Wake in Fright (aka Outback)

tn_wakeinfrightWAKE IN FRIGHT is a fever dream of a movie from Australia circa 1971 and director Ted Kotcheff (FIRST BLOOD). It stars Bond… Gary Bond as a teacher leaving for Christmas break from a school he’s stuck teaching at out in the middle of nowhere in the outback. He hates it and is desperate to make it back to Sydney and see his surfer girlfriend. But it’s a long trip and while staying the night in a town called “The Yabba” he goes out for a drink. And it turns out to be a long fucking night.

mp_wakeinfrightMostly this is a movie about feeling you don’t belong, not relating to the people and the place around you, but figuring “what the hell?” and trying to dive in head first. He goes to a huge bar with some strange rituals (everyone has to stand up and pay tribute to fallen comrades at one point). It’s funny, because I feel like maybe I don’t understand what they’re doing because I’m not Australian, but this guy doesn’t understand either. He’s too middle class or maybe he just had to be raised in this mining town to get it. But he tries to fit in. You know what they say, “When in The Yabba…”

He has some conversations with some different people, and lots of dudes buy him beer. Everybodys’ shocked to find that he doesn’t like The Yabba. They all think it’s the greatest place this side of Slicedbreadia and anybody who doesn’t see it must just be a complete weirdo.

In this place there’s a huge racket for gambling on this coin-flipping game that I swear I saw in some other Australian movie. On a whim he tries to understand it and makes some money. Then he starts to really get wrapped up in it. He comes one bet away from the money he he needs to get out of his teaching contract, but of course he blows it and gets down to one dollar to last the rest of his trip. Whoops.

There’s some real class tension here. THis guy wears sunglasses and a white button up shirt, looks like Robert Redford. What the fuck, man, trying to make the locals look bad. Everybody’s nice to him but you can sense there’s traces of him looking down on them and also being afraid of them thinking he’s a sissy. He keeps trying to not accept their charity, but people in The Yabba like buying people drinks like it’s their patriotic duty. If you refuse their drink it’s like you took a shit on an Australian flag.

So he takes their drinks and the next thing you know he’s spending days hanging out with some random dudes he ran into. They drink, gamble, wrestle, shoot guns. He almost screws one guy’s daughter (I thought it was the wife, though) but then he breaks the romantic mood by puking. Speaking of romance, at one point it’s heavily implied that sweaty Donald Pleasance molested him in his sleep. When they first introduce Pleasance he seems like the most thoughtful guy of the bunch, but pretty soon he’s chugging beer while doing a headstand, and then wrestling Gary Bond, ha ha ha, just joking around, whoops, accidentally copped a feel, oh no, now I am passing out in a way that just happens to look like unsolicited cuddling. What was that? Why did you wake up with your pants undone? Man I don’t know, what am I a zipper expert?

Oh well, it’s like that other thing they say. “What happens in The Yabba stays in the Yabba.”

The craziest scene is when they go kangaroo hunting. It shows real kangaroos being shot, but at the end a producer’s note says not to worry, all animals were harmed by professionals. Anyway, after they’ve shot some they start wrestling them. Somehow our teacher gets peer pressured into fighting a kangaroo. Kids, just because it seems cool to brawl with a large marsupial doesn’t mean you have to do it. Stand up for yourself. But this guy does it and although he’s wincing in horror he’s also putting all his aggression into it, punching that thing in the face, beating it to death, dragging its corpse over to the fellas. Unleashing the angry beast beneath the school teacher exterior.

(According to a plot summary I read he stabs him, but it looked bare-handed to me. I’m gonna go with that ’cause it’s cooler.)

By the end he’s a complete mess, a dirty, sweaty savage. He’s drawn blood, tasted it, he’s been deflowered by Dr. Loomis, he’s lost time, he’s walked through the desert and done a poor job of hitchhiking. He’s learned about himself, but mostly he’s wasted away his vacation on beer. And now it’s back to the grind. Shit.

Well class, open your books to page 13. Oh jesus, what is this, kangaroo blood on my shirt? God damn it.

I guess the movie was once considered lost, they couldn’t find any good prints of it so it was never on video or played on TV between ’71 and ’09. But then they remastered it, re-released it and put it on the various disc formats over there in Region 4.

By the way, I can’t imagine any way to interpret this as an action movie. I doubt it went over too good at Actionfest. Especially if they showed it at night and people were tired out from all the other movies, it would seem like an endless flu nightmare. You gotta be in the right mood, and not looking for anything resembling thrills. I doubt there’s any way to re-edit it into KANGAROO PUNCHER.

This entry was posted on Saturday, May 1st, 2010 at 1:39 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

20 Responses to “Wake in Fright (aka Outback)”

  1. Porkchop express

    May 1st, 2010 at 2:25 am

    Wasn’t this film shown on not quite hollywood?

  2. “coin-flipping game that I swear I saw in some other Australian movie”

    ooh, I know this one! they had that same game in Hurricane Smith remember?

  3. two up is the game, call heads or tails as 2 coins ar flipped, if you were right you win. only legal one day of the year, but really only usually played on that day.

  4. This one threw me for a loop because, for some reason, I went in thinking it was a horror movie. And I kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting for the other shoe to drop, and before I knew it the movie was over and turns out it wasn’t a horror movie. So I should go back and watch the movie for real some day, because my first viewing was very confusing.

