(aka Outback)

Dir. Ted Kotcheff. Australia. 1971.

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Restored by Australia's National Film & Sound Archive and on general UK theatrical release 7th March 2014. Released by Eureka Entertainment

Wake in Fright was initially released in 1971 and is back with us after a 40 year absence and promises to be one of the more worthy and delightful releases of the year, arriving straight after the Oscars hoopla has been and gone. In its first incarnation, was nominated for a Palme D'Or, had a sub titled long run in a cinema in Paris, then sat undiscovered in an archive for years, and was at one  time going to be destroyed.  Scorsese is but one of its famous fans and it would appeal to Scorsese's sense of the beautiful and brutal in male chauvinism. It is a film that both compounds the cultural clichés of its native land, rebukes them and not surprisingly was and is controversial in being an honest and true account of the nastier elements of Australian culture - right down to the depiction of an actual kangaroo killing spree, just when 'Skippy' was one of the nation's much treasured exports.

The film is adapted from the book of the same name, a critically acclaimed bestselling novel by Kenneth Cook, with a foreword (and forewarning…), "you may dream of the devil and wake in fright."

Its central protagonist, John Grant (played by Gary Bond who looks like a brown eyed, young Peter O Toole) suffers immeasurably, descending into madness as the menfolk who surround him show him the delights of 'The Yabba.'  A wide panning shot of Tiboonda - the one school, arid and heat caked location shows the life for John to escape from, bound for Sydney with a one night stop off at Bundanyabba, where his money is lost on a gambling turn for the worst.

Throughout the film there are flashbacks to a better life, a beautiful girl, a creature given the iconographic stature of a bond femme fatale coming out of the waves of a glorious beach to kiss her man. An image so far, far away from the spiralling madness which is his present and the ever recurring message that the life that is on offer is for a 'good bloke.' The prospect of sex offered to John makes him sick. Little wonder upon the discovery that the woman, Janette, played brilliantly by Sylvia Kay has been with most of the men in the town, the more distasteful aspects of her sexuality welcomed by her soul mate 'Doc' Tydon, a role given over with relish by Donald Pleasence.

This educated man, alone and lost in the world in which he has found himself is gradually taught the ways of the life (the beers in Yabba are called 'West End' offering the promise of a glamorous existence felt elsewhere) and 'Doc' painstakingly offers one empty philosophy after another behind the justification of a nilhistic and nasty life, none of which hold any credence with John's consistent distaste, the fight these two have as drunk buddies though smacks of the wafer thin distance between male bonding and homosexuality. The killings of the Kangaroos is very disturbing and not for the squeamish, but is essential in showing the sheer degradation and impoverishment of spirit abound in Yabba. The director, determined to offer the required realism shot it as real stock footage with a note in the end credits as to the authenticity.

Coming to us in the first quadrant of the year, this delightful gem of a film - a lost classic, deservedly beloved by the great and good in moviedom is most welcome and deserves to be a fair way ahead of Mad Max as iconographic modern Australian Cinema. See first in the cinema, then buy as collectors piece, it's a keeper.

Gail Spencer

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