Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, The (Blu-ray) (1978)

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Released 7-Mar-2018

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Introduction-Director - Fred Schepisi
Audio Commentary-Director - Fred Schepisi
Interviews-Crew-Fred Schepsi and Ian Baker (64:01)
Featurette-Melbourne Premier from "Willesee At Seven" (6:00)
Interviews-Cast-Celluloid Gypsies - Making Jimmie Blacksmith (36:21)
Interviews-Crew-Q & A session with Fred Schepisi and Geoffrey Rush (34:05)
Featurette-Making Us Blacksmiths (10:23)
Interviews-Cast-The Chant of Tom Lewis
Gallery-Photo
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1978
Running Time 121:52
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Fred Schepisi
Studio
Distributor

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Tommy Lewis
Freddy Reynolds
Ray Barrett
Jack Thompson
Angela Punch McGregor
Steve Dodds
Peter Carroll
Ruth Cracknell
Don Crosby
Elizabeth Alexander
Peter Sumner
Tim Robertson
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Bruce Smeaton


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English DTS HD Master Audio 2.0
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     In Australia at the start of the 20th century the talk was all about the impending Federation and the war against the Boers in South Africa. Jimmie Blacksmith (Tommy Lewis) is half white, half black and caught between the two worlds. He has been taught to read and write by the Reverend Neville and his wife (Jack Thompson, Julie Dawson) and has aspirations of bettering himself and living in white society although his Aboriginal tribe and his “uncle” Tabidgi (Steve Dodds) want to insure that Jimmie remembers his heritage and who he is. Trying to break away from the tribe, and the culture of drinking, Jimmie moves and gets a job making post and rail fences for white property owners, backbreaking work for which he is frequently exploited and cheated of the wages he was promised. He joins the Police working with Farrell (Ray Barrett), doing menial jobs like cleaning the stables although he does help Farrell capture an Aboriginal man suspected of murdering a white. But when the man “dies in custody” one night, Jimmie quits.

     Jimmie works at a variety of jobs, including shearing shed hand, continuing to suffer the insults and casual bigotry of the whites he meets. But things seem to change for Jimmie; he meets a white girl, Gilda (Angela Punch McGregor) and decides to get married and he finds steady work on the property of Jack Newby (Don Crosby) and his wife Heather (Ruth Cracknell), being allowed to build a shack on the Newby’s land to which he brings the pregnant Gilda. But his attempt at a normal life is threatened when Gilda’s child is a boy who is all white, and thus not Jimmie’s, and his uncle and his brother Mort (Freddy Reynolds) arrive on the Newby property. Despite owing Jimmie money, Newby cuts off supplies to Jimmie and Gilda. With his wife and baby starving, and powerless in the face of white superiority, Jimmie snaps and in an act of violence murders the Newby women before going on the run into the bush with Mort. They visit other homesteads where Jimmie had been cheated, and murder more men, women and children despite the police and army being mobilised to hunt they down. Some months later, in an isolated settlement they abduct the schoolteacher McCready (Peter Carroll) and take him as a hostage into the bush with them. But they cannot run forever.

     The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is based on the book by of the same name by Thomas Keneally which was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1972; the book itself was based upon a true story. The screenplay and direction are by Fred Schepsi and the film was not a box-office success in Australia when it was first released, perhaps because of its uncomfortable themes of bigotry and racial intolerance in Australia at the start of the 20th century and its violence. Critically, however, the reaction was different. Schepsi was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1978 and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith was nominated for 14 AFI Awards winning for best actress in a lead role (Angela Punch McGregor), best supporting actor (Ray Barrett) and best original score (Bruce Smeaton); it did not win more as it was, in all major categories, up against the juggernaut that was Newsfront which was also nominated in 14 categories and won 8, including best supporting actress for Angela Punch McGregor, who thus won two AFI awards that year for different films.

