As the opening credits roll over a rural Australian backwater, don’t let the jaunty music lure you into a false sense of security. There’s an uncomfortable ride in store for you.
Beautifully restored for the Masters of Cinema series, based on a best-selling novel by Kenneth Cook , Wake in Fright is a brutal drama set in the Australian outback. Made in 1970, the film follows John Grant (Gary Bond), a middle-class bonded schoolteacher who finds himself stranded in a post in a rural Outback town. Frustrated with provincial life and customs, he is desperate to escape. On the way to spend the Christmas holidays with his girlfriend, he finds himself marooned in a rough mining town after gambling his entire savings on the chance of a better life.
Falling in with a group of misfits lead by an educated wild-eyed alcoholic doctor (Donald Pleasance), and joined by the pugilistic Dick (Jack Thompson) and Joe (Peter Whittle), he inadvertently finds himself on a booze-sodden weekend which destroys his dignity and threatens to completely unhinge him.
Notorious for the kangaroo hunting scenes, and widely lauded at the time of release as a critique of Australian rural society, there’s no disputing that Wake in Fright is a brutal and very masculine film. However, as director Ted Kotcheff explains in the excellent accompanying video interview, it was never meant as a critique or commentary on Australia society, but as a study of a man slowly descending into madness; stifled by the searing heat and stifling company.
The Outback plays a starring role. Kotcheff paints every scene in bright warm colours; the heat seemingly radiating from the screen, whilst the sounds of the bush and rural life provide a naturalistic soundtrack. The tension is palpable, with a constant threat of danger and conflict simmering through every scene. The sun drenched madness is encapsulated in Pleasance’s grotesque Doc Tydon, along with a brilliant performance by the wonderfully named Chips Rafferty as “Yabba” expert and local lawman Jock Crawford.
Wake in Fright is beautifully filmed (more surrealist fantasy than documentary realism), and is one of only two films to have ever appeared twice at Cannes This beautiful addition to the Masters of Cinema collection shows exactly why.
Wake in Fright is released by Eureka as part of their Masters of Cinema Series on 31st March and is available to order from Amazon.