  5. Pork Chop: Yes it was featured prominently in the earlier section of Not Quite Hollywood. As with other films featured in NQH, Madman/AV Channel down there have been releasing superb restored special editions of a number of them, all well worth getting if you can play them. I’ve got Death Cheaters and Wake in Fright, as well as the US edition of Stone. Now if I can just find their version of The Man From Hong Kong….

  6. Griff – yes! That’s what it was. I was trying to go through the list in my head of all the Australian movies I’ve watched in the past year or two, but of course HURRICANE SMITH wasn’t one of the more more memorable ones. Thanks for catching that.

    Dan – I can see that. The atmosphere is very tense and every once in a while there’s an eerie keyboard sound like a horror movie.

  7. CrustaceanHate

    May 1st, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    I love this film, the way it put a sinister spin on Australian traditions of hospitality and drinking culture. Great stuff. Totally flopped when it was released originally (Australian audiences didn’t really appreciate being portrayed as kangaroo-punching rapists, go figure). Good to see it get another go around at the cinema, although apparently a bunch of people walked out during the roo shooting scene.

    Really lucky they managed to find it too. Apparently the prints were lost and the editor hunted for them for years. Ended up finding them in some film vault in Pittburgh in a box marked “For Destruction”.

  8. CrustaceanHate

    May 1st, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    Pittsburgh, rather.

  9. CrustaceanHate

    May 1st, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    On the topic of Australian horror(ish) film, have you seen LONG WEEKEND (1978) Vern? I’ve love to hear your thoughts. Or better yet, read a review.

  10. Vern,

    Yeah, that’s the thing, watching it in that mindset, it always seemed ON THE CUSP of becoming a horror movie. You mentioned the tension and some of the music and, I dunno, it seemed like any minute it was going to break out into a DELIVERANCE scenario and that dude was going to have to fight all the rednecks to the death. So I feel like I was unable to appreciate the film on its intended level… do you think it’s good enough that I should revisit it?

  11. you’re very welcome Vern, glad I could jog your memory

  12. Saw this last year. Australians will try to tell you that we’re not like this anymore, but international visitors might disagree.

    The tribute-to-fallen-comrades part is a tradition that takes place every night in RSL clubs (big drinking/gambling establishments that ostensibly exist to commemorate and support veterans). Lights are dimmed, slot machines are disabled and everyone stands while a brief speech is read (or, more often, a recorded version is played). Then you go back to what you were doing.

  13. scott;
    the australians in the bush are all like this – our version of rednecks.

  14. Porkchop express

    May 2nd, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    Hugh k: The man from Hong Kong, is that the one where Lazenby gets set on fire?

  15. CrustaceanHate

    May 2nd, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    Porkchop: Yep, that’s the one. Punched out the director afterwards, if rumours are to be believed.

  16. I really wanna see this one. I love “walking into a waking nightmare” films like AFTER HOURS.

    The kangaroo stuff, though — that potentially crosses a certain line onto ethically queasy ground. I understand that the hunt was going to occur regardless, and they just filmed and incorporated it. but the lead actor is actually out there beating on a live kangaroo, or it that part cleverly edited fakery with puppets or a man in a suit? ’cause if it’s not, that’s venturing into CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST territory.

    I want to be disturbed by the art I’m seeing, not by the circumstances under which it was created.

  17. frankbooth – The Australians have a long tradition in both film and sports involving the boxing kangaroo. I believe up until just recently it was considered good natured fun to have a go around with a roo’. Pretty dangerous fun, if you ask me.

  18. Good way to get disembowelled you mean. kangaroos are notoriously good at that.

  19. The coin game is called Two-Up. It’s legal to play it once a year on ANZAC Day, which celebrates Australian (and New Zealand) war veterans. The day also begins with a dawn ceremony, followed by drinking. The day usually ends Seagal-style, with broken glass from chairs being thrown through windows.

    Oh, Pleasance definitely fucked Bond – that’s why he says he should never drink spirits.

  20. Director Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright honored at MOMA
    A surprise private screening celebration in honor of Canadian Director Ted Kotcheff’s 80th Birthday.

    (New York, NY, March 28,2011)— The restored 1971 Australian classic Wake in Fright was screened The Sunday on March 20th at The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in The Lewis B. & Dorothy Cullman Education & Research Building (The Celeste Bartos Theater) as part of a surprise private screening celebration given by his wife Laifun in honor of his 80th Birthday. 

    The event was co-hosted by Chris Meloni (Law & Order SVU) and Antonio Saillant (Angel Light Pictures).  Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: SVU), Brian Dennehy and Michael Talbott (First Blood) and many other close friends of the honoree attended this historical event and a special reception dinner followed immediately after the screening at the restaurant Bice NY.

    Wake In Fright, released in 1971, is a sharply observed drama about a schoolteacher stranded in a hostile country town. Based on a novel by Kenneth Cook, it stars Gary Bond alongside Chips Rafferty, Donald Pleasence, Jack Thompson and Sylvia Kay. Directed by Canadian Ted Kotcheff, produced by George Willoughby and written by Evan Jones.

    At the time of production, Kotcheff had directed two films, the Tiara Tahiti (1962) and Two Men Sharing (1969). After Wake In Fright, Kotcheff would continue to have a successful career as a director. His later films included The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1973), as well as the football comedy “North Dallas Forty” (1979), which he also co-wrote, Fun with Dick and Jane (1977), First Blood (1982), and Weekend at Bernie’s (1988). In the 1990s, he returned to directing for TV and the executive producer of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

    38 years after its 1971 debut, ‘in competition,’ at the Cannes Film Festival, this film was declared a Cannes