Wake in Fright (1971) Poster

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Quite Possibly The Most Realistic Film I've Ever Seen
Sturgeon5421 August 2005
The first time I watched this, I really didn't know what to make of it; it was so different from any other film I had ever seen. It seemed as if it was filmed with virtually no budget, the sets and atmosphere were completely dingy, the setting and much of the language was foreign to me, and it felt like a kind of homemade independent film. However, upon a second viewing, I see it for the richly-textured masterpiece that it is, and for the awesome attention to detail that must have gone into it which I had taken for granted the first time.

There have been other films with similar subject matter in alternate settings of cultured men reduced to a kind of forgotten primitivity, but I think the thing that sets this movie apart is the fact that director Ted Kotcheff remains completely neutral toward all of the characters - both the cultured schoolteacher as well as the locals. By the end of the film, no character remains unscathed, and yet no character is completely without sympathy, either. It must be quite difficult for a director to remain impartial, especially when most stories require audience sympathy for a protagonist versus an antagonist for story momentum. This impartiality establishes an incredible realism in the film which is difficult to shake off. Here, as in life, things just happen to the main character organically - whether there is any rhyme, reason, or moral to any of it is the complete burden of the audience to figure out.

Another key aspect to the film is its universality. Most people would like to believe that in the modern world, and especially a modern country such as Australia or the U.S, that such ugly colloquial primitivity has been largely purged from polite society, but they would be quite wrong. I can equate some of my own personal experiences with those of the main character in this film, and so felt an uncomfortable recognition as I was watching this. Moroever, virtually every scene in the film I could envision actually occurring - something I cannot say about any other I can think of. Sam Peckinpah's filmic explorations of perverse masculinity, some of Samuel Fuller's work, and "Deliverance" are the only movies that achieve something close to the kind of effect this movie has, and even Peckinpah felt the need to resort to flashy cinematic stylistics to get his points across.

This movie has not aged one bit, and probably never will. It is a tragedy that it has all but disappeared even in its own country of Australia. Director Kotcheff displayed an amazing early talent; it is too bad that his career never reached another peak like this - even in "First Blood" and "Uncommon Valor" - two of his other films with similar themes. And that the same man ended up directing "Weekend at Bernie's" and episodes of "Zalman King's Red Shoe Diaries"!!! The world is a crazy place, and one need only watch this film to realize this fact.
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Under the weather down under
Philby-314 July 2009
Kenneth Cook was posted as a young man by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (our state-owned broadcaster) to the NSW outback mining town of Broken Hill in the early 1950s. This experience provided the basis for his scarifying first novel, "Wake in Fright", published in 1960. In the novel, Gary, a young schoolteacher bonded to the State Education Department to teach in a desolate desert whistle stop, visits "Bundayabba" (Broken Hill) on his way back to Sydney, surf and girlfriend for the vacation, loses all his money in a two-up game in a desperate attempt to pay off his bond and descends into drunkenness and depravity with the friendly locals, who all appear to be carrying on as they normally do.

This film was made from the novel in 1970 by a production company hitherto associated with light TV entertainment. The then fairly young Canadian director, Ted Kotchoff, with a couple of foreign leads, Donald Pleasance and Gary Bond, was quite happy to accept Cook's ugly Australians as his local characters and his parody of "mateship" as the social cement binding them together. The dialogue may be spare but the editing (by Tony Buckley) is great, and we are right inside Gary's head as he loses it.

I saw this movie when it first came out in New Zealand, where it passed almost without comment. Australian audiences did not flock to see it, and the general critical reaction was that it was too confronting. Nearly 40 years later, restored by the Australian Film Archive, it is a well-made classic which still has plenty of punch. Gary Bond as the hapless schoolteacher is very convincing. Chips Rafferty as the local policeman with a pragmatic approach to enforcing the law exudes a low-level air of menace. Donald Pleasance as "Doc" the alcoholic ex-doctor who leads Gary astray is not so much menacing as over the top, but very amusing all the same. The rest of the cast are suitably ocker.

Much has changed in the outback since the 1950s. Most of the people you rub up against in the bars of mining towns are likely to be from somewhere else, and you'd be lucky to hear those harsh bush accents. Broken Hill has shrunk a bit and is now a pretty quiet place. The Education Department no longer goes in for bush slavery - this is no more than an historical portrait. Yet many city dwellers still see the outback as Gary sees it – a place full of drunken homoerotic dickheads who abuse their environment, treat women like public conveniences and whose idea of mateship is to keep their mates drunk. "Wake in Fright" is best seen as very vivid fiction, a horror movie in fact. I don't think Kenneth Cook set out to write non-fiction. Neither was Ted Kotchoff trying to make a documentary. But, with the aid of several good actors and a host of authentic extras he created such a realistic atmosphere that many viewers were misled.

