The Jimmy Barnes ‘Working Class Boy’ documentary is not a rock documentary. Instead, ‘Working Class Boy’ is a true story about the struggle of a migrant family assimilating into Australia in the 1960s as told through the eyes of Jimmy Barnes.
The early life of Jimmy Barnes is seen through the lens of director Mark Joffe. Joffe is a veteran of Australian television after working on ‘Carson’s Law’ and ‘Neighbours’ in the 1980s and progressing to movies such as ‘Spotswood’ (1992), ‘Cosi’ (1996) and ‘The Man Who Sued God’ (2001).
‘Working Class Boy’ is Jimmy’s story through to the start of Cold Chisel. (The second book ‘Working Class Man’ picks up its story from there). Joffe takes Jimmy back to his birthplace Glasgow, where we see the lifestyle of the then Swan family just 11 years after World War II had ended and it wasn’t pretty. The story begins at the bottom rung of life. The Swan’s were battlers and in the early days they aimed for a better life. That rollercoaster became Jimmy’s life template.
The better life decision was to migrate to Australia. They were British immigrants in search of new beginnings and while the Australian scenario was easier on the eye, the search for the dream out of Elizabeth, South Australia became as unobtainable as Glasgow and with that tension, a family starting falling apart.
The stress of the new life divided Jimmy’s family and life went into a downward spiral for some of them, including his father. He witnessed sex, drugs and alcohol at an early age and built his character around a shattered world. “I was born James Dixon Swan and this is the story of how I became Jimmy Barnes,” Jimmy says in the movie.
“When I look back at my childhood I wouldn’t tell anybody to get to where I am by doing what I did. But I cannot regret any of it because it made me who I am,” Jimmy says.
The ‘Working Class Boy’ book became therapy for Jimmy Barnes. The stories in the film were his deepest, darkest secrets before the first book. Even his wife Jane did not know this story of her husband. “It has given me a deeper understanding of who Jimmy is. I don’t think he is running away anymore,” Jane says.
‘Working Class Boy’ is a warts and all look inside the soul of Jimmy Barnes. Few have survived to tell a story like this. It is amazing Jimmy has lived to tell the tale. It’s a classic case of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.
In ‘Working Class Boy’ you meet most of the Barnes family but brother John Swan has not contributed to film. Jimmy’s cousins from Glasgow take us back to where Jimmy grew up. Jimmy takes us back to the Adelaide home when much of the nightmare took place. We also hear from his Cold Chisel mates Ian Moss and Don Walker who are as surprised by the content of this story as the rest of us.
Mossy and Walker pop up towards the end of the film, just like Luke Skywalker in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’. No doubt we will hear more from them if there is a sequel make around Jimmy’s ‘Working Class Man’ book.
If so, this story is to be continued, and next time starring Don SkyWalker.
‘Working Class Boy’ premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival with a Q&A with Barnes and Joffe by The Age’s Martin Boulton.
The movie will have a general release in Australian cinemas from Thursday, 23 August, 2018.
The Jimmy Barnes Working Class Boy soundtracks are out now. Jimmy is donating all royalties from the 2018 sales to Drought Relief.