The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith

Friday, 13 September 2019 13:47

“Jimmie Blacksmith” is a movie that puts Australia’s struggle with institutionalised racism and colonialism at the turn of the 20th Century under a microscope. Jimmie (newcomer Tommy Lewis – “The Proposition”) is the son of a white father and Aborigine mother, fostered by missionary parents who educate him and send him out into the world, hoping their charge can break free of the perceived backwardness of the indigenous people

Jimmie is highly motivated and refuses to let a few rejections break his will to succeed. He gets a series of menial jobs but is persistently exploited and mistreated by his white bosses. Marriage to a white girlfriend only serves to stir tensions up further, and when some of his Aborigine family come visiting, events take a bloody, tragic turn. The story is based on real-life events which were fictionalised by author Thomas Keneally.

The tale has an portentous sense of inevitability about it from the very beginning, with mounted white policemen patrolling through a frightened, impoverished indigenous encampment. Despite his decent literacy and hard-working, diligent nature, Jimmie is unable to convince his bosses that the colour of his skin should not factor in their perception and treatment of him. He cannot escape the orbit of his mother’s side of the family.

This was the most expensive Australian film ever made in 1978, in many ways resembling an epic American Western in its scope and expansive vistas. Director Fred Schepisi put a lot of his own money on the line to get it made, a truly risky move given its challenging subject matter. The movie made a loss and his investment went the same way, but the result was admired by critics, not least resulting in three Australian Film Institute awards.

I often find it hard to come to a conclusion about films like this that feature an anti-hero at their hearts. I was very impressed with Lewis’ performance and felt his pain and frustration, whilst being horrified by his ultimate acts of retribution. The direction is aided by some terrific landscapes that sell themselves; towards the end, Jimmie is depicted as a small figure lost in an expanse, a metaphor for his increasingly lonely predicament as his pursuers close in on him.

Special features include:

  • Limited edition O-card (first 2000 copies only) - featuring newly commissioned artwork by Nathanael Marsh
  • “The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith” Australian Version [122 mins] presented in 1080p on Blu-ray (with a progressive encode on the DVD), from a restoration completed by Umbrella Entertainment
  • “The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith” International Version [117 mins] from a brand new restoration completed in 2019 from the original film elements (Blu-ray only)
  • Uncompressed monaural soundtrack (on Blu-ray)
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Brand new and exclusive audio commentary by film critic and writer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (Australian Version)
  • Audio commentary by director Fred Schepisi (Australian version)
  • Interview with Fred Schepisi [39 mins]
  • Celluloid Gypsies: Making The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith [36 mins]
  • A conversation with director Fred Schepisi and cinematographer Ian Baker [64 mins]
  • The Chant of Tom Lewis - interview with Tom E. Lewis [26 mins]
  • Q&A session with Fred Schepisi and Geoffrey Rush, from the 2008 Melbourne International Film Festival [34 mins]
  • Making us Blacksmiths - documentary on the casting of Aboriginal lead actors Tom E Lewis and Freddy Reynolds
  • Stills Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve
  • Collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Travis Crawford, a reprint of Pauline Kael's original review of the film, and rare archival imagery 

Some of the bonus content is a little on the dry side but Geoffrey Rush’s Q&A session with the director is more engaging, as is the ‘Making us Blacksmiths’ featurette, especially regarding the fluke casting of the two leads (neither of whom were actors!) thanks to a delayed flight.

“The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith” (1978) is out now on Dual Format Blu-ray and DVD (2 discs), courtesy of Eureka Entertainment Ltd. The main feature has a running time of 202 minutes approx, carries a ‘12’ certificate and retails for £22.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com.

Last modified on Friday, 13 September 2019 13:53

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