     In hindsight it is possible to see that a 1970s audience would have been uncomfortable with the casual bigotry and racism of the film. The portrayal of the squalid Aboriginal camps, supplied with booze by the whites who also visit the camps for the Aboriginal woman, is nothing to be proud of either. The violence also gets a lot of notice in criticism, but in reality most of it takes place off screen and even the blood is minimal; I suspect the issue is more that the scenes of Aborigines murdering white women touched deep fears within the Australian psyche. If anything, the screenplay of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is too even-handed. The Reverend Neville has the attitudes prevalent at the time and tries to “rescue” and help Jimmie, even accepting his responsibility for Jimmie doing what he did, while some the dialogue put into the mouth of schoolteacher McCready about the culpability of the whites in giving the Aborigines booze, diseases and religion, destroying their culture, tends to be a sermon that dissipates the tension towards which the film is building.

     Tommy Lewis was a young non-actor plucked from nowhere to play the lead role. While his delivery of some of the dialogue is declamatory, he has a wonderfully expressive face and easily moves Jimmie from naïve innocent, through frustration and disappointment and powerlessness to rage, a rage that he cannot control and almost instantly regrets. While we cannot condone Jimmie, we can at least understand his pain of being caught powerless between two different worlds and realise why he acts as he does. The rest of the cast is very strong with many iconic Australian actors on screen; as well as Jack Thompson, Ray Barrett and Ruth Cracknell there are cameos from Arthur Dignam, Robyn Nevin and Brian Brown, while even Thomas Keneally gets a brief scene as a cook!

     By now it is possible to enjoy the power and beauty of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, including the spectacular widescreen photography of cinematographer Ian Baker, who was nominated for an AFI award but lost out, not to Newsfront but to Russell Boyd for The Last Wave, although he did win on other occasions for The Devil’s Playground (1976) and Japanese Story (2003). In his hands, the Australian bush is another character in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, be it rocky outcrops, the forest of tall trees, hills in the distance or rolling acres of grasslands. The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith builds slowly towards its inevitable and tragic conclusion and its themes of racism and intolerance is a view of 1900s Australia that, a century on, unfortunately still have relevance.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is presented in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code.

     While close-ups are strong, the wider scenes, while beautiful, can be quite soft with almost a haze over the Australian bush giving quite a dreamy feel to the widescreen landscapes of rocky outcrops, forests, hills in the distance or rolling acres of grasslands shot by Ian Baker. Colours add to the feel; there is the yellow of the dry grass, the Aboriginal camp or the sun while the tree leaves have a dull green look except in the sequences within the tall trees later in the film. Blacks are solid but shadow detail, especially in the camps, can be somewhat indistinct. Skin tones are natural, contrast and brightness consistent. I did not notice any obvious marks or artefacts.

     English subtitles for the hearing impaired are available in a smallish white font.

Video Ratings Summary
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Audio

     The audio is English DTS-HA MA 2.0. The film was shown in theatres with a mono audio.

     Dialogue is clear and the effects, such as shots, horses’ hooves, or shouts are decent. There is obviously no surround or subwoofer use. The original score by Bruce Smeaton is poignant, haunting and exciting in turns and comes over clearly in the audio.

     There are no lip synchronisation issues.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
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Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     Most of these extras were on the 2 DVD 30th Anniversary Edition from Umbrella, reviewed on this site here, however the additions are significant, especially the new (2017) hour long conversation with Fred Schepsi and Ian Baker. The new items are marked.

Play feature with introduction by Fred Schepsi *NEW*

     Schepsi welcomes us to the 40th Anniversary edition!

Audio Commentary with Fred Schepsi

     This is a decent, non-stop commentary by writer / director Fred Schepsi as he talks candidly about his purpose and intentions in various scenes, trying to give the perspective of the people at the time without being judgmental or overlaying modern sensibilities, the landscape, music, budget constraints, casting and training the non-professional Aboriginals, other cast members, the cinemascope widescreen, camera techniques and shot selection, where he did things differently to standard filmmaking, DP Ian Baker, the production design, the anti-violence violence, his philosophy on filmmaking, on set anecdotes and things he would now do differently.

