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  • Sturgeon5417 June 2005
    This is a fine example of the breed of excellent Australian films released in the 1970s during the Australian film renaissance (it's interesting to note that virtually all of the directors of these films, including director Fred Schepisi, later moved to the U.S. to make big budget Hollywood films). This tale of a young aboriginal man who eventually turns to violence following one humiliation after another by white settlers in 19th century Australia asks some very uncomfortable questions of the audience such as: Is it morally justified to use violence against a corrupt, racist, violent system in which there are no lawful means to receive justice? Additionally, it is up to interpretation whether the violent reactions of the title character are justified: we are clearly sympathetic to him in the beginning, but once he perpetuates incredible brutality on the settlers, can we remain sympathetic? He is definitely not a monster, but a well-mannered and educated Aboriginal brought up by missionaries. After all, his actions are not simply heat-of-the-moment reactions; he has formally "declared war" on the perpetuators of injustice. Does that legitimize what he is doing? The U.S. has been asking itself these exact same questions for the past 50 years: Jimmy is very much a close Australian cousin to Bigger Thomas, the main character in Richard Wright's classic American novel "Native Son" - a black man pushed to violence by virtually every aspect of white society.

    However, like Wright, I admired director Schepisi's decision to carefully straddle the line between whether Jimmy can be viewed as a simple societal construct or whether he is a man in control of his own actions. One could easily make a case for either of these scenarios or probably both of them. That makes the movie even more uncomfortable when one thinks about it afterward.

    In many ways, this is a very depressing movie; in the end there is no closure, no justice, and nobody has learned a damned thing, except possibly the audience, if they truly think about what they have just seen. I really respect filmmakers who tackle incredibly difficult subject matter such as this, with moral quagmires and complex characters. My only complaint is that it is very difficult to understand much of the Aussie English, so an American viewer must listen very closely. This is a film definitely deserving of a U.S. audience. Too bad that its controversial (i.e. thought-provoking) nature has probably prevented it from being released on VHS or DVD in the U.S. I understand copies of this are quite rare abroad, as well, so I suggest viewing it if given the opportunity.
  • Fred Schepisi's 1978 film may well be just that but it's not included in my Australian Cinema 12 disc boxed set and I've never known it to be on TV, here. I became aware of it through my old film 'bible' Halliwells and they rated it very highly, awarding a rare maximum score, citing it as 'one of the greatest achievements in Australian cinema'.

    It's taken me a good number of years to finally find a copy that was on region of DVD I could play and wasn't a silly price.

    The first thing you notice is the sheer authenticity. Language is as brutal as any and is more akin to a Victorian Scorsese than starched collars and stiff upper lips. The language used to describe the aboriginal natives is as coarse and racist as you'll find in any gritty 70's set LA cop show and for that it is both upsetting and rather embarrassing, but at least goes to show the leaps and bounds humankind has largely made on this issue, since.

    Jimmie Blacksmith is a half-cast, a subject that has been visited in a few memorable films, particularly 'Rabbit Proof Fence' and as 'these' were often the result of rape against white women, were seen as worse than the lowest. Jimmie (superbly played by Tommy Lewis) does have an advantage, he's overseen by the local white vicar and is known as a hard and honest worker.

    He soon goes on to work for white farmers, along with his fully aboriginal brother, erecting fences. Miles of them. He does too good a job and they don't want to pay, so he moves on. His relationship with a white girl, then marriage results in a child, that by colour alone, cannot be his. Then, around half-way in, all this pent-up anger boiling up inside the civilised and decent Jimmie erupts. This is when the violence (extreme in its day, now, maybe sadly, average) erupts as he goes on a vengeful killing spree.

    I need not go further than this, except that obviously, he is then a wanted criminal and a fugitive on the run.

    There's a real sense of the epic, with cinematic hints and nods to Nicolas Roeg's 'Walkabout', with the natural geography, fauna and the culture all vividly brought to life, superbly filmed by Ian Baker .

    Thankfully - hopefully, this can now be seen as a historical drama, the like of which can never happen again. It is as hard-hitting and making as powerful a statement on in-bred racism there is and is without doubt a five star classic.
  • Thomas Keneally's THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH novel works on so many levels - a period piece, as a biting satire and as a wonderfully composed drama. This film of the same name attempts to capture the poignancy and strength of the original classic novel. It achieves this wonderfully. The film is excellently acted and the violence is both well shot and vibrantly enacted. The score is great too. Also the Australian landscape - not to mention its social underbelly, was never shot with as much insight.

