Wake in Fright
A fearsome treatment of Australian cultural identity, masculinity and violence
A fearsome treatment of Australian cultural identity, masculinity and violence, long unseen even in its native land due to the unavailability of a usable print, Wake in Fright has met with renewed praise since being restored from rediscovered negatives and rereleased in 2009.
Gary Bond plays John, a young teacher frustrated by his posting to a remote outback town, and keen to get back to Sydney to spend his Christmas holiday with his girlfriend. But things are not to play out that simply: the journey requires a stopover in the mining town of Bundanyabba, where John is quickly, forcibly and disastrously recruited to the perpetual bender that is the local men’s way of life.
Released during the same time period as Straw Dogs and Deliverance, Ted Kotcheff’s 1971 film shares elements with both – intellectualism pitted against brute force, misdirected sexual energy as a source of madness and violence, the porousness of the layers of civilisation with which we cover our savagery – but its setting is specific both visually and culturally, and its depiction of the wild outback is searing. Often described as a horror film, it fits that bill only in the broadest sense: it needs no supernatural element, finding its creepiness instead in the sheer unpleasantness of being marooned amid people you don’t like (and then letting them pickle you in booze, bully you sexually, and generally destroy your self-respect). Even the film’s celebrated and reviled kangaroo-killing sequence simply records culling that was, and remains, legal and habitual in the outback.
Brian West’s cinematography is astonishing, equally lucid in its depiction of beauteous landscapes and sweaty, drunk faces, and capturing with fierce clarity the impact of glaring sunlight on an equally glaring hangover. Few films were ever so bright and so dark at once.
Limited release from Fri 7 Mar.