• Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith, The



    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released on: March, 2018.
    Director: Fred Schepisi
    Cast: Tommy Lewis, Freddy Reynolds, Ray Barrett, Jack Thompson, Angela Punch McGregor, Steve Dodds, Peter Carroll
    Year: 1978
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    The Movie:

    Writer/director Fred Schepisi’s adaptation of Thomas Keneally’s novel (which was based on the true story of a bushranger named Jimmy Governor) introduces us to the titular Jimmie Blacksmith (Tommy Lewis) a young Aboriginal man of mixed heritage living in New South Wales in the early days of the twentieth century. Jimmie is very much a member of his tribe, but so too was he educated by a white man in the form of a remarkably stricter Methodist minister named Reverend Neville (Jack Thompson). Jimmie, without a whole lot of options, takes a job as a manual laborer making fences but continually finds himself the victim of abusive racism, his wages often stolen from him by his own employers.

    In hopes of fitting in with white society, much to the dismay of his uncle Tabidgi (Steve Dodds), he takes a white woman named Gilda (Angela Punch McGregor) as his bride. Things are going well at first, Jimmie even gets a better job working for Jack Newby (Don Crosby) who allows him to build a place of his own on his land. However, this marriage soon becomes tumultuous when he learns that the white baby in his wife just gave birth to is not his own. Newby takes it upon himself to cut off their access to the outside world, and they quickly run out of food and supplies. Pushed to his breaking point, Jimmie snaps and murders Jacks’ wife (Ruch Cracknell) before teaming up with his brother Mort (Freddy Reynolds) and setting out to get revenge against the many people who have wronged them over the years.

    Strong stuff, and very well made. The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith hardly set the box office on fire when it hit theaters in the late seventies, likely due to its depictions of ugly racism and its effects (hardly ‘feel good movie of the year’ material) but it was awarded, and rightly so, a fair bit of critical acclaim and not just because it showed in unflinching detail the injustices put upon Australia’s Aboriginal population. That acclaim was for good reason, the picture is tense and dramatic without overdoing it and it deals with its racial issues quite tactfully and seemingly with quite a bit of realism. All of what happens in the movie, the way it is portrayed – it feels like it could happen. This is never overdone or too melodramatic, but quite balanced. Once Jimmie decides to get back at pretty much everyone the movie could have easily veered into exploitation territory but Schepisi is careful not to let that happen (thought the film does get quite violent in its last third).

    Performances are strong across the board, but it’s Tommy Lewis who really shines here. He’s popped up in some interesting stuff over the years, including The Proposition and The Naked Country along with plenty of TV work, but The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith was his debut and he really does a great job in t he lead role. He’s charismatic without losing the naturalness that makes him suit the part as well as he does and he shows great range. Freddy Reynolds is really good here too but it’s mostly Lewis’ show and he delivers the most memorable performance in the picture.

    Production values are strong. There’s a good score and the cinematography from Ian Baker does a fantastic job of really making the most of the widescreen to capture the beauty and desolation of the authentic locations chosen for the production. This is not a happy film, not in the least, but it’s absolutely worth seeing.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith arrives on (region free) Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment on a 50GB disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 2.35.1 widescreen. Close up shots benefit from the high definition transfer the most, showing good detail and texture. Many of the wide-angle shots look hazy and soft, and grain can sometimes look unusually thick at times. The image is pretty clean, there’s very little print damage to note, but minor compression artifacts can be spotted in a few spots and sometimes the picture quality is a bit muddy.

    The English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track is decent enough. Optional subtitles are provided in English. There are no problems here, dialogue comes through quite clearly and the levels are properly balanced. The track is almost entirely free of hiss or distortion and the score has good depth to it for an older mono mix.

    Extras start off with a quick, twenty-five-second intro from writer/director Fred Schepisi and then a commentary as well. The talk is quite illuminating, with Schepisi discussing not only the standard stuff like locations and cinematography but also what he tried to do differently with this film and the politics behind its timing and how it was made. Schepisi discusses the source material and events that inspired the book and subsequently his film. He also talks up the contributions of the different cast and crew members, the film’s impressive scope photography, the use of music in the film and much more.

    Up next is a sixty-four-minute piece called A Conversation With Director Fred Schepisi & Cinematographer Ian Baker that is exactly what it sounds like – a lengthy and detailed chat with the two men looking back (they were shot separately) on the work that they did together on the picture. It’s a pretty in-depth piece that covers their respective careers, influences and styles as well as their work together on this particular film.

    Also found on the disc is six-minutes of footage shot at the June 1978 Melbourne Premiere from Willesee at Seven. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from premiere footage, but an interesting archival piece nevertheless – and hey, check out Paul Hogan showing up. Celluloid Gypsies: The Making OF Jimmie Blacksmith is over half an hour’s worth of interviews with cast and crew members such as Schepisi and Baker, actor Tommy Lewis and editor Brian Kavanagh. Lewis in particular is a lot of fun to watch here and a great storyteller. Lots of interesting input here about how the movie was originally received when it first hit theaters as well as stories of how everyone got along on set during the shoot. Lewis also shows up in a separate solo interview running just over twenty-five minutes. Here he talks about growing up as someone of mixed race in an Aboriginal community, dealing with racism, influences that had an affect on him growing up, working on the feature and his friendship with Schepisi. Great stuff. The disc also holds a thirty-four-minute Q& A session from the Melbourne International Film Festival in which Scepisi and actor Geoffrey Rush discuss the picture and field various questions from attendees, discussing budgetary limitations, the film’s depictions of violence and the reasons for it, locations and more. A 1978 archival documentary called Making Us Blacksmiths spends ten minutes with Aboriginal lead actors Tommy Lewis and Freddy Reynolds who get a chance to express their thoughts on the production and their respective characters.

    Rounding out the extras is a still gallery, a theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith takes a no holds barred look at the racial issues that were plaguing Australian society in early 1900’s and manages, within the political confines of that world, tell an engaging and impactful story. It’s both beautifully shot and frequently quite gritty, boasting good production values and a very strong performance from Lewis. Umbrella’s Blu-ray release presents the film in an imperfect presentation but it’s pretty much loaded with extras. This is a film that really should be better known than it is – recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!