    An excellent starting point to understand such great Aussie films like the tracker and rabbit proof fence.

  • ptb-829 March 2005
    This film from 1978 as directed by Fred Schipisi of SIX DEGREES fame and of Thomas Keneally's book - he wrote SCHINDLER'S LIST - is a grim and disturbing depiction set during colonial 19th century Australia of a young Aboriginal man's descent into frustrated violence against his white English landowner masters. It becomes a really brutal film with explicit axe murders, especially against young girls and older women, and it is this visually distressing depiction that ultimately alienated the cinema audience. Jimmy's humiliation and cruel treatment is equally explicit and it is a relentless string of unhappy experiences by his inhumane 'boss' that ultimately causes him to crack - and hack. As a novel it is all in the mind of the reader but as a cinemascope color film, the 'running amok with an axe' sequences make any crowd want to run from the cinema. It was not seen on TV in Australia for almost 20 years and it is not likely to be either without most of the violence cut out, thus blunting the heavy handed message and the ultimate impact. Like poor Jimmy himself, the film version is in no man's land either. Past all that, it is a well made film and with an excellent cast; but very tough going. It fits well into a series of very sharply observed Australian films depicting the British colonial mind and its misunderstanding or cruelty towards Aboriginies: JEDDA in 1956, WALKABOUT in 1970, this film in 1978, RABBIT PROOF FENCE in 2001 and THE TRACKER in 2003. Each and every one are unique and excellent in their story. This one however, is the most violent which does derail its message. White urban Australia run amok is hilarious in a 1966 comedy THEY'RE A WEIRD MOB or demented boozy antics in THE ADVENTURES OF BARRY MCKENZIE in 1972... and alarmingly, horrifyingly realistic, soaked in beer bullets fists and dead kangaroos blood in Ted Kotcheff's superb 1971 drama OUTBACK. See the lot! It is a head-shaking but enlightening string of films, especially if seen in chronological we all did! (may explain why our film makers in the 90s made musicals)
  • Warning: Spoilers
    In Australia at the turn of the 19th century a part aboriginal man Jimmie, is torn between two different cultures. One being the traditions of his people and the other is adopting the white customs. Though, the racism he confronts from his white employers, he finds it unbearable trying to fit in and commits a massacre on a white family.

    This is an adaptation of Thomas Kelly's stimulating novel of the same title. That's actually based on real events. Director Fred Schepisi vision of the story is totally stunning in capturing the detail of the Australian landscape and the friction between two cultures, with such confronting and stirring context and some downright absorbing and strong performances.

    The look of the film is incredibly impressive. A boldly effectual music score of emotion captures the harsh bushland and gritty desert landscape beautifully. The film is tremendously well shot, with it holding such a noble aurora. The main leads were excellent and potent in their roles, especially the marvellous Tommy Lewis as Jimmie Blacksmith. As well there were some effective supporting roles from some well known Australian faces.

    The violence is brutal; it comes across as uncomfortable to view at times. Especially the scene involving Jimmie in a fist of rage hacking up some young white girls as the injured mother watches. The violence is supposed to be shocking and it comes across as truly powerful in evoking the tension of racism that is fuelled between the Europeans and Aboriginals. The racism is so vivid and it has some fairly shattering dialogue and scenes of confrontations. The drama is a very heated one, especially the further along the film goes. Though, it doesn't try to twist the side of things giving each their own good and bad traits of the two cultures. We feel sympathy for Jimmie because of his treatment, but not pity because of what he has done, but he has become.

    The tone of the story is fairly bleak, explicit and uneasy. Though, the emotional effect is never pushed onto you or forced in any way. You just become compelled in the characters and the story, which just sucks you right into the situation at hand. As we see one culture dying because of disease and alcohol and another one being forced upon those. Jimmie is caught between the two ways of life, as he was brought up in his childhood through a white European couple. He can see that his people are losing their identity, him being one. While, he has a stint in doing white customs and achieving his dreams of a job, marriage and own house, but still his treated real badly and at times humiliated by his bosses, in a society that he will never be accepted in. This causes the down ward spiral for Jimmie, as he can't take any more of it.

    Like some fellow users had typed, this is one depressing film that will stir up some emotion towards the material and characters. It's a tense and fearless look into racism.

