Country: Australia (English)
Director: Steve Jodrell
. … Asta Cadell
. … Tim Curtis
. … Lizzie Curtis
Gillian Jones ..
. …Tina Farrel
. …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.