The film, which launched the career of Jack Thomson for one, is said to have given the Australian film industry a boost, even though few saw it. Certainly some fine films followed ; "Picnic at Hanging Rock", "The Getting of Wisdom", "The Devil's Playground", "The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith" for example. But history prevailed – modern Australia was not yet ready to film.
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Stunning new print seen at TIFF
targosfan127 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I had the great good fortune to obtain a ticket for a one-time-only screening of Wake In Fright (aka Outback) at the 2009 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. I had heard of the film and read reviews of it, but it had receded from my memory before I noticed it in the festival program. Ted Kotcheff was known to me as the talented Canadian director of such artful Canadian films as The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974) and subversive Hollywood offerings like North Dallas Forty (1979) but I had not connected him to WIF.

The screening was part of TIFF's Discussions series, which features an extended, moderated Q&A after the film. I believe this one ran at least one hour, and was very informative and interesting. But first the film.

Briefly, school teacher John Grant (Gary Bond) is contracted by the government to teach in a one-room schoolhouse in Australia's primitive Outback. The school year ends and Grant thankfully boards the train for a six week summer vacation. But he loses all his money when drawn into a stupid gambling contest in the first settlement the train reaches. He is thus just as helpless and alone as any civilized man among dangerous savages (think The Naked Prey with drunk, horny rednecks chasing the titular hero.) Grant first meets the local lawman Jock Crawford (Chips Rafferty) who appears unconcerned with the pervasive drunkenness in his community. He insists they get sloshed together, and unwittingly leads him to the gamblers, who play a simple-minded game of heads or tails with two coins. Grant wins at first, but then loses it all. Destitute, he has no choice but to accept the sodden hospitality of the locals. We get the idea (via excellent acting by Mr. Bond) that the educated young man is not happy being at the mercy of these lower-class savages. But their brutish acting-out is partially accounted for (but NOT excused) by the scarcity of sex -- whatever each of these man-children desires, men or women, they just aren't getting enough! An excellent sequence in the film is the attempted seduction of Grant by Janette Hynes (Sylvia Kay), daughter of one of Grant's erstwhile "mates." Loneliness, desperation and sexual frustration are etched in her face, and she leads Grant out of a drunken party for a walk, intending to do the dirty literally in the dirt, but her intended vomits up one of the 1,000 or so beers he downs in the film. Her wretchedness as she flees sobbing back to her father's house is just devastating.

The most controversial scenes in the film were shot during actual kangaroo hunts, conducted at the time with no decent regulation, for the benefit of foreign pet food companies. Drunk as lords, the Aussie crew speed through the desert in a "Mad Max" hunting truck, shooting every poor 'roo they can find. In the grisly climax, Grant agrees to kill an animal with a knife and his bare hands.

Later, seriously alcoholic 'Doc' Tydon (the great Donald Pleasence, at the peak of his brilliance) sexually assaults the (finally) unconscious Grant in his filthy hovel. Grant "wakes in fright" to find the good Doc asleep on the floor, naked except for a woman's baby doll nightie. "Gay panic" ensues, and after an unsuccessful attempt to hitchhike out of the town, he returns to the cabin with his kangaroo rifle and confused intentions. (SPOILER) 'Doc' returns, but Grant turns the rifle on himself and fires. He awakes in a hospital bed, and signs a statement saying the shooting was an accident. He is discharged just in time to return to his school house.

At the Q&A we learned some interesting facts: The film was shot on location in a small Aussie town, and the bar, gambling hall, the Hynes ranch, the schoolhouse, etc. are real, and together with the stark cinematography impart a sense of one of those faintly recalled nightmares that seem like a true occurrence. Mr. Kotcheff told us he was aiming to create claustrophobia in wide-open spaces, and in my humble opinion he succeeded.

The 'roo hunt was filmed documentary-style at a real hunt. The filmmakers consulted with Australian anti-hunt groups who told them to go ahead, so that the Australian public could see the cruel slaughter for themselves. It's quite sickening -- the hunters amuse themselves by shooting to wound, then watching the bleeding animals jumping about in pain. The killings by knife were simulated, shot in a black-out tent to match the night-time of the documented hunt.

The film was well received by critics at Cannes (and the restored film was re-screened there this year), and the director remembers being told by his hosts that it was an important film for Australians, and that it could only have been made by an unbiased outsider. Its North American release (as Outback) was botched -- perhaps deliberately, since (I suppose) unfettered alcoholism + gay rape + graphic animal slaughter wasn't expected to sell well, even in the cinema's post-60's creative ferment.

Eventually, the film was forgotten and the master negatives misplaced. The film's editor spent two years on his own time and dime tracking it down. He found the reels in a Pittsburgh, PA warehouse, in containers marked for destruction. Restored, remastered and revived, it has met with accolades in Australia, at Cannes, and of course here at TIFF.

