Shame (1988)

Country: Australia (English)
Director: Steve Jodrell
Deborra-Lee Furness
.      … Asta Cadell
Tony Barry
.    … Tim Curtis
Simone Buchanan
.   … Lizzie Curtis
Gillian Jones ..
.   …Tina Farrel
Peter Aanensen…
.   …Sgt. Wal Cuddy

Shame begins with the arrival of Asta Cadell (Deborra Lee Furness) a tough, leather clad, female lawyer who is forced to stopover in the small country town of Ginaborak, after her motorbike breaks down.  Although reluctant to stay in the town, with no choice but to wait for the bike parts to arrive, Asta is offered lodgings by Tim Curtis (Tony Barry) the local mechanic and his family, and learns of the rape of his teenage daughter Lizzie (Simone Buchanan) the previous evening.

As Asta befriends Lizzie, she confesses that the local lads repeatedly gang rape the women of Ginborak, without any consequences to their actions. Even the law enforcement turn a blind eye to the youths who are ‘highly spirited’.

As the story unfolds we meet Ross and Penny, she has been ostracised from the town for speaking up about her own rape and her husband is regularly harassed and beaten by the town’s lads. Their mothers try to blame Lizzie for ‘being too easy’ and one mother tries to bribe her with clothes to stay quiet.

The fathers condone their behaviour stating that ‘boys will be boys’. So Lizzie and Asta decide to fight back. This builds up to a huge crescendo which combines all the subplots of the film.  Many of the women of the town come together as they fight back against the rapists.  Unfortunately it is all too late for Lizzie. A tragic heart wrenching ending to this very powerful film.

In the final scene the town of Ginaborak stands in silence as her body is placed in the back of a truck. The policeman looks at one of the women:
WAL CUDDY (Police Sergeant): Well – I hope you’re bloody satisfied.
Asta stares at him. She can’t speak.
TINA: No, Wal – we’re not bloody satisfied – not by a long way – ‘mate’…

A powerful film, with strong performances by the entire cast and a strong message about the social culture of rape, presenting rape as a social problem, not just as an individual crime.

The public absorbed the film in many different ways, mostly agreeably, although not without public controversy. Women felt the film was encouraging women to speak out and seek justice.

The only negative reviews I could find were by men, and ultimately the film did far better overseas than in Australia, receiving nominations and awards on the film festival circuit.

When Jodrell (Director) and Furness (lead actress) promoted the film in the US it really hit a nerve, and Furness claims that the women who saw Shame felt it was all too tragically familiar, as it shows not only the effect of rape on individual women, but how the myths about rape are reinforced by the entire community. The films American distributor, Majorike Skouras reported a screening where women urged men to leave the theatre.

Shame was faced with continual pressure and criticism as it made its way to the big screen. It had trouble being funded for the original story and was unable to compete in the AFI awards.

Seeking funding from 1981, there was pressure all the way through right up until final production in 1988 to change the script story. The UAA a Perth Finance company and the US backers encouraged them to add more graphic material.

They wanted to change the lead to a man, have the rape scene included in gory detail and make the men as saviours more prominent. They encouraged the writers to have a male hero for Asta to love to add a romantic twist, and to blow the boys heads off with a gun, whilst they were raping Lizzie.

For Shame the biggest disappointment was being unable to compete in the Australian Film Institute (AFI) awards. It had been entered in 1987 then withdrawn due to poor print quality and therefore deemed ineligible for re-submission the following year. ‘Shame should have scooped the pool at the 1988 AFI awarda…The film’s box-office career undoubtedly suffered as a result’ (Crofts cites Stratton 1993:7)

Despite remaining a highly-rated classic of Australian 1980s cinema, the film has become relatively obscure and hard-to-find over time. 


9 thoughts on “Shame (1988)

  1. I watched this movie. Thanks. Hated the ending though.
    But, I guess for drama, it did have to end that way.
    Have you seen Georgia Rule. Carolyn Gage on her blog has a post about Lindsey Lohan and this movie. The hypersexualized girl. It did not do very well at the box office for it does tell the truth and how hard it was for the girl to tell. A better ending than Shame.

