Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978) Blu-Ray Review
The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith
Reviewed by: Amber WilkinsonRead Amber Wilkinson's film review of The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith
Buyers investing in Eureka's Masters of Cinema release of The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith will certainly get their money's worth. The dual format DVD and Blu-ray edition contains a raft of supplementary features, along with both the international version of the film - freshly restored - and the five-minute longer Australian version.
Those wishing to play spot the difference, will find a handy guide in the accompanying booklet, along with New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael's contemporaneous glowing in-depth review of the film.
I personally only had access to the longer Australian cut of the film but the 1080P transfer looks good, showing off the full range of cinematographer Ian Baker's colour palette to its best.
Turning to the extras, there is plenty to go at, not least two excellent commentary tracks. One, which I believe dates back to 2008, sees writer/director Fred Schepisi talk about making the film, along with offering insights into some of the mechanics - including a full analysis of the violent pivotal scene. It's clear he intended to be respectful to the indigenous peoples when he made the film but he also highlights the difficulties that can pose due to different positions.
His considerations of the rhythms of scenes are particularly interesting, an idea he picks up on elsewhere, and the importance of feeling the moment rather than simply relying on an editor to fix things later. Stick around for the fun end credits anecdote about his cockatoo disaster.
Complementing Schepisi's guide is a new second commentary track from film critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. Although, perhaps not so technically polished as some, she offers strong context on actors and the political situation, offering potted history lessons along the way that help to explore the film's ongoing resonance. She doesn't pull her punches about the situation in Australia today and treads a strong line between personal opinion and more academic factual detail, making this an entertaining guide from start to finish.
Most of the other extras date from a 2008 previous release of the film. There is a 39-minute interview with Schepisi that, though covering Jimmie Blacksmith in some detail, also includes digressions into other areas of his career, including working with Will Smith. Celluloid Gypsies: Making “The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith” has a tighter focus and this 36-minute featurette also includes Tom Lewis recalling his first encounter with the director and his casting director wife, who famously spotted him in an airport.
Those wanting a deeper dive into Schepisi's working process will find plenty to enjoy in the 64-minute Conversation with Fred Schepisi and Ian Baker. Although the writer/director and his cinematographer are interviewed separately here, the chats are edited together well, so that a strong picture emerges of their history together and the way in which their working relationship developed. Despite the weight of material involving Schepisi, there's surprisingly little repetition.
Away from the director and, for me, the most poignant extra here, is the The Chant of Tom Lewis a 24-minute interview with Tom E Lewis, who plays Jimmie. In it, he talks about his alcoholism and recovery plus considers what might have happened to him if he hadn't been in the film. "My mates are all underground," he says, "I and I think that's where I would be if I didn't do this". His consideration of his life reveals the all-too real racism he and others in his community faced at the time the film was made and anyone interested in learning more about some of that impact, should seek out Bastardy - a documentary about Lewis's co-star Jack Charles - which explores similar issues.
What, one wonders, happened to Freddy Reynolds, so compelling as Mort in the film? Little is said, perhaps little is known, but he does pop up in the sweet 10-minute featurette, shot at the time of filming, in which he, Lewis, Shepisi and actors tutor Michael Caulfield talk about the way the training for the two lead roles. Rounding out the extras is the inevitable trailer and an enjoyable half-hour Q&A session between Schepisi and Geoffrey Rush from Melbourne International Film Festival, including a particularly loaded question from the director's second wife.
The film features hard of hearing subtitles, although the commentary tracks and extras are not subtitled.
All in all, a comprehensive supplementary package that offers both older and new insight into the film.Reviewed on: 21 Aug 2019