Film reviews

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith – Blu-ray Review

Probably most notable, to UK audiences anyway, for being one of many films on the notorious ‘Video Nasties‘ list, this is unfortunate as 1978’s The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is a powerful and compelling look at a difficult but important time in Australian history in the early 20th century, where institutionalised racism was the norm in a lawless land. In Jimmie Blacksmith we see a young man, an underdog, rising up against prejudice in a film that looks at power, privilege, revenge and the repercussions of violence on both those that give it but ultimately those that take it until they cannot take it anymore.

Based on the journey of a half-white, half-aboriginal young man named Jimmy Governer, here named Jimmie Blacksmith, the film follows the title character (played admirably by Tom E. Lewis, credited in the film as Tommy Lewis) as he tries to make his way as a farmhand in Australia in 1900. Working hard and doing good work, Jimmie still faces prejudice and deception, and is generally looked down upon wherever he goes. Part of the so-called ‘Stolen Generation’ – young aboriginal children that were taken from their tribes at an early age to work for white families in the hope that they would ‘integrate’ into society, effectively taking their aboriginality away from them – of course this would lead to much confusion and crisis of identity, as despite these attempts to “normalise” Jimmie, he is almost constantly reminded of his blackness and his lower status while working hard on the farms.

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He even marries a white girl and it seems he is on his way to becoming what is deemed to be a normal member of society. But when his new wife gives birth and it is questioned whether Jimmie is the father, Jimmie’s anger gets the better of him. and after further mistreatment he gets brutal revenge on his employers. This may be seen as treachery; violence against the people that took him in. But for Jimmie this is the start of a war, an uprising for those that have suffered against their oppressors. But when Jimmie commits another shocking act of violence that disturbs his loyal brother, Mort (Freddy Reynolds), Jimmie’s uprising soon becomes a downward spiral.

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is certainly an interesting and important film that raises many interesting points of discussion. Not least the belief for some years that Australia was a country built on unity, and not civil war, unrest and bloodshed. As we see in emotionally brutal scenes such as Mort being hunted down and proudly displayed like a wild animal, this film proves that not to be the case and there are issues raised in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith that are still prevalent in todays modern western society in terms of racism, greed, power, prejudice and rising up against it.

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Directed by Fred Schepsi (Six Degrees of Separation, Roxanne, Fierce Creatures, The Russia House) and based on a Booker Prize nominated novel by Thomas Keneally (Schindler’s Ark, the book that Steven Spielberg epic Schindler’s List is based on), what’s surprising about The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is that it isn’t talked about more. Of course, it addresses important themes throughout but it’s also a well made film for its time. The heart of the story and plight of the main character draws you in almost immediately, and Jimmie’s journey is a thought-provoking and compelling if frustrating one due to his treatment from those around him. His actions are gut-wrenching and brutal, and justified or not, well worthy of discussion and debate.  So it’s fortunate for film fans everywhere that Eureka have restored the film and packed it with extras for this release, part of their The Masters of Cinema series.

Extras for The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith include a limited edition O-Card (first 2000 copies only), audio commentaries,  interviews with Fred Schepsi and Tom E. Lewis, a making of documentary, a documentary on the casting of the film, a collectors booklet featuring new writing on the film, and archival imagery plus the film’s original review. This among other extras make this edition of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith an essential purchase for fans of the film and a worthwhile one for film fans everywhere. Also – look out for Ray Meagher, Alf from Australian soap opera Home and Away in a small role!

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is available on Blu-ray as part of Eureka Entertainment’s Masters of Cinema series.

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