Needless to say, I am anxiously awaiting the DVD release!
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Kotcheff's walkabout
soaringhorse28 April 2002
It's been said: "The best film ever made about Australia was directed by a Canadian." Possibly true. "Outback/Wake in Fright" is one of those films which gets a little too close for comfort. Unlike most Australians, those of us who grew up in the country will recognise a lot in this film, not always with displeasure.

What a strange, malleable career Ted Kotcheff has had. Of late he has retired to the relative comfort of making TV movies and even contributed to "Law and Order SVU". Yet like Nicolas Roeg ("Walkabout"), Kotcheff's brief spot of work in Australia was a wake-up call to a blinkered urban population (or those that went to the movies at any rate) to the complexity of the outback, in all its bloody glory, dispensing with the romantic pills we were used to swallowing. Kenneth Cook's novel should be held in equal regard, but his writing doesn't get much press these days, which is a shame.

Television prints of this film - rarely shown these days - heavily censor the kangaroo kills, which says a lot about the hypocrisy of the city. Uncut version is essential viewing.
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too true, too true.
ptb-86 February 2005
WAKE IN FRIGHT is also known Internationally as OUTBACK. Released to quite a furore in Oz in 1972, I saw it as a teenager and was not unshaken believing that it was all too true. The absolutely brutal sunbaked world of the inland 'scrub' is unflinchingly shown for every part of it's harsh reality. The bozo behavior of local men lubricated with endless alcohol and cruel boredom gets a mighty serve as well. A lot of media and tourist execs of the time were suitably outraged as were the conservative older establishment, and there were opposing films made to soften the blow (SUNSTRUCK, for example). However, WAKE IN FRIGHT is a major achievement as is Roeg's equally devastating WALKABOUT made around the same time. Recently THE TRACKER and RABBIT PROOF FENCE go into the same cinematic territory and deliver equally pungent views. WAKE IN FRIGHT will soon stand among the greats of Australian international cinema and rightfully so. A DVD release and a cinema reissue apparently is keenly awaited.
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Every blow hits home
Spleen18 July 2002
Yet another first-class film made in Australia by foreigners (a Canadian director working for a British studio), during the long period from World War II to the early 1970s when Australian cinema lay fallow. Like many other good ones - "The Overlanders" (1946), "They're a Weird Mob" (1966), "Age of Consent" (1969), "Walkabout" (1971) - although "Walkabout" is more seriously flawed than the others I've named - it doesn't feel like a foreign film; it feels as if the director made an honest attempt to be Australian, and succeeded. It's interesting that all these films are British. American films shot in Australia during the same period are, without qualification, American films; one scarcely even notices that "On the Beach" was shot in Melbourne rather than, say, Capetown or Tierra del Fuego, however many trams and banksias there may be.

The central character is clearly English; just as clearly, he doesn't like Australia. But I suspect that even in 1971 a greater proportion of Australians would have felt themselves to have been trapped in Hell if they'd been in his circumstances, than English. A greater proportion of Australians, then as now, live in cities, and the outback is further away from over 90% of Australians than anything is from anyone in England.

It's interesting that this fellow should be so RIGHT about everything (The Yabba IS a "bloody terrible" place, the hospitality he encounters DOES border on aggression, the game of two-up IS about as simple-minded and dull as it's possible for a game of chance to be), and yet be such an unsympathetic, unimaginative prig with scarcely more insight than he has backbone. He always needs a local to tell him what's going on and even then he doesn't get it. Yet we follow him with fascination and real concern all the same.
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Made In Australia
OptikNerve7 November 2003
I noted that Speen and some other media commentators think that 'Wake in Fright' was a foreign product that just happened to be made here in Oz.

My father was approached by EMI in 1967 or there abouts. The introduction of colour TV in the US had created a demand for weekly films on the networks, and they were rapidly exhausting the supply of colour films (colour only became the norm post WWII).

EMI was approaching media companies around the world to produce films for cinema release. The two caveats were that the films must contain at least one US marqee name (a recognisable draw card), and the rights for US TV must be given to EMI. All other matter of production were a matter for locals.

My father - who was running a large company in OZ (which had a recording arm) and had been involved in the start of TV, signed up.

The result were to very different films. "Squeeze a Flower" with Walter Chiari (who had starred in 'They're a Weird Mob' two years earlier) with Jack Albertson as the US star, and 'Wake in Fright' with Donald Pleasance as the star.

They utilised largely Oz casts, largely Oz crew and were moderately successful financially (from the Oz viewpoint, I don't know how EMI faired). Even Dave Allen who many now think of as an English or Irish star was the host of 'In Sydney Tonight' at the time (the Harbourside version of Graham Kennedies 'In Melbourne Tonight').

The follow on from this scheme of EMI was the beginings of TV features - specifically filmed for TV as feature films. But "Squeeze a Flower" and "Wake in Fright" were Oz films created for a TV market.

