Friday, November 09, 2012

Wake In Fright

Writes Roger Ebert:
"Wake in Fright" is a film made in Australia in 1971 and almost lost forever. It's not dated. It is powerful, genuinely shocking and rather amazing. It comes billed as a "horror film" and contains a great deal of horror, but all of the horror is human and brutally realistic. Screened at the Toronto Film Festival in 2009, picked up three years later by Drafthouse, it arrives still powerful and crushing. It has what would have been an all-star cast when it was released, and still is now for those who know their actors: Donald Pleasence, Jack Thompson and Gary Bond.

According to Australian critics, the film was originally reviled because it painted such a horrifying portrait of life in the isolation of the Outback — life making our own Old West look positively civilized. "Deliverance," made a year later in 1972, is mild by comparison. Kotcheff's film is raw and uncompromised, well-acted, brilliantly photographed and edited. Animals were certainly "harmed." Footage of an actual kangaroo hunt was seamlessly edited in by Buckley, and a "producer's note" says this documentary footage was included with "the participation" of animal rights' organizations, whatever that means. It's rare to find a film that goes for broke and says to hell with the consequences.
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Wake in Fright (also known as Outback) is a 1971 Australian film directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring Gary Bond, Donald Pleasence and Chips Rafferty. The screenplay was written by Evan Jones, based on Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel of the same name. Made on a budget of A$800,000, the movie was an Australian/American co-production by NLT Productions and Group W. Wake in Fright tells the story of a young school teacher who descends into personal moral degradation after finding himself stranded in a brutal, menacing town in outback Australia. For many years, Wake In Fright enjoyed a reputation as Australia’s great "lost film" because of its unavailability on VHS or DVD, as well as its absence from television broadcasts. In mid-2009, however, a thoroughly restored digital re-release was shown in Australian theatres to considerable acclaim. Later that same year it was issued commercially on DVD and Blu-ray.
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Writes James Guida in The New Yorker: In a two-building town in the Australian desert, a young schoolteacher in suit and tie lights a cigarette and orders a beer in an otherwise empty hotel bar. He’s waiting for the afternoon train that will take him on to the next town, from which he plans to fly home to Sydney for the holidays. The surly, rifle-wielding bartender, who turns out to be his landlord, sets down the drink, not bothering to remove a significant head of foam. The teacher raises the glass, eyes the size of the head, and says nothing, while the bartender pours a beer for himself. His own drink, of course, is perfect.

The scene is from “Wake in Fright,” a film directed by Ted Kotcheff, and released in 1971. It is routinely and very justifiably described as “disturbing.” The novelist Peter Temple has joked that it probably set the course of tourism in the country back twenty years. There are culinary horrors, packs of grunting, shirtless frontiersmen getting blotto, and genuine kangaroo-hunt footage. But the film is as subtle as it is brutal, and it was largely the accumulation of casually eloquent little details (like the one above) that left me stunned after a first viewing.
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Wake in Fright at the DRAFTHOUSE FILMS here.
Wake in Fright in YouTube here.

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