.
In September 2019 I reached out to Rohan Spong himself via Facebook. It was a long shot as there was no guarantee he would see the message, let alone reply. I asked him if he was able to supply any information about the project. To my surprise and delight he responded the following day with exactly the information I was looking for. He explained:
The script was adapted from a play by Simon Matthews. Some scenes were shot, but the film was never completed. It was an ambitious project that would have required a lot of budget for post – we were angling for a “Graphic Novel” kind of look which was in vogue at the time. Proof of concept videos never generated the right level of market interest. The actors were all marvellous. I’ve since moved on to a strictly documentary practice.
So there you have it, right from the horse’s mouth. Moonlite suffered the fate of so many bushranger film projects of recent years despite promising to be something very fresh and unique. As we approach the 140th anniversary of the Wantabadgery siege, it is worth taking some time to consider what could have been.
A very special thank you to Rohan Spong for kindly responding to the query about this film.