    It comes across as one grand epic and a very good one too.
  • bandw28 September 2012
    Warning: Spoilers
    (Spoilers) Jimmy Blacksmith is a young, half-caste Australian Aborigine who has been raised into adulthood by an English minister and his wife. It is 1901 and, as presented, systemic racism is in full effect. To show concern for the Aborigines the minister is intent on "imbuing one with decent ambition." Being half white gives Jimmy an entry into the minister's world, the thinking being that the white half of him might allow him to turn out acceptably well. Jimmy goes along with the thought and tries to fit into the white world, the outcome being that he is tragically caught between two cultures.

    The minister, seeing that Jimmy has applied himself to getting an education and worked hard, sends him out into the world with a letter of reference. Jimmy takes on fence building at a couple of farms and both times he is given less compensation than agreed on and then given the boot. Then he takes a position with the local police where he obligingly executes the law, even against his own people. After witnessing a monstrous miscarriage of justice he quits that job. Finally Jimmy winds up working on a sheep ranch.

    The movie is well paced in that with each indignation Jimmy suffers we see his change in attitude from eagerly trying to join the dominate culture to resenting the abuse he suffers because of his race. With each event I also became more indignant. The fuse was set and a sequence of events at the ranch results in a spontaneous explosion of violence. Many may want to avert their eyes during that scene. It left me with conflicting emotions. Everything that happened was perfectly understandable, but hard to condone. When the bad guy finally gets his in a movie, you can usually accept it since he was the bad guy after all. Here the people who are killed are not necessarily bad people. True, they have bought into an evil doctrine, but how many people are independent thinkers enough to buck societal norms?

    After the killings Jimmy goes on the lam with his brother Mort. The second half of the film deals with tracking them down. And that is not easy, since Jimmy and Mort are skilled at moving about the countryside, being able to move fast and cover their tracks. As a late attempt to stave off the massive search effort Mort and Jimmy take a hostage, a school teacher. The teacher is the unusual person who cares even to think about the problem of racial oppression and how it can lead to violence. He comments to Jimmy and Mort, "You can't say we haven't given you anything. We've introduced you to alcohol, religion, influenza, measles, syphilis, school. A whole host of improvements."

    The acting is solid, especially considering that playing Jimmy was Tommy Lewis' first screen appearance. The cinematography is noteworthy, with the Australian countryside being used to great effect.

    Being an American, English subtitles would have helped me.

    This is based on real events in the life of one Jimmy Governor. Any fictionalized version of real events is always a bit suspect, but this movie has the feeling of authenticity. I hope that is the case, since the movie deals with topics of such gravity that it would be a sin to rewrite the history to any great extent.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    American viewers who expect an old-fashioned story about race in which the minority is treacherous and the white guys are mostly honorable -- "The Birth of a Nation" with African-Americans or "Stagecoach" for Indians -- will be disappointed. So will those looking for a more politically correct story about white arrogance and noble savages -- "Tell Them Will Boy Was Here" or "In The Heat Of the Night".

    Instead they'll get something more along the lines of William Faulkner's more mature stories, in which race place a central part and there is a history of injustice, but people are people.

    I don't think I want to get into the plot too much. Jimmy Blacksmith is a handsome, cheerful young man, half white and half Australian Aborigine, industrious and polite. When he leaves the family of the Methodist minister who raised him, he runs into racism in forms that are both petty and materially important.

    Without much adumbration, there is an explosion of violence involving axe murders and shootings of men, women, and children. We attribute it to racism or, as the Brits call it, racialism. Jimmy feels insulted beyond endurance and finds retribution in murder. But as I write this, a week ago, a twenty-two year old American, went on a killing spree that left seven dead and thirteen wounded. He looked and acted normal, but left behind a long list of complaints about having been mistreated by others and having his importunings turned down by attractive women.

    Are people like Jimmy Blacksmith and Elliott Rodgers driven to madness by their mistreatment? Or do they decide to kill and then figure out the most logical reasons for feeling the way they do? Both, probably, but to what extent does each process contribute to the act? Deep, isn't it?