The success of 'Wake in Fright'and 'Walkabout' at the same time, along with the support of the Gorton Government for backing the new film push, started the ball rolling for Oz film's renaissance.

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Sweet Home Bundanyabba, where the skies are grim.
Coventry19 January 2008
"Outback" is unlike any other film ever made and quite impossible to categorize. If the movie taught me anything at all, it's that the Aussies can drink seriously hard and loads of it. They even drink till they pass out and then immediately open another can when they come to their senses again. I thought only Belgians did that. You cannot possibly count the amount of beer cans and bottles that are consumed in this film and the most repeated line of text/monologue is without a doubt: "C'mon mate, let's have a drink then". Based on the novel by Kenneth Cook, "Outback" tells the story of a young school teacher visiting the little outback community of Bundanyabba, where the local population is so hospitable and acts so familiar it becomes truly disturbing. They fill their days with drinking, gambling, getting involved in bar fights, drinking again, kangaroo hunting and drinking some more. John initially disapproves their savage habits and looks somewhat down upon the villagers, but slowly and gradually he becomes one of them as he wastes his entire year salary on booze and primitive roulette games. "Outback" is very slow-paced and moody. Sometimes you can literally taste the copious amounts of liquor and experience the heat of the Aussie summer. The noticeable heat, together with the feeling pure geographical isolation truly makes the film disturbing and uncomfortable as hell. "Outback" works effectively as psychological drama but even more as the non-fictional portrait about a society that is largely unknown and unspoken of. The footage of the kangaroo hunting trip is haunting and very, very depressing. I was really relieved when, during the end credits, a message appeared on the screen to state that no real kangaroos were harmed during the production. The film mostly benefices from astonishingly mesmerizing photography, superb music and Ted Kotcheff's solid direction. The versatile and brilliant actor Donald Pleasance is even convincing as an Aussie drunkard and the rest of the relatively unknown cast delivers great performances as well. This is one of them unique movies you only encounter a couple of times in a lifetime, but it's incredibly obscure so if you find a copy treasure it. So mate … shall we have a beer then?
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One of the great movies of all time
Zane-141 July 1999
This is one of my favourite films of all time and I'm not surprised when I hear of others who also see it as one of their favourites (including singer Nick Cave and Robert Mitchum). Detailing the life of a city school teacher stuck in an Australian outback town, this movie shows in great detail the ugly side of Australian country life that the Australian tourist authorities attempt to hide. Excellent performances by all the actors, including Donald Pleasance, Jack Thompson, John Mellion and the legendary Australian character actor Chips Rafferty (in his final film) help give the film a very gritty "real" texture.

Known as "Wake in Fright" in Australia, the film is still powerful nearly thirty years after it was made, although viewers unaccustomed to the Australian lingo may need an Australian strine dictionary to get them through some scenes. I saw this film with a Polish friend who was so overawed by the film and wanted to get a copy of the movie to take back to Poland and show it commercially there.

As an interesting side note, at the end of the film, in the spot usually reserved for the caption "No animals were harmed in the filming of this movie" is instead a note stating that the kangaroos killed during the making of the movie were killed as part of an official kangaroo culling programme.

See this movie if you can.
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DVD release?
Trevor28 November 2004
I have been wanting to see this film again for many years. Now that the negative has been recovered hopefully it will get a new lease of life, similar to the many other classic Australian films that have been re-released recently on DVD here in Australia. In a year (2003-4) when Australian films have fared poorly at the box office, particularly on a local level, it is worth looking back at a film like 'Wake in Fright' and understand that some of the best Australian films are the ones that look critically at life in Australia (in all its diversity) and at the mythologies that are generally perceived as representative of Australian national culture. In the case of 'Wake in Fright' it took a foreign director with a wonderful Australian cast to do that.
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Disturbing and Magnificent
Chris Warrington19 July 2005
It is this film which tells me more about Australia than any other.

Shown this film by Australian film scholar Cath Ellis i was captivated from start to finish. It is this film which does not flinch from the heart of Australian masculinity. There is no romanticism as with that found in Gallipoli or Newsfront.

We are slowly drawn into the disintegrating world of a hapless teacher who is trapped in the Australian interior. This isn't the Australian dream of the new frontier, this is a vision of Hell.

By the finale you will be swearing (as many Australian students apparently do when confronted with this film) that it cannot be that bad, the rampant hyper masculinity on display is too much and too wantonly violent. Hmmm.

The film is notorious for scenes of a Kangaroo being brutally murdered by a pack of drunken men engaging in an uncontrollably escalating series of dares. It is one of the most damning scenes about the pillage of Australia you could ever see. But like a train wreck you cannot avert your eyes.

On a cheekily upbeat note, look out for Donald Pleasance who seems to be enjoying the whole thing far too much. It looks like they were paying him in beer...
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One of the scariest movies I have ever seen
lamya0210816 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this movie shortly after it first came out in 1971. It played in a limited art house release.