A Conversation with Fred Schepsi and Ian Baker (64:01) *NEW*

     This is an excellent extra. Filmed in October 2017 for Umbrella, this features a very relaxed and pleasant Fred Schepsi sitting in his lounge room chatting to an unseen interviewer intercut occasionally with parts of a separate interview with Ian Baker. Schepsi speaks about his first career in advertising, early filmmaking steps, his relationship with his usual DP Ian Baker, filmmaking techniques and visual styles, the purpose of music and sound effects. There is also about 30 minutes specifically on The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, including some footage from the film. He speaks about the challenges, the locations and he reflects upon the film, including the press reactions to the violence at the time, audience reaction generally (there are some clips here taken from the “Willesee at Seven” show - this is included in full elsewhere on this Blu-ray) and showing The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith to Quentin Tarantino at a special screening.

     Ian Baker talks about how he came to work with Schepsi, his special relationship with Schepsi and his working methods, filmmaking camera techniques and the challenges of making The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith.

Melbourne Premier from Willesee At Seven (6:00) *NEW*

     A segment from the Willesee show from June 1978 with film clips and reactions to the film from some of the celebrity audience who attended the film’s premier including the then Victorian Premier Dick Hamer, Hector Crawford, Paul Hogan and Ian Meldrum.

Celluloid Gypsies: Making Jimmie Blacksmith (36:21)

     Made in 2008, this is a genuine “making of” avoiding EPK type snippets. There are some film clips but mostly it is Fred Schepsi with additional, quite extensive, interview sections with Tom Lewis, who is a scream, DP Ian Baker and editor Brian Kavanagh. Items discussed include Thomas Keneally’s novel, writing the screenplay, the casting of Lewis and how he was prepared for the role, shooting on location and editing the rushes in the back of a truck, the relationship between director and cinematographer, the violence in the film, reactions to the film here and overseas and the Jimmie Blacksmith character. This is an excellent, informative featurette.

The Chant of Tom Lewis (25:33)

     An interview with Tom Lewis filmed in 2008. Different parts of the same interview were used in the “Celluloid Gypsies” featurette although nothing is repeated here. Lewis is thoughtful and pensive as he talks about racism, his culture(s), being a mixed race boy in an Aboriginal community, belonging, the different men who affected his life, Fred Schepsi, the impact of doing Blacksmith and his philosophy on life.

2008 Melbourne International Film Festival Q&A with Fred Schepsi and Geoffrey Rush (34:05)

     Geoffrey Rush chats to Fred Schepsi on stage at the 2008 Melbourne International Film Festival after a retrospective showing of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. They talk about the scale and budget of the film, the locations, the themes and the violence, reactions at the time, reflections on filmmaking. There are also some questions from the audience.

Making Us Blacksmiths – Casting Leads Tommy Lewis & Freddy Reynolds (10:23)

     Filmed in 1978, this is more a standard promotional type featurette with film clips, behind the scenes footage and brief comments from Rhonda Schepsi, Tom Lewis, Fred Schepsi, Freddy Reynolds, Ian Baker and actor’s tutor Michael Caulfield which covers the casting of the two Aboriginal non-actors and the training they undertook to prepare them for the roles.

Stills Gallery

     58 stills; silent, they advance automatically.

Theatrical Trailer (2:20)

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     This Region Free Australian version of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is the only Blu-ray currently available.

Summary

     The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, along with Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), are essential films in the regeneration of Australian cinema in the 1970s although they look at very different parts of the Australian society. The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith with its themes of racism, bigotry and murder, was not a commercial success when it was released but has since become accepted as an Australian classic.

     If you already own the 30th Anniversary DVD the enhanced video, lossless audio and new extras makes this Blu-ray still worth a purchase. If you don’t have The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith this is a perfect opportunity to add this Australian classic film to your collection.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Friday, May 18, 2018
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Tommy Lewis RIP - wolfgirv