    The film is a reflection of its time. In the 1960s and 70s there were a spate of movies critical of what was sometimes called "the establishment." (Poor Bonny and Clyde, just a couple of kids.) This one isn't so easy. It's ambiguous in the way that life is often ambiguous. You'll have to work at it.
  • Deals with the antihero that goes over the edge...beyond obvious comprehension. Many miss the point...."he's half white." This film explore what structural racism produces, especially in that individual that seems to have the chance of crossing lines. Instead these are the individuals that are repeatedly humiliated and demeaned by those they are seeking acceptance from. This is the point of the film. It is the potential from the "half breed" that contextualizes the journey to where is own people/ family see him as a devil. He is a man gone rabid...tormented by the world he does not fit. This film is moving on many levels and provides a glimpse into a history foreign to many. A tragedy in the deepest sense.
  • I have seen this several times and it remains the best film I've ever seen about racial oppression. White Australians are shown to be so deeply convinced of their own superiority they can only see Aborigines as half-human good for nothings. This is the story of a hal-aborigine raised by missionaries who tries and fails to be integrated into white society - even into it's fringes. Everything works here: performances, photography which captures something of 19th century Australian paintings, great music that evoked the tragedy of Jimmy's plight, and intelligent script and direction. The build up to Jimmy's explosion is perfectly sustained, and the violence unforgettable.
  • Well intentioned and well meant, I am sure, but director Fred Schepisi is perhaps a little too reverent in his interpretation of the original book to the detriment of a smooth and effectively flowing cinematic narrative. There is an awful predictability here and for a lengthy film not really enough for the viewer to get their teeth into. It is true that the violent incident that transforms the action does come as a surprise in so far as the extent of the violence is concerned but it is something that has been signalled for a while. Beautifully shot, this is an attractive looking outback and countryside that is presented but the film is preceded by Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) which is far more beautiful overall and Walkabout (1971) which is far more dramatic. Jimmie Blacksmith has some fine sequences portraying the indigenous peoples but less maybe is more and these do not seem as dynamic as those in Nick Roeg's film. it is tempting to wonder just how much Schepisi was influenced by the rock formations and aboriginal depiction in the earlier films but it seems a little unfair and if the political and racial issues are a little heavy handed is to be applauded that he tackled them at all.
  • If you're the sort of person who enjoys being depressed, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is the film for you. A short summary of the film is as follows. Young half aboriginal/half white boy is raised by a white Christian family. As he goes off to find a job, he discovers that every white person in the world is actually a racist. He tries to get over this fact by trying to lose his 'black soul', and become more like a white man. He is constantly cheated and laughed at by his white employers. Of course there is only one thing a decent person can possibly do when faced with this. He goes and chops up a couple of women and young girls with an axe. Sound fun so far? Well it gets better anyway, but I won't give away the whole plot in case you actually want to watch the movie. Of course one might say, but isn't the message important? Well, no. It is true that Aborigines were generally considered inferior at the time, and that there was some racism going on. But this film ruthlessly exaggerates it to prove a point, which appears to be that white society is a corrupter of black people. Leaving aside the negative storyline and the political point-scoring, however, the acting is fairly decent, and score is alright too. Apart from that, don't bother watching this.
  • The haunting music score at this movie stays with me, more than anything that went before. Jimmie Blacksmith is an young aboriginal contractor, whose been done wrong, in a strong edgy performance by Tommy Lewis. Taking matters into his own hands, when he's denied food for him, and his newly wed, white woman (Mcgregor) from a ranch employer, he goes radge, and murders the family, where now him, wife, baby, and his close brother are fugitives. This fine Oz film really shows how blacks were treated, as compared to black slaves over in Louisiana, who of course were treated much worse. We really symphathise with Jimmy, who's anger can off at the drop of a hat. I loved the relationship between him and his male minder (Jack Thompson) the sole one defending him, while at large.I think Bryan Brown, would have the most thankless screen time in this. There's a lot of strong acting chops here, for one, that of Sumner's performances, which I really liked, as a police tracker, who shows anger, disdain, and pity for our most wanted.The outdoor high country locations chosen here, are magnificent, as is Lewis's engaging and honest performance, but it' that haunting music score that always comes back. Some strong shock violence, present here too, notably that of the kitchen massacre. Brilliant.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Another solid 1970s film from Australia at a time when it seemed to be releasing great film after great film in what has become known as the Australian New Wave of film.

    The film was released in 1978 but is based on the Booker Prize nominated novel by Thomas Keneally from 1972.

    It demonstrates not so much the great wilderness of the Australian outback as in other films but the inherent racism shown to the indigenous Aboriginal population by its white, mainly European/British migrants.

    The film follows a half caste Aboriginal, Jimmie (Blacksmith) based on the real life exploits of Jimmie Governor at the end of the nineteenth century.

    Jimmie tries to integrate with the 'white' bosses but he is not accepted. Leading to fracas and ultimately bloody violence and death as he evades capture whilst on the run with his brother Mort Blacksmith.