It made a lasting impression - I wondered why it was not shown more often until I found out the negative was almost lost.

The movie is scary because it deals with the human weakness we all have. Donald Pleasance was about as creepy as he ever was. The only movies I can compare it to are The Lost Weekend and Leaving Los Vegas, but it is far superior because it follows the protagonist's descent from innocence into degradation. It also shows a side of Australia not well known in the USA.

The last scene, when the besotted teacher is welcomed back into the pub by his mates, was the most despairing ending I have ever seen in a movie.
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Margaret Reines: "Her Beauty and her Terror"
margielove8 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
'Wake in Fright' as many reviewers have alluded to - is a disturbing film.

For starters - I can attest to the fact that yes - it is not a fiction - there are places where people behave as they do in the film.

It is basically about how an educated man is drawn in to the horror of the world around him for the sake of conforming - and losing himself in the process.It is almost as if Australia itself is an alien entity - pulling/exerting this force on people who then become intertwined with the landscape - thus reflecting its barrenness/hardness. Dorothea McKellar wrote of the Australian landscape "its beauty and its terror".

I would draw a correlation with this film and 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' - whereby - as the straightlaced girls from the boarding school ascend the mountain - discarding some of their clothes (perhaps a representation of them discarding their identities)they as they all but one disappear -the same forces are mirrorred at play as the girls discard their colonial sensibilities and mores - they climb - becoming absorbed into the landscape - never to be seen again (all but one).

These films reflect how the individual is usurped, and drawn into the 'pack mentality' no matter how bizarre that may be.
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Outback nightmare
tomsview2 July 2013
Although based on a novel by an Australian, this brilliant film was directed by a Canadian, Ted Kotcheff, and it is very much an outsider's view, giving the movie extra bite.

It features a disturbing nighttime kangaroo hunt where the hunters use a spotlight to find their prey. Similarly, Kotcheff shone a spotlight on certain aspects of Australian culture at the time, making some Australians feel about as hunted as the hapless kangaroos in the film.

John Grant, a teacher at an outback school heads for Sydney to join his girlfriend for the Christmas holidays. In the novel Grant was Australian, in the movie he is played by Englishman Gary Bond - again the outsider point of view intensifies the observations. Grant travels by train to Bundanyabba, (The Yabba) to catch a plane to Sydney. But he gets no further. His life descends into a living hell, much of it of his own making.

Caught up in a culture of drinking and gambling he ends up in an alcoholic daze with no money. He is also trapped by the aggressive hospitality of the locals who lead him further and further into their brutal, and pointless lifestyle. Along the way he meets characters that foreshadow what his own future will be if he stays in this remote, male-orientated environment. Finally, he goes back to the school, a far wiser but no happier man.

Not your everyday movie this one with a cast seemingly inspired by the challenges. Gary Bond is perfect - he starts with a slight air of superiority and ends up a burnt-out survivor who has discovered inner truths he isn't particularly proud of. Veterans Donald Pleasence and Chips Rafferty play characters as repellent as they are fascinating.

Technically the film is near faultless, and British composer John Scott's vibrant score is hard to get out of your head.

The reasons why "Wake in Fright" wasn't taken to heart by Australian audiences when first released weren't necessarily the depictions of drinking, gambling, and drunken brawling. At the time this movie was made, many Australians probably wouldn't have minded being seen as a macho society where a bloke enjoyed a beer or three, and a bit of a punch-up from time to time. However the film had other insights that were more likely to hit a nerve.

Particularly cringe-worthy is the way the population of the Yabba constantly seek approval of the town and validation of their lifestyle, highlighting deep-seated insecurities.

However, the most uncomfortable sequence in the film for Australians brought up on the spirit of mateship, and belief that life in the outback defined the national character, would have to be when Donald Pleasence's character, Doc Tydon, sexually assaults the drunken, half-conscious John Grant. Homosexual rape in the Outback? No thank you. In 1971, this did not accord with the Australian self-image at all.

The revival of Australian cinema was still a few years away, and Australians preferred the more polished Hollywood product anyway. Although "Wake in Fright" was partly an American production, it looked like an Australian one with plenty of violence thrown in. Third-billed Chips Rafferty's name on the advertising would not have hooked them in either, despite the fact that his performance actually played against his familiar screen image.

