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Jimmie Blacksmith (Tommy Lewis) is a young Aboriginal half-caste raised in central NSW at the turn of the last century, a boy initiated by his tribe but also educated by a stern Methodist minister (Jack Thompson). Looking to gain respectability in European society, Jimmie finds a white bride while performing back-breaking work on local farms, but cannot escape his skin colour, suffering ongoing racism and oppression. Discovering that he may not be the father of his white wife's (Angela Punch McGregor) child, and fired without pay, Jimmie explodes in a fury of violent revenge and escapes into the bush with his brother Mort (Freddy Reynolds), cutting a bloody path of retribution upon the society that has forsaken him. In 1901, the year Australian democracy is born, Jimmie Blacksmith finally faces his fate, and with it the fate of his people.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This film is a dramatisation of the real-life story of Jimmy Governor, the part-Aboriginal bushranger hanged for multiple murders in 1901. A powerful and confronting story of a black man's revenge against an unjust and intolerant society, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith was one of the most significant films of the 1970s film renaissance in Australia. Schepisi's second film (after his highly acclaimed debut with The Devil's Playground [1976]), reveals a natural filmmaker who tackles this powerful, dramatic, controversial and historically sensitive subject with watertight restraint.

Young Tommy Lewis, not a professional actor but superbly cast as Jimmie, is heartbreakingly credible, first as the likeable, roguish and clever young man, and later as the tragic half caste driven to desperate violence by the decidedly uncivilised society of the time . . . which thought of itself as civilised. When we first meet Jimmie, his fellow blacks are getting him drunk and accusing him of having lived with 'that reverend' (Jack Thompson) too long. The scene captures in a nutshell all that was wrong with Jimmie's life, and with those of his brothers - unanchored, confused lives in an ignorant and dangerous world of white power and white man's grog.

As the many injustices and insults accumulate on him and his white wife Gilda (Angela Punch McGregor), Jimmie's good nature begins to sink under their ugly weight. When his boss refuses to pay him for the work he's done, leaving Jimmie and Gilda wanting for food, it sets off a chain reaction that leads to murder - and Jimmie's declaration of war against the forces that oppressed him. But Schepisi doesn't try to justify Jimmie or to whitewash his actions.

Bruce Smeaton's wonderful, multi-coloured orchestral score (with a poignant trumpet line) rightly won the AFI Award (with Ray Barrett and Angela Punch McGregor winning acting Awards) and the film was nominated in every possible category.

The second disc contains some terrific extras, including Schepisi talking about the film from its beginnings, especially details about how he almost sculpted the screenplay to create a sense of the film's rhythm. He even refused to use scene numbers: he gave them descriptive names, instead. This feature is full of fascinating insights.

Published November 6, 2008

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(Aust, 1978)

CAST: 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, Ray Meagher, Brian Anderson, Arthur Dignam, Robyn Nevin, John Bowman, Bryan Brown, John Jarratt

PRODUCER: Fred Schepisi

DIRECTOR: Fred Schepisi

SCRIPT: Fred Schepisi (novel by Thomas Keneally)


EDITOR: Brian Kavanagh

MUSIC: Bruce Smeaton


RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc 1: audio commentary by Fred Schepisi; trailer. Disc 2: Featurette with Fred Schepisi and Tommy Lewis and key cast and crew - 36 mins; Interview with Tommy Lewis - 25 mins; Making Us Blacksmiths - 15 mins; Q and A with Fred Schepisi and Geoffrey Rush filmed at MIFF 2008 - 30 mins; Audio Commentary with Fred Schepisi; Stills Gallery; Theatrical Trailer

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Umbrella Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: November 1, 2008 (30th Anniversary Collector's Edition)

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