After suffering a dry spell with dull and predictable Hollywood-style output, the Australian film industry has finally put some spark back into its product with SHAME, a low-budget genre hybrid with an angry, feminist perspective. The movie begins as a black-leather-clad, helmeted
motorcyclist (Furness) zooms through the deserted two-lane highways of rural Australia. A tough, independent barrister on holiday, Furness is forced to stop in the small, dusty town of Ginborak when her bike breaks down. She is treated like meat by the local lads gathered in front of the pub, but
the attractive strawberry blonde ignores the loutish catcalls and stares of this Neanderthal bunch and asks for the nearest mechanic. Told to go to a service station at the outskirts of town, Furness meets the kindly owner, Barry, who allows her to borrow his tools and work on her bike. Finding
she needs a spare part that must be ordered from Perth, Furness asks if she can sleep in the spare room off the garage, and Barry agrees, much to the dismay of his cantankerous elderly mother, Ford. During her stay, Furness learns that Barry's teenage daughter, Buchanan, was recently gang raped.
Unable to deal with the complexity of his emotions about the rape, Barry blames his daughter for what happened and seeks no legal recourse. On her trips into town, Furness discovers that the young men of Ginborak seem to have free run of the town and can sexually harass women with total impunity.
Those men whose sisters, wives, and girl friends have been attacked are bullied into silence and ostracized by the small community if they put up a fight. The fathers of the rapists adopt a "boys will be boys" attitude; the mothers blame the victims and shame the girls into keeping their mouths
shut; and Aanensen, the sheriff, turns a blind eye to the boys' nocturnal activities. Furness, who is forced to fend off an attack herself, finds the situation intolerable and befriends Buchanan, urging her to press charges. Her gutsy stance helps bring Barry and Buchanan together, and the family
takes a stand against the code of silence. When six boys are rounded up and jailed but then quickly bailed out, the outraged Furness slaps a restraining order on the rapists, forbidding them to go near the service station or Buchanan. After a bout of heavy drinking, the boys ignore the order and
attack the station. In a siege that recalls STRAW DOGS, Furness manages to spirit Buchanan away on her motorcycle while Barry and Ford defend the house. Furness drops the girl off at the police station and rushes back to help Barry and Ford; however, unbeknownst to Furness, the police station is
deserted and Buchanan is kidnaped by two of the boys. After a struggle in their car, Buchanan falls out of the speeding vehicle and down an embankment. Furness returns to the service station to find that Barry has been beaten to a pulp and Ford abducted. With most of the women in the community
finally willing to take a stand, a small vigilante group led by Furness goes searching for Ford. She is found just as the teens are about to attack her, and the womenfolk are able to subdue the creeps until the police arrive with Buchanan's abductors in tow. When it is learned that Buchanan is
missing, Furness turns on the boy who was driving the car and strangles him until he confesses to the crime and tells her where the girl is. Furness rushes to the site on her motorcycle, but by the time the townsfolk catch up, they find her crying over Buchanan's lifeless body. The town is
horrified by the event and perhaps motivated now to change its ways, but Furness is so devastated by the girl's death that one wonders if perhaps she took things too far.
Intelligently written by Beverly Blankenship and Michael Brindley and directed with flair by first-timer Steve Jodrell, SHAME is another astute genre hybrid film, echoing everything from the classic western SHANE to Australia's own "Mad Max" films while retaining its own freshness and vitality. By
tapping sources as familiar as the George Stevens western, the George Miller action films, the Marlon Brando biker movie THE WILD ONE, and even Sam Peckinpah's STRAW DOGS, director Jodrell is able to ensnare his audience through recognizable situations and characters before turning them on their
heads and foiling expectations. This is a risky approach that might frustrate viewers, especially in a low-budget exploitation film, but Jodrell and his cast keep viewers engrossed in the complicated emotional, social, sexual, and even political maneuvering played out before them. For a film in
which the central image is a beautiful woman clad in black leather and riding a motorcycle, SHAME is amazingly devoid of the kind of exploitative elements one would expect. There is no nudity, no voyeuristic rape scenes, and no guns fired. Jodrell has enough confidence in his material to allow the
characters and situation to deliver the goods, and he resists the temptation to toss in the odd explosion to liven things up.
SHAME is also surprisingly uncompromising in its characterizations. The men are a uniformly disgraceful lot, and while Jodrell allows them their humanity, he does not make them sympathetic. Even Barry, as the rape victim's confused father, is shown to have been willing to ostracize his own flesh
and blood and go along with the town's refusal to acknowledge its hideous problem. Only Furness' intervention spurs Barry into recognizing the truth and doing something about it. While a handful of men are seen to become radicalized as events unfold, the film sticks to its guns and does not turn
them into heroes. The women are the heroes here, for it is they who finally stand up for their rights and fight back--with or without help from the men. Blankenship, Brindley, and Jodrell don't simply paint all the women as victims, however; many of the townswomen are shown to bear some implicit
responsibility for the rapes when they make excuses for their sons and blame the female victims for their plight.
Part of what makes SHAME so compelling are the performances Jodrell elicits from his cast, all little-known actors with rugged, lived-in faces. Although she cuts a stunning screen presence, Deborah-Lee Furness is no glamor girl in black leather. Old enough to be convincing as an experienced
lawyer, Furness conveys a tough, confident, mature, and dignified demeanor without suppressing her tenderness. She strikes a perfect balance between independence and vulnerability that keeps her character from becoming a kind of feminist Lone Ranger (while Jodrell does play with the mythic aspects
of his material, he never allows his characters to become cartoons). Furness' astute performance is easily one of the best of 1988, and with luck she will soon break through to international stardom. Also excellent are young Simone Buchanan as the courageous rape victim and Tony Barry as her
ineffectual father. Their sensitive performances add immeasurably to the emotional complexity of the material and help push this low-budget genre piece onto a higher plane. While SHAME's filmmakers are not afraid to make strong statements, they eschew the tiresome didactics often found in this
sort of material. There is plenty of ambiguity here, and Jodrell does not avoid the complexity of his subject and all its various shadings. SHAME poses some difficult questions that may lack clear-cut answers, making for a rewarding, powerful, and thought-provoking film. (Violence, sexualsituations, adult situations, profanity.)
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- Released: 1988
- Rating: R
- Review: After suffering a dry spell with dull and predictable Hollywood-style output, the Australian film industry has finally put some spark back into its product with SHAME, a low-budget genre hybrid with an angry, feminist perspective. The movie begins as a bla… (more)