December 27, 2019  (Web Review)

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith

Kino, 2 discs, 117 min., not rated, DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray: $34.95

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

Filmmaker Fred Schepisi’s landmark film of the New Australian Cinema—a flowering that launched the careers of such directors as Peter Weir, Gillian Armstrong, Bruce Beresford, and George Miller—The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1979) is a tough, powerful drama that tackles the legacy of racism. Adapted from the titular 1972 novel by Thomas Keneally, which was inspired by the real-life story of Jimmy Governer, the film centers on Jimmie (Tommy Lewis), a young half-caste man raised by a priest (Jack Thompson) and his wife to reject his “primitive” aboriginal identity and embrace white culture. Jimmie faces hostility and bigotry when he goes out into the “civilized” world to work and start a family with a Caucasian wife (Angela Punch). And he ultimately snaps, slaughtering the family of a farmer who refuses to pay his wages. “I’ve declared war,” he announces, and embarks on a murderous rampage with his aboriginal brother (Freddy Reynolds) while a posse tracks them through the Outback. There is nothing heroic in Jimmie’s actions: driven by a rage born of injustice and abuse, the likeable, idealistic young man becomes cruel and vengeful, killing women and children as well as the men who wronged him. Schepisi puts the violence up front, which gives the film both a complexity and a grueling toughness, but he also adds moments of haunting beauty in the primeval Outback. Featuring both the 117-minute international cut and the 122-minute Australian version on separate discs, extras include audio commentary by Schepisi on the Australian edition, a short introduction by Schepisi, interviews with Schepisi, Lewis, and cinematographer Ian Baker, and a booklet with an essay by critic Peter Tonguette. Highly recommended. (S. Axmaker)