Of course, the audiences that didn't go in 1971 missed a unique film that is now hailed as one of the best ever made in Australia. Despite the intervening 40 years, and an Australia less sensitive to criticism, it's observations and insights still resonate.
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animax-331 December 2011
I only saw this film recently, but it brought back all kinds of memories of my year in Australia (1970-1971) when I worked in Darwin as a storeman and Cobram, a small town in Victoria, where I picked fruit. I both enjoyed and hated these experiences; the alcohol culture was dominant, as in the film, and, in Darwin, I was invited to a pig-shoot. Unlike the film's hero in the kangaroo-hunt, I declined. I returned to Australia permanently in 1977 and worked professionally till my retirement in capital cities and in one large provincial centre. The contrast to my earlier experiences, which were similar to those faced by John Grant, could not be greater. I think this could be the best Australian film I have ever seen.
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Urge you to check Aussie movie "Wake In Fright" (71) - a somewhat scary living nightmare..
djhuckel14 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I urge you to check out early Australian movie "Wake In Fright" (1971)! Just re-released after apparently being lost and now found and remastered, "Wake In Fright" follows the two day path trod by small town school teacher John Grant, This is not the path of heroes by a regular guy who loses his way into a somewhat scary living nightmare where John Grant (played by Gary Bond) gambles his money away & penniless spends the weekend in a (newfound) mates-sponsored drunken weekend oblivion. This which includes 'roo (kangaroo) shooting -Great scene! but maybe disturbing to some-, womanising, and more drinking(!), & spouting philosophy.

He can barely escape the Yabba... "Wake In Fright" stands the test of time & is an interesting insight into a perhaps too common subculture of Australia... Gritty, disturbing but still a strangely rewarding film...

His 'mates are played by Chips Rafferty (in his last movie) as town cop Jock Crawford – you gotta see him drink(!), Peter Whittle & Jack Thompson play Joe & Dick, a pair of archetypal yobs. Al Thomas plays Tim Hynes who takes the broke teacher in, Sylvia Kay plays his daughter Janette. Donald Pleasence plays the voice of reason to the movie, academically questioning all that is on show. But he too still loves a drink.

Other Aussie stalwarts of the movies' era are here too - John Meillon, John Armstrong and Slim DeGrey.

Canadian Ted Kotcheff (lately has directed & produced many episodes of TV show 'Law & Order') does a superb job directing "Wake In Fright." This was about his 15th work by 1971. Maybe its due to him not being from Australia that he is somehow able to draw out many nuances of the environment of the Yabba and the country like making you feel the heat & vastness of the Australian outback. Some critics think this is a fact, like Brit Nicholas Roeg did with "Walkabout." Too, you have to admire or be intrigued by the tagline of the movie, stereotyping the Aussie male yobbo (bogan, chav, jock, redneck) culture "Have a drink, mate? Have a fight, mate? Have some dust and sweat, mate? There's nothing else out here." It may stereotype the culture but it is an interesting microscopic look at itself simultaneously.

See it for being Auststralian, a good film, you like movies that might mess with your head, or a good hard look at a part of a culture. Lost in time? Seriously though, check it out.
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Close to the bone!
Shane from OZ26 August 2006
I must preface this by saying I haven't seen this film for well over 20 years, on dodgy VHS, and it's a shame such a classic is not available on DVD. I read the book as a high school student and everything I feared about outback culture was here in black and white. I was taken in by unsubtle descriptiveness of the novel and I have to say, I was sceptical as to whether a film could possibly do justice to this great book. All I can say is the first viewing of this film blew me away. It far surpassed the book as the visual and audible elevated this to a whole new level. One can place themselves quite easily in John Grant's position and boy, is it uncomfortable! This is a gruelling and uneasy viewing experience much like the recent "The Proposition", it is a nightmare that envelopes one's senses, and the scariest thing is, this is not a fiction as such, these characters exist in the outback to this day and I imagine this film will never age. I felt repulsed and exhilarate at the same time, a testament to the acting and skillful camera work, editing and directing. In fact this could be a horror film. I can't wait to see this again, and as an Australian the cast includes so many legends that I feel proud that this film was made. A little sadness, because of the vintage of the film, many of the familiar faces are no longer with us. Their legacy, along with this film has stamped this as a true classic.
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Wake in Fright - Even Better in retrospect.
campbell-russell-a11 June 2012
I once a read book published in the 1970's that reviewed the history of the Australian film industry and claimed that Wake in Fright was a film that should never have been made. The author cited its lack of financial success and the fact that backers should have known that such a film could never have conceivably found a wide target audience. It therefore was a waste of taxpayers' money as well as being guilty of presenting a skewed perspective of Australia and Australians which could in turn harm our tourist industry.

I want to thank all those responsible for making the film for having such courage and integrity. Thank you for allowing Australians to remember what an intelligent and talented man Chips Rafferty really was. In this film he turned the Aussie good bloke image on its head. The image of the good bloke deserves scrutiny because it is so often used as a disguise for something more sinister.

Thank you to Sylvia Kay whose performance as Janette leaves me more saddened with each viewing. Her bitterness at being trapped in this male dominated hell is palpable when she looks upon the photo of Grant's carefree, beach girl beauty girlfriend in Sydney then in one devastating word she expresses her crushing despair - "Robyn". How can an actor make one word say so much? Even worse is my sense of despair for her when, after an attempt to be part of Grant's better world if only for a brief moment falls flat, she reverts to the attitude and language of the hardened outback harridan. It was an attempt to convince Grant and herself that she doesn't need better than she has - a protective device that women around the world know well.