    The film never was a critical success really. For an Australian film it did have a high budget. Look out for great acting from a cast of relative unknowns (apart from Ray Meagher who is best known for his portrayal of Alf on the Australian TV show Home and Away). It is a shame really because the film does showcase great direction of the cast, some good scenery and a heart breaking screenplay. The violence and death is an added element which although not to be applauded is understandable given the circumstances.

    An excellent film from director Fred Schepisi.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I found this Australian film listed in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before Die, like many of the others titles featured, I knew nothing about what to expect, but with good ratings I was looking forward to it, directed by Fred Schepisi (Roxanne, The Russia House, Six Degrees of Separation, Fierce Creatures). Basically set in early twentieth century Australia, Jimmie Blacksmith (Tommy Lewis) is a half-caste young man, child of an Aboriginal mother and a white father, raised by Reverand Neville (Jack Thompson) and his wife Martha (Julie Dawson). With a letter of recommendation from his foster family, Jimmie searches for work and hopes to establish himself, but he faces prejudice and people taking advantage, including his first employer Healey (Tim Robertson) while he is fence building, and his second employer, local constable Farrell (Ray Barrett). Jimmie finds some stability working for the Newby family on their farm, but they treat little better than previous employment, then he meets and marries white girlfriend Gilda Marshall (Angela Punch McGregor), who is already heavily pregnant, she gives birth to a white child, he is upset by the public embarrassment, but Jimmie embraces being a parent. Shortly after the birth, Jimmie's full-caste brother Mort (Freddy Reynolds) and uncle Tabidgi (Steve Dodd) come to the Newby property, Jimmie enlists them to help with fence building, but Mr. Newby uses their presence as an excuse not to provide Jimmie with provisions and pay, meanwhile Gilda refuses a teaching opportunity suggested by schoolteacher friend Petra Graf (Elizabeth Alexander). Furious by his family's mistreatment, Jimmie enlists Tabidgi to help him "scare" the Newby women, threatening them with hatchets, but this suddenly turns into a rampage that leaves Mrs. Newby, Miss Graf, and all the Newby daughters but one infant dead. Jimmy's family are forced to flee, Tabidgi, Gilda, and the child are left behind, while Jimmie and Mort continue to run, they next murder Healey, Jimmie announces he has declared war against all that have wronged him. Soon Jimmie's killings are covered by the press and becomes national news, a reporter questions the butcher, who also doubles as the city's hangman for the police, what may happen to Jimmie when he is caught, Tabidgi is captured and sentenced to death for accessory to murder, he tells that the killing was not part of the plan. Jimmie and Mort still uncaptured come upon schoolteacher McCready (Peter Carroll), they wound him by gunfire, he convinces them not to kill him, instead they take him hostage, the brothers argue about the morality of their crimes, specifically killing women and children, McCready mocks that white people have influence over the native Aboriginies. McCready convinces Jimmie to go alone, Mort takes the hostage to a farm to recover, there a hunting party led by the Neby males and Miss Graf's fiancée Dowie Steed (Peter Sumner) kill Mort. Jimmie meanwhile is shot in a lake, he is able to tend to his wounds and hide overnight, however he is found the next morning and arrested, they try to avoid the townspeople from beating him, in the end the last rights of Jimmie are read by Reverand Neville in his cell, the butcher/hangman observes them, despite his unique physical characteristics, he declares that Jimmie's hanging should go as normal as any other. Also starring Robyn Nevin as Mrs. McCready, Don Crosby as Jack Newby, Mrs. Heather Newby as Ruth Cracknell and Home and Away's Ray Meagher as Dud Edmonds. Lewis does give a compelling performance as the half-Aborigine on a war cry of ferocious rebellion, this film caused some controversy upon its release, not necessarily for its obscenity, but it was caught up in the video nasties panic, the murderous rampage is certainly the memorable material, it is slow at times, but all in all an interesting period drama. Good!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH is well regarded as one of the best Aussie movies of all time by those who've seen it and having just watched it for the first time I'm inclined to agree. It's a searing, realistic indictment of the prejudice and racism meted out to Aborigines by whites in turn-of-the-20th-century Australia, but the surprising thing is just how well it's handled: make no mistake, this is mature and literate filmmaking despite the controversy of the subject matter. The fine direction is complemented by a perfect array of performances, not least from the leads, and there are moments here among the most powerful and shocking of all cinema.