The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978)

“In the mind of a true snob there are certain limited criteria to denote the value of human existence. Jimmie’s criteria were: home, hearth, wife, land. Those who possessed these had beatitude unchallengable. Other men had accidental, random life. Nothing better.”

‘The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith’, directed by Fred Schepisi in 1978 and based on the book by Thomas Keneally, is an Australian historical drama set during the early 1900s in the outback. Tom E. Lewis plays Jimmie Blacksmith, the son of an Aboriginal mother and a white father. Blacksmith is raised by a white clergyman who attempts to ‘civilise’ him. When he comes of age, Blacksmith leaves his home and seeks work, taking a series of labouring jobs on farms. Each place he spends time at, however, he is conned out of money or has his dignity taken away. Eventually he marries a white girl after she becomes pregnant. It turns out it’s not his child, but he sticks with her, however a final indignity inflicted against him pushes him over the edge and, along with his family, he goes on a violent rampage. It’s a complex and uncomfortable film. Blacksmith’s killings, when they happen, are part rebellion and part sadistic spree murder. The film has focused on him from the beginning and elicited much sympathy for him on the back of his repeated knocks, but the deaths when they come are shocking, filmed with the lurid intensity of a horror movie. There are moments of beauty and calm in the film, and times when you get the impression you are seeing behind the closed doors of the indigenous communities, but all this is offset by the hardness of the slasher genre twists. It’s brilliantly done – the conflict between the two halves of the film is, it seems, purposefully uneasy.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s violent and distressing but important. Watch in a double bill with ‘Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song’, another revenge movie that throws light on a marginalised community.


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