The film is in retrospect a gem on so many levels. Wake in Fright shows why film makers must sometimes be allowed to take risks.
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A rugged and terrifying look at the harshness of the outback and the localized views of its people in 1970's Australia.
beck-2515 June 1999
This is a movie that the first time you watch it you will walk away hating almost every aspect of it. Only on the second and third viewing did i begin to appreciate the hard message of the film. It gives viewers a glimpse into the harshness of the Australian outback, and the closed-minded views of the its people in the early 1970's. In the 'cultural cringe' era of Australia's history. This often extreme look it hard hitting and gritty, and will leave you felling exhausted and sweating, from the heat of the outback that oozes from it. The characters of the outback town called 'The Yabba' are simply disgusting, especially in contrast to city teacher, John Grant (Gary Bond). Also giving a mentionable performance is veteran actor Donald Pleasence, as alcoholic doctor, 'Doc' Tydon. Give this film a second chance, don't judge it by your first viewing, it is a film that can be hard to stomach.
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highly recommended
crabturtle30 August 2001
i first saw this in New York City in the early 1970's. it was one of the very few movies i have seen in my life that deserved a second viewing. for some reason i have always been fascinated by Australia. it just seemed to have animals and scenery that didn't exist anywhere else. another plus was that they spoke English there which is the only language i know. i did finally get to Australia in 1997 and it was every bit as fascinating as i had expected. this film is also fascinating although it paints a very dark and disturbing picture of the island continent. it is about a schoolteacher who for some reason becomes stranded in a tiny town in the remote outback. until he is able to leave he decides to socialize with the locals. they are a rough and tumble group unlike the teacher who is somewhat timid and sensitive. the main entertainment in this region is drinking, fighting and killing kangaroos. the latter scenes are the most disturbing with heads being blasted off the cute creature's bodies. sadly,it all ends tragically.
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Beer me
bregund26 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Bacchus himself would blush at the neverending river of alcohol flowing through this film, you have to see it to believe it, the characters open beers while they're already drinking beer, they have several open containers all over the place, they're always reaching for a beer, offering beer to their mates, pouring beer all over themselves, they wake up in the morning and have a beer. They even drink while they're drinking, watch the movie if you don't believe me. Their lips are never more than ten inches away from a beer.

When they're not drinking, they're gambling and torturing kangaroos; this is not a pleasant film, despite the presence of Donald Pleasance, whose character is unlike his last name. You want to see a drunken, shouting, bare-chested, joyriding, philosophisizing, kangaroo-eating, subtly malevolent Donald Pleasance, here he is. I guarantee that you've never seen him in any role like you see him here, I honestly think he's the best actor of the bunch, he completely blows away any impression you have of the mild-mannered prisoner-of-war from The Great Escape or the jittery, nervous doctor from The Fantastic Voyage. Watch him vanish into his role as he slowly erodes the morals of the lead character.

This film is a cautionary example of the lure of peer pressure as the main character, a schoolteacher, is drawn into the ugly, alcohol-fueled violence of an isolated town and nearly dies in the process. I find that really good Australian films are uniquely Australian, and this one is no exception.
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Have a drink, mate !!!
avik-basu188931 May 2017
'Wake in Fright' is a film that explores a nightmarish descent into madness in the most disturbing, terrifying, yet perfect manner possible. The very first shot of the film(an overhead wide angle shot) establishes the desolate, isolated nature of the setting. The protagonist Gary Bond, a British school teacher in Tiboonda, a remote township in the Australian Outback, is clearly trapped in the middle of nowhere and Bond is all too aware of this fact. We see him verbalise his contempt towards the educational system for tying him down with a financial bond and making him their slave. When the Christmas vacation starts, Bond with the intention of going to Sydney to visit his girlfriend, first makes his way to a nearby town named Bundanyabba which the locals call 'Yabba'. Once in Yabba, Bond comes into contact with the locals who seem over-exuberant to make his acquaintance and offer him their booze. Once the booze starts to get gulped, everything goes crazy.

The reckless drinking in Yabba pretty much takes Bond on a journey into the deep dark abyss of the reckless and toxic side of masculinity. The men who Bond comes across in Yabba have nothing to do except drink and indulge in highly disturbing activities which they consider to be an exercise in bonding. This desperation to one- up each other and engage in violence and uncontrolled machismo has its roots in the fact that these people have very little to do in their lives. The loneliness and pointlessness of the life of a man in the Australian Outbacks fuel their need to play with danger and grapple with their deranged conception of 'manliness' among each other. Although the alcohol is the primary reason behind the deplorable experiences that Bond goes through in Yabba, but the director Ted Kotcheff and screenwriter Evan Jones subtly imply that Bond isn't completely faultless either. His repressed frustration for being tied down to Tiboonda actually makes him feel a bit liberated once he reaches the far more populated town of Yabba. To some extent he allows himself to be taken advantage of because of his own desire to let go. Unfortunately, his quest to liberate himself from the cage of his mundane life in Tiboonda leads him to a bigger cage of alcohol and violence in Yabba.

