WORKING CLASS BOY
OUT 23 AUGUST RATED TBC / TBC MINS
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.