Release Date(s)1988 (December 15, 2021)
Studio(s)Barron Films/Skouras Pictures (Umbrella Entertainment – Sunburnt Screens #13)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B+
[Editor’s Note: This is a REGION-FREE Blu-ray release.]
Shame was the debut feature from prolific Australian television director Steve Jodrell. It was released toward the end of the Australian New Wave that had started in the late Seventies and ran through the Eighties, including films like Gallipoli, Breaker Morant, and Malcolm. Yet Shame skates a line between those films and traditional low-budget Ozploitation cinema—it’s essentially a serious message film in a deliberate B-movie wrapper. Writer Beverly Blankenship came up with the idea after watching Mad Max, and she wanted to tell a similar tale with a woman as the drifter who reluctantly helps people in need. She basically started out with little more than a woman riding into a small town on a motorcycle, and the rest of the story developed from there.
The script that she wrote along with Michael Brindley has Asta Cadell (Deborra-Lee Furness) as a barrister on a motorcycle holiday whose bike breaks down after an accident, so she rolls into the next town to get it repaired. Since parts aren’t available, she ends up staying overnight in the garage of the mechanic Tim (Tony Barry). That night, Tim’s daughter Lizzie (Simone Buchanan) comes home after having been sexually assaulted by a group of boys, and Asta discovers that it’s a common occurrence in this town, but one that’s excused as “boys being boys,” with the girls having “asked for it.” Even the feckless local police sergeant Wal (Peter Aanensen) actively helps cover everything up. As Asta gets to know the family, she encourages Lizzie to take a stand by laying charges, which starts a chain of events that leads to the whole town erupting into violence.
One of the most interesting aspects of Shame is the way that it mixes gender issues with class conflict. The men in this town are all out of work, so they’re being supported by the women who work at the local pet food canning facility owned by the wealthy Mrs. Rudolph (Pat Skevington). As a result, the sexual violence perpetrated by the young men of the town is partly their way of lashing out against their feelings of emasculation. Rape in Shame is unquestionably a crime of power, not sex, as it’s a way of reasserting male dominance in a world where men have become dependent on women. That’s complicated by everyone’s dependency on Mrs. Rudolph, whose son is one of the boys involved. Everyone is afraid of making waves with her, and she’s more than willing to buy off anyone who tries. Justice is denied to those who lack wealth of their own.
Shame isn’t a particularly subtle film, but it wasn’t intended to be, and unfortunately, its message still needs to be heard today. The fact that it cloaks that message in the form of an adventure film was a hard sell at the time, but it’s an effective way of getting across its themes. Steve Jodrell summed that up best in an interview with Signet in 1998:
“’No-one really wanted to touch it because they couldn't work out what it was about. It was not quite entertaining; it was a little bit too art-house; it was a message film, and yet Michael and Beverly Blankenship had always designed the film as a kind of B grade drive-in movie. They did not want it to end up in an art-house circuit. They wanted it to be an action flick that had some things to say in it.’”
Shame does indeed have something to say, and while it was overshadowed in the United States by the release of The Accused in the same year, Shame addresses the subject in a more interesting fashion. Deborra-Lee Furness gives a powerful performance in the lead role, and Jodrell wisely opted to avoid showing any actual rapes in his film, focusing instead on the reactions of the victims afterward. He returned to television after this and never made another feature film, but Shame was enough to secure his place in the pantheon of great Australian filmmakers.
Cinematographer Joseph Pickering shot Shame on Super 16 mm film using Panaflex cameras and spherical lenses, with editing and post-production work being completed on video. The negative was conformed to that and blown up to 35 mm for its theatrical release, which was framed at 1.85:1. Umbrella’s Blu-ray uses a 2017 restoration performed by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. There’s no information regarding the elements that they used, but it does look like they went back to the Super 16 negatives whenever possible, though they also used the video master for the opening titles and a few brief shots throughout the film. That means that the film starts out unpromisingly, with the title sequence being very soft, smooth, and undetailed; it looks like upscaled standard definition video, because that’s exactly what it is. The situation improves once the titles are over, aside from a few shots here and there. The rest of the film displays a decent amount of fine detail, though the grain seems light for Super 16; it’s possible that digital noise reduction has been applied, though not in a destructive fashion. There are occasional scratches, but those were baked into the original negative due to problems with the cameras. The color timing is a bit inconsistent, with flesh tones sometimes appearing natural, and sometimes looking a bit too ruddy. Peter Aanensen’s face suffers the worst, as his skin often looks too pink and freshly scrubbed. The issue isn’t Umbrella’s fault, as the clips that the NFSA has uploaded to YouTube share the same timing as the Blu-ray. It’s not a major problem, but the inconsistency does keep the film from looking as good as it could.
Audio is offered in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. It’s a fairly undistinguished mono track, clean and free of distortion or other major defects, but with a somewhat limited frequency response. The dialogue is clear, and the score by Mario Millo (The Lighthorsemen) sounds as good as it can given the overall fidelity.
Umbrella’s Region-Free Blu-ray release of Shame is #13 in their Sunburnt Screens line. The insert is reversible, with one side omitting the mandatory Australian “PG” classification from the front cover artwork, and also substituting the theatrical poster art for the back cover blurb. The commentary track is ported over from Scorpion Releasing’s 2014 DVD release, with the rest of the extras being a combination of newly-produced segments and archival footage:
- Audio Commentary with Steve Jodrell, Simone Buchanan, & Michael Brindley
- All New Interviews with Steve Jodrell, Michael Brindley, Beverly Blankenship, Simone Buchanan, & Paul Barron (HD – 77:22)
- Oral History with Paul Harris and Steve Jodrell (HD – 22:43)
- Original Footage from the Premiere (Upscaled HD – 14:15)
- ABC TV-Artspace Interview with Deborra-Lee Furness (HD – 26:54)
- Original Archival Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:32)
Co-screenwriter Beverly Blankenship wasn’t available to join the rest on the commentary track, but she asked them to make a point of sharing how her basic story was inspired by watching Mad Max. Jodrell gives some technical information about shooting on Super 16, and how the fact that the camera kept scratching the negative forced them into reshoots. The group talks about other aspects of the production, as well as discussing the themes of the film. They make an interesting point when talking about the nature of the police sergeant; namely, that the law isn’t a force unless the community is behind it. That’s a strikingly prescient comment considering the events of the last several years.
The All New Interviews feature is actually a Zoom chat that brings together Jodrell, Beverly Blankenship, Michael Brindley, Simone Buchanan, and producer Paul Barron. The whole thing is moderated by Paul Harris, who was the host of the long running show Film Buff Forecast on the Australian community radio station 3RRR. They start with the origins of the story, including its parallels with Mad Max, Shane, and High Plains Drifter. From there, they cover the difficulties in getting the film financed without changing the script, the casting process, locations, production issues, marketing, and the infamous snafu with the Australian Film Institute awards. They also talk about the importance of keeping the original ending intact, and also share some derisive thoughts about the American remake. The segment includes a few brief clips from the premiere of Shame, but for the most part it plays out uninterrupted and unedited. Fortunately, Harris does a fine job of moderating, and keeps things moving. The Oral History is really a conversation between Jodrell and Harris, with the pair providing a more focused look at the production of the film than in the commentary track or the interviews. They speak over a collection of behind-the-scenes photographs, though it’s a small set that repeats several times.
The Original Footage from the Premiere is a surprisingly energetic affair, considering the nature of the film, with a band playing upbeat live music outside of the theatre. It does include footage of the cast and crew arriving, as well as reactions from audience members after the screening. The ABC TV-Artspace Interview was taped in 2009 while Furness was promoting her most recent film Blessed. The conversation naturally begins there, but it inevitably gets to Shame, before looking at the lengthy marriage between Furness and Hugh Jackman.
Shame isn’t particularly well known outside of Australia, and, well, that’s a shame. Anyone who is familiar with the story only because of the American remake on Lifetime hasn’t really experienced it. Since Umbrella’s Blu-ray is Region-Free, hopefully more people are exposed to how compelling Steve Jodrell’s original film really can be.
- Stephen Bjork