The Indigenous Australian actor Jack Charles, the subject of the documentary Bastardy, is a remarkable man. He founded the first Aboriginal theatre company in the 1960s and has worked prolifically in Australian theatre and television plus having significant roles in the films The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978), Bedevil (1993) and Blackfellas (1993). He’s an articulate, intelligent and compassionate man who can also sing beautifully as well as act and is something of a part-time philosopher. He’s also homeless, a long-term heroin user and house burglar. Filmmaker Amiel Courtin-Wilson followed Jack for seven years and the result is this extraordinary film.
Jack allows Amiel full access to his life and speaks candidly about his one true love, being homeless and the joys of acting. When discussing his drug use and his robberies (he favours the upper-middle-class Melbourne suburbs of Balwyn and Kew since the people there can probably cover it) he doesn’t speak with any bravado or self-pity but with a genuine honesty and slight sense of self-deprecation. Despite recounting some very sad stories about attitudes towards Aboriginal people, Jack is not an angry man either. Despite the insight into his life that this film provides, Jack is still something of a mystery. This enigmatic quality is matched by the superb cinematography and editing that combine raw documentary footage, clips from Jack’s films and beautifully composed stylised shots that often have no specific narrative importance but establish the tone of the film. The result is a film that blurs the boundary between documentary and video art. Bastardy is a fascinating and engaging film about a complex, flawed and extremely likeable man.