The setting of the Australian outback instantly offers a unique visual texture to the film. The setting is essential in the thematic context too and adds to the bleakness of the tone. Ted Kotcheff and his cinematographer have to be admired for expertly capturing the Outbacks which look very post-apocalyptic(reminded me of Mad Max) and they manage to make the Outbacks look almost beautifully hideous. Tone wise Kotcheff finds the perfect balance between gritty realism and almost a Nicolas Roeg-esque transgressive surrealism. The editing goes a long way in accentuating the sequences of Bond getting drowned in booze. The frantic nature with which Kotcheff and his editor cut the film complements the frantic nature of the violence and debauchery on screen. 'Wake in Fright's grainy visual texture and its cynical view of humanity leaves a bit of an air of hopelessness in the mind of the viewer and the uninhibited nature of its dedication to capture this cynicism can be equated with the original 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre'. I have read that Scorsese was hugely influenced by 'Wake in Fright' and that makes me want to make another analogy. The descent into nightmarish madness that Gary Bond embarks upon in this film is somewhat similar to the colourful and idiosyncratic night that Paul Hackett goes through in Scorsese's 'After Hours'. Although 'After Hours' is a black comedy and is nowhere near as disturbing as 'Wake in Fright', but the fish out of water element in both the films is certainly comparable.

John Grant is wonderful as Gary Bond. The transitions that he goes through in the course of the film are well executed and he does well to portray the inner struggles, the dilemma and heartbreak which add depth to the character. Donald Pleasence is brilliantly disturbing as the odd ball Doc Tydon. His character remains a bit of an anomaly throughout, but his presence and peculiar mannerisms help to add an unsettling element in various scenes.

'Wake in Fright' is to alcoholism, what 'Requiem for a Dream' is to drug use. But having said that, it will be unfair to describe 'Wake in Fright' as nothing but a cautionary tale about reckless drinking. It is deeper than that. This film has things to say about the toxic masculinity of the 1970s in the Australian Outbacks, the reasons for which are rooted in plain boredom. It explores the perils of loneliness and throws light on how one can lose control of his/her senses when living a life of utter discontentment. 'Wake in Fright' is not for everyone, but for me, it is a dark, unsettling and surreal masterpiece.
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A harrowing, brutal, superb nightmare of a film
marfrie562 January 2014
The movie is superb. I, like many others, grimaced at the kangaroo slaughter. I despise the needless killing of animals - especially "higher" animals, and these kangaroos have the light of consciousness in their eyes. But they were not killed for the movie, according to the info that the producers provided. This hunt was going to happen, movie or not, and without it, the movie would have been less revolting, but much less powerful. Now that I got the kangaroo killing over with, I can only state, that I was riveted to the screen, glued to the narrative, overwhelmed by the brilliance of all the performances, and blown away by the overall effect. Good Lord, what a masterpiece! Here is a movie that explores, in depth, the downward spiral of a character that we (or I, at least) immediately liked. Every line was delivered not by the actors, but by the characters they portrayed. Totally engulfing, to the point that I still feel the dust in my nostrils. Once again, a movie made with a fraction of the resources that the big Hollywood studios have at their disposal, and yet, with 10 times the power. 10 stars!
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Startlingly Good
pc9515 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Picked this movie up on a whim at the library, and glad I did. Didn't know a thing about it going in and that's so much the better for strong competent movies. "Wake in Fear" although over 40 years old is better than most movies nowadays. It is sublimely filmed. No doubt reminiscent in mood and somewhat in music to Stanley Kubrick subsequent smash movies the "Shining" and "A Clockwork Orange". This one impressively predates them. Director Ted Kotcheff nailed his atmosphere and put together an excellent cast. Lead Gary Bond and Donald Pleasance light up the screen in several key scenes. Support from Chip Rafferty is also good as a stoic grandfatherly type policeman. It's Bond though in particular who has the look, voice, demeanor needed to make his character stand-out in a foreign environment. This movie succeeds as a psychological thriller and should not be missed. 8/10
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Amazing Aussie Film Now on DVD
Kincho16 June 2010
This incredible early 70s Australian film was finally released on DVD last year although that hasn't been picked up by other posts. Its release was preceded by many screenings in Australia and a celebrated one at Cannes 2009 (one of very few films to be screened twice at that festival).

The restoration is impeccable and the film is just as powerful as when I first saw it in the 1970s. It appears to incorporate all of the bits that were cut for television screening over the years. It also has some excellent special features.

Whatever you do make sure you get to see this version of a classic. Hopefully it is as widely available outside of Australia as it is here.
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