From the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival
People always talk about back-stories in film but normally that refers to the characters. For Wake In Fright, the back-story refers to the film itself. Lost for many years, someone found a print of this film in an old warehouse in Philadelphia. They couldn't find anyone to take the print so it was headed for the burn file. Yes, they burn many film prints each year. Luckily, someone located director Ted Kotcheff two days before the "execution" and found the print to be in excellent condition. So, this newly discovered treasure found itself among all the fresh indie films at the 53rd SFIFF.
The film itself represents a found treasure. It offers an honest, often brutal glimpse in the real Australian outback something that many Australians found disturbing when the film originally debuted in 1971. The film opens with a long pan of the desolate Australian outback then narrows in to a lonely schoolhouse in a one-half horse town. Inside that schoolhouse, refined schoolteacher John Grant (Gary Bond) bids adieu to his students as everyone heads off for summer holiday. Grant heads to the slightly larger mining town of Bundanyabba (known as the “Yabba”) for one night in order to catch his flight to Sydney. Unfortunately for Grant, he never makes his flight. Instead he gets trapped in the local culture of gambling, sex, drinking, fighting and hunting.
Director Ted Kotcheff (Fun With Dick and Jane, Rambo) steers this fish out of water story with a keen eye toward the not so pretty setting and cracks the creative whip at the ugly characters that populate this town. Kotcheff creates a downward spiral for Grant who tries to maintain his values and sensibilities as he first succumbs to gambling (where he ends up flat broke) then methodically ends up acting like the people who at first he found repulsive. Grant’s descent into despair and violence often seems reminiscent to the film Straw Dogs.
In the Yabba, people gamble, rape, kill animals but don’t say no when a man offers you a drink. This honest film offers a stark and eerie, hot and grimy setting that only adds to the atmosphere. That setting includes the infamous and eerily authentic kangaroo-hunting scene marks a cruelly honest escapade that would have SPCA members up in arms if filmed today.
This well directed portrayal of a man’s plunge into the real outback may not be for all tastes but hopefully people will get a chance to see this rough jewel. The film highlights an all too real area of Australian film where Crocodile Dundee wouldn’t last five minutes.