  2. Georgia Rules , is in my ‘Coming-of-Age’ film listing, subject of a later blog post. I have several more categories to go yet 🙂

    Most of the films in this Men-Behaving-Badly category, including Shame, are more about the broader social community politics of rape culture – as a culture, rather than the personal/individual. Few in this category do have happy endings.

  3. You know, I really wanted that lawyer to be a lesbian.
    When she talked about her boyfriend, it seemed so incongruous with her character throughout the movie. I just could not see her submitting to a male, but then again, maybe she was lying for the girl’s sake and trying to make her feel better about herself. That seemed to be the purpose of the scene in the water. It would be seen as something else if she was a lesbian probably.

  4. You know, I really wanted that lawyer to be a lesbian.

    Given the timing, (the 1980s), and the controversy around its release (mentioned in the post, it took 6 years to get it made at all, and the production company, kept wanting to change the whole story to a male hero lead), I doubt whether it would have been made at all with any lesbians in it 🙂 More’s the pity, but my lesbian-category films are coming in a later post.

  5. You know, now I have changed my mind about this comment and wanting her to be lesbian. With my own interaction with het females, it has dawned on me that sexual persuasion is not the category at all. Female identification is not het or lesbian and it serves the patriarchy well to have that division. They love women divided upon that spurious division. Lesbians can claim lesbophobia and het women can claim misunderstanding. Glory to the patriarchy.
    It is not about genital sex at all, despite the sexologists declarations. Identifying as women oppressed by patriarchy is much more than a sexual persuasion. Personally, it is so much more about the meeting of the mind than sex can ever achieve. Yes, that is fine, but knowing is so much more.
    I have been accused of lesbophobia because I did not want sex with someone who desired me, but whom I did not feel a connection. That connection has to be there or it is just like male domination. So sorry, but knowing oneself is much more important than submitting to someone else’s desire.

    • Female identification is not het or lesbian and it serves the patriarchy well to have that division.

      Exactly, female identification is not sexual. I prefer to see Astra’s relationship with the girl, (and the other women) as platonic, sisterly, a kinship that is distinct from any sexual partnership.

      Many radfem lesbians have been accused of being heartless, or promoting polyamory, or of being promiscuous lez-sluts, because as radfems, we don’t believe in ‘coupledom’ (or any form of partnership, pair-bonding etc) for lesbians or hets.

      In the movie though, its more personal for me – being lesbian, I am biased 🙂 – I like to see lesbians being “visible”, but I do have a lot more movies coming, including a batch of lesbian ones.

  6. Yes, I do think it is important to see lesbians being visible and not just in a kinky sexual relationship. I am reading Janice Raymond’s A Passion for Friends with a different perspective than the first time around. I think I have finally understood that awful betrayal by women of women. I remember a friend I had whom I did deeply care about and who offered to come with me for support at a doctor’s office. I off offhandedly remarked that people will think we are lesbians and wow our friendship was ended. The word is very taboo in het life because it has those sexual connotation. I thought I was making a joke. For me I didn’t care what people thought, but for her it was a big deal and she absolutely refused to talk about it. It was very disturbing to me, hence I started looking at why and that why exploded alot of patriarchal internalized taboos. I realized that alot of het female friendships are really based on the fact of some kind of emotionality because men just can’t give it. So women turn to other women for that support. Yet, the moment it is more than superficial, it gets threatening and those taboos are triggered. At first it really hurts, but I have come to realize that this internalization is much more insidious than I had thought. My stupidity is around thinking everyone else already knows what I know. The patriarchy has done a great pr job on making women hate each other. It also takes a great effort to unpack that shit.

  7. Watched this movie and was captivated by it. Ignoring the holes in the plot, the small town mentality was there plus a raft of other storytelling conventions that make this movie work for me. I read the comments about why this movie was having trouble getting finance and those that wanted to change the ending and change the gender of the lead character and re arrange other things. They were wrong. The only things I could suggest was making the script stronger with the father being tougher and there being some boy or boys that were town pariahs coming to the fore as the cavalry. Geeks versus cool guys stuff. Ya get a double hit of revenge by doing that.

    Some of the sound on the print I saw was damaged and some of the photography could have been better but this also may have been the fault of the director, otherwise a great little movie that relied on script, direction and acting. As the director writer was once quoted they wanted to make the original type western in the vein of say Shane, no pun intended and they did.

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