Empire (Australasia) - - Contents - ROD YATES

Jimmy Barnes’ au­to­bi­og­ra­phy turned-stage-show-turned- doc­u­men­tary prom­ises tears, laughs and tunes.

DIREC­TOR Mark Joffe

CAST Jimmy Barnes, Jane Barnes, Ian Moss, Don Walker

PLOT A cin­e­matic ren­der­ing of Barnes’ Work­ing Class Boy au­to­bi­og­ra­phy that traces the story of how the boy born James Swan over­came in­cred­i­ble ad­ver­sity and a har­row­ing up­bring­ing to be­come the man we all know to­day as Jimmy Barnes. MUCH LIKE THE spo­ken word stage adap­ta­tion of Work­ing Class Boy — the first in­stal­ment of Jimmy Barnes’ two-book au­to­bi­og­ra­phy — this film is a multi-lay­ered ex­pe­ri­ence. Osten­si­bly a doc­u­men­tary about the Cold Chisel singer’s life grow­ing up in Glas­gow and then Ade­laide, his fam­ily hav­ing im­mi­grated here in 1962, the film also in­cor­po­rates beau­ti­fully shot mu­si­cal per­for­mances, as well as snip­pets of his spo­ken-word show, cap­tured in Syd­ney and Glas­gow. It’s a doc­u­men­tary, but then it’s also much more than that.

As any­one will at­test who has seen the spo­ken word per­for­mance or read Barnes’ au­to­bi­og­ra­phy — Work­ing Class Boy cov­ers the years up un­til Cold Chisel’s for­ma­tion; its se­quel, Work­ing Class Man, ad­dresses the decades since — the fact that he’s even alive is some­thing of a mir­a­cle. Not just be­cause of his own sub­stance is­sues, but be­cause of the hor­rific cir­cum­stances of his up­bring­ing which saw him ex­posed (and fall vic­tim) to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, al­co­holism, abuse, parental aban­don­ment and poverty.

It’s a har­row­ing story, but one that Barnes and this film de­liver in a can­did, mat­ter-of-fact fash­ion that never once milks the drama; the grue­some de­tails are ac­tu­ally ren­dered slightly less shock­ing by the singer’s po­etic turn of phrase. But shock­ing they are. Case in point is the scene where Barnes is stand­ing out­side the house in which he grew up in El­iz­a­beth, South Aus­tralia, re­count­ing the night he es­caped from a friend’s older brother who was at­tempt­ing to rape him, only to see his as­sailant then rape his own brother. He non­cha­lantly re­calls the episode as though it just popped back into his head, just one of a litany of hor­ri­fy­ing mo­ments that stained his up­bring­ing.

The chal­lenge for direc­tor Mark Joffe (Jack Ir­ish, The Man Who Sued God) was to make a film that didn’t just mimic the singer’s stage show. Joffe achieves this in a num­ber of ways. Firstly, he wel­comes a se­lect group of peo­ple to help tell Barnes’ sto­ries, in­cor­po­rat­ing in­ter­views with his fam­ily and mem­bers of Cold Chisel.

More poignantly, Joffe cap­tures Barnes re­vis­it­ing land­mark lo­ca­tions from his youth, such as the slum in which he was born, the South Aus­tralian beach pier that of­fered so­lace from the hor­rors of home, and his child­hood houses in Ade­laide. See­ing th­ese lo­cales adds grav­i­tas; it brings a grounded, bru­tal re­al­ity to sto­ries so dread­ful they seem un­real. Wit­ness the mo­ment Barnes stares at the very road he once ran down as a child, des­per­ately chas­ing the car con­tain­ing his mother af­ter she’d aban­doned him.

Per­haps the best com­pli­ment you can pay Work­ing Class Boy is that it’s ac­tu­ally an up­lift­ing tale. To see Barnes per­form here with a band made up of fam­ily mem­bers is to see a man who emerged from his youth bruised and dam­aged, yet some­how built some­thing he was once starved of: a lov­ing and safe fam­ily unit.

VERDICT A beau­ti­fully re­alised work that adds fur­ther di­men­sion to Barnes’ Work­ing Class Boy au­to­bi­og­ra­phy and ac­com­pa­ny­ing spo­ken word show. You will quite lit­er­ally laugh and cry.

Barnes-storm­ing: Jimmy takes it to the stage.

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