The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (****)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 14, 2019)

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The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith – Kino-Lorber

One of the highlights of the “Australian New Wave” that flourished in the 70s and 80s, writer-director Fred Schepsi’s 1978 drama (adapted from Thomas Keneally’s novel, which is loosely based on a true story) is set in Australia at the turn of the 20th Century.

Jimmie Blacksmith (Tommy Lewis) is a half-caste Aboriginal who goes out into the world to make his own way after being raised by a white minister and his wife. Unfortunately, the “world” he is entering from the relative protective bubble of his upbringing is that of a society fraught with systemic racism; one that sees him only as a young black man ripe for exploitation.

While Jimmie is inherently altruistic, every person has their limit, and over time the escalating degradation and daily humiliations lead to a shocking explosion of cathartic violence that turns him into a wanted fugitive. An unblinking and uncompromising look at a dark period of Australian history; powerful and affecting.

Kino-Lorber’s transfer is excellent. The 2-disc release has two versions of the film, the original Australian version, and the “international” cut (several minutes shorter). The longer cut features a commentary track by Schepsi. There is also an interview with Schepsi and DP Ian Baker, as well as an archival interview with the late Tommy Lewis.

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