Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971)

What's it about? A disenchanted young teacher John Grant (Gary Bond) ends up in the godforsaken town of 'The Yabba' in the Australian outback, where he encounters some rather aggressively friendly locals, including the somewhat eccentric Doc Tydon (Donald Pleasance).


Is it any good? Best get your soap ready, because this will make you feel dirty. Thanks to Brian West's cinematography, the heat, sweat, flies and dust of the Australian outback are palpable, and that's before we even get into the events that occur, as Grant succumbs to the poisonous macho camaraderie that pervades the town. Who'd have thought a simple question like 'Have another drink, mate?' could be imbued with such sinister undertones? Before long, Grant's intellectual veneer has slipped to reveal some much darker base instincts, egged on by his new 'friends'. And then there's the notorious kangaroo hunt sequence, which is sill shocking in its brutality - more of that below. It's a really impressive film that worms it's way under the skin, not least because it addresses some uncomfortable truths about male behaviour that will still strike a chord wherever young men gather to drink, gamble and fight as a sign of their 'manliness'. Queasy viewing, but certainly worth a watch.

I don't trust you. What do others think? Internationally released as Outback, Wake in Fright now has a big reputation as a masterpiece that was nearly lost to history forever. Screened at Cannes in 1971, it went down a storm, with a young Martin Scorsese particularly impressed (the depiction of drunkenness here must surely have influenced the drunk scenes in his Mean Streets two years later). However, it failed to find an audience and the negative ended up in a bin marked for destruction until its editor Tony Buckley tracked it down in 2004 and spent another two years restoring it. In 2009 it again screened at Cannes, championed by the honorary president - none other than Martin Scorsese - becoming one of only two films to be shown twice at the festival (along with L’Avventura). The 40th anniversary re-release saw it widely praised for its searing vision of toxic masculinity and cemented its reputation as one the the greatest Australian films ever made.

Anything else I should know? Director Kotcheff, who went on the experience greater success with First Blood, Uncommon Valor and...er...Weekend at Bernie's, later confessed that filming the kangaroo hunt scenes still bothers him, although he defends its place in the film. Determined not to harm animals for the film, he instead joined a 'professional' group of hunters to record documentary footage of their hunt, which was then inserted into the film. “It was a nightmare.  It was a total nightmare,” he recalled. “I did not use 75% of what I filmed that night as it was too bloody and horrifying.” So appalled were the crew, they eventually faked a power outage and forced the hunters to call it an evening, which was just as well since the hunters had gotten increasingly drunk and dangerous. The footage that did make it into the film certainly has the desired effect and adds another layer of grimy horror to an already unsettling film.

What does the Fonz think? Strewth mate! Think I need a drink after that...or maybe not.

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