January 13, 2013

Filthy Review - 'Wake in Fright'

Wake in Fright (1971)

Review by Jude Felton

Wake in Fright was made way back in 1971, it had a short theatrical run in the States, going by the name of Outback, and then apparently vanished. It didn’t just disappear from theaters, it seemingly went walkabout, never to be seen again. Fortunately it has been found, as you can see, and you owe it to yourself to watch this brutally stark slice of Australian cinema.

The film opens with a 360 degree shot of a tiny town in the Australian Outback, and when I say tiny I mean it has a hotel, a school and a railway track dividing the two. The town may be tiny, but this shot gives us an idea of just how big the Outback is, and just how remote this town is. It is at this school that John Grant teaches. However, the Christmas holidays are approaching, although you wouldn’t guess it, and John is about to make the long journey to Sydney to be with his girlfriend.

The journey involves a stopover at the remote, but infinitely larger, town that is known by its locals at the Yabba. With nothing much to do, John finds himself visiting one of the bars, and it is here that his journey into a spiraling descent begins.

The culture out here is one of drinking (a lot of drinking), gambling and hunting, and John finds himself getting sucked into this madness. A previously well-spoken and mild-mannered chap, he ends up getting up close and personal with the locals, and it is a journey that John might well not make it back from.

Wake in Fright, which was directed by Ted Kotcheff, is a stark view of Australian culture, where men are men, and you will damn well drink with them. To be a man is to drink, you certainly don’t talk to the women folk. It’s a hot and sweaty, and at times shocking, movie which does not gloss over anything. It’s also an absolutely terrific film.

The cinematography is superb, catching the dual beauty and horror of the Outback, and all that goes with it. I was actually surprised just how damned good this film looked; it is actually quite stunning. Thrown into this visual feast is a truly terrific cast, with Gary Bond as John Grant and Donald Pleasance who is electric as the alcoholic town doctor, Tydon. The entire cast is perfect though, as they all manage to capture the true gritty essence of a modern day wild west.

I will make mention that there is one particular scene that might make some viewers feel uncomfortable, actually there are quite a few, but this one involves guns, knives and kangaroos. Be sure to watch the film through to the credits though, as some light will be shed on this scene. Regardless, it’s harsh viewing, but serves to add to the madness that John finds himself in the midst of.

If I wanted to I could rattle on for hours on just how good Wake in Fright is, although of course I won’t. It is a hard film to categorize, or even to do justice to, although you could call it a slice of life drama of a world that many of us will never see. There’s no real start, middle and finish to the film’s plot, as for all intents and purposes there is no plot, aside from John’s plans to get to Sydney. Instead, we the viewer get pulled, along with John, into this hard-drinking and stark world.

The quote on Drafthouse Film’s Blu-ray and DVD release is “It left me speechless” from Martin Scorcese. It may well have that effect on you too. Utter brilliance.

Wake in Fright is released on Blu-ray and DVD through Drafthouse Films on January 15th.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The novel is pretty damn good too.