Wake in Fright (1971)

Allmovie is a cock about recognising DVD releases of films outside the US and UK, so I’ve had to source the American poster off Wiki… Anyway, this is the legendary lost Australian classic, or at least it was lost as long as you don’t count the various times Mu-Meson Archives in Sydney showed their 16mm print of it; alas I never got to any of those screenings, but I’m kind of glad now that my first experience of the film was this restoration of the 35mm print. I missed it at the film festival in 2009 (nearly said “last year”, I have to remember that “last year” now means 2010, not ’09) thanks to, you know, being paralysed in hospital, though knowing me I would’ve waited for the DVD anyway. Wake in Fright hails from the very early days of the local industry’s rebirth, and I suspect it might only have been possible at that precise time; 40 years later it proved to still be an awesomely unpleasant viewing experience, so I can only imagine how bracing it must’ve felt in 1971… Australian audiences took it as an attack on them and stayed away in droves, whereupon the film vanished apart from one showing on Channel 10 in the 80s (must’ve been 10, cos the DVD extras feature Bill Collins introing it). And let’s be honest, it’s a blunt and unflattering portrait of our rural friends; Gary Bond’s urbanite schoolteacher, sent by the education department to far west NSW, is a classic fish out of water among these pissheaded, gambling, roo-murdering cunts. But it feels like the film invites you to question why they’re like that (or at least it did to me); is it something that the isolation does to you, or is it something you have to do to yourself to survive? And it leaves entirely unanswered the question of our teacher’s life in the even more piffling desert town he actually lives in: does it really differ from the ‘Yabba? Based on my own brief experience of the Outback, I’ve long believed it takes a particular kind of person to make it there and that your average urban Anglo-European isn’t exactly that kind of person. No wonder the average urban Anglo-Europeans who would’ve largely comprised this film’s audience in 1971 were horrified by it, perhaps—not the perceived attack upon “Australians” in general but the idea that, under other circumstances, they could be no better than the people on the screen…

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