RantBit

Film bits and bobs

Wake In Fright (1971)

First published by Grolsch FilmWorks

If the principal theme of Ted Kotcheff’s overlooked 1971 masterpiece Wake In Fright (aka Outback) is the thin line that exists between civilisation and bestiality, then the film’s opening finds a perfect way to visualise this idea. A slow, circling aerial pan (shot very wide) reveals the tiny, dust-blown desert town of Tiboonda, whose ‘centre’ comprises just two shack-like buildings – one a classroom, the other a pub – divided by a single train track.

Having finished his final lesson for the year, seconded schoolteacher John Grant (Gary Bond) crosses over for what he wishes were the last time to his rented room in the pub to pack his bags. A “bonded slave of the education department”, John feels trapped in his dead-end, back-of-beyond job, and cannot wait to be back in the City to spend Christmas with his beautiful girlfriend Robin – although he would really rather be in England (“even Sydney” is not civilised enough for him). En route, he stops overnight at Bundinyabba, described by its constable Jock Crawford (beloved Aussie icon Chips Rafferty in his finest – and final – performance) as the “honestest little town in Australia”. After drunkenly gambling away all his money in one night, John finds himself caught in a hallucinatory hell of boozing and brawling, machismo and misogyny, recklessness and ‘roos. As his sense of cultured superiority is exposed as a readily disposable vanity, John is all at once drawn to and repelled by ‘Doc’ Tydon (Donald Pleasence, again a career-best performance), an educated, appetitive alcoholic with far more self-knowledge than the deluded teacher.

Adapted by Evan Jones from Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel, Wake In Fright reduces mateship, that defining lynchpin of the Australian character, to a vice (in every sense) whose grip is near impossible to escape. Here the Yabba folk’s spirit of hospitality, though generous to a fault, is also something aggressive and menacing, as John is confronted with a masculine vulnerability in himself that lets him blend right in, fatalistically, with the local colour. He may hope to leave the savage country for the city, but John does not realise that he cannot escape his own worst impulses – or that, as one character puts it, “Bundinyabba’s a city” too.

Like the majestic camera movement with which it opens, Wake In Fright is a film that travels in slow, inexorable circles, presenting its paranoid nightmare of entrapment as Kafka down under. Recently restored in all its wide-eyed, widescreen glory, it is a feral classic of the Australian New Wave, revealing the ‘lucky country’ to be both a nation resigned to its own primal urges – and a state (of mind) hell-bent on self-destruction. All viewers (but especially male, Australian ones) will, like John, see in Kotcheff”s delirious bender a dark image of themselves that they both recognise and abhor.

Anton Bitel

One comment on “Wake In Fright (1971)

  1. Royalrat
    March 7, 2014

    One of my favorite films!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on March 7, 2014 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , .

Archives

Social media

My most scatterbrained rantings can be found on
Twitter 
and 
Facebook

Follow RantBit on WordPress.com

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 3,854 other followers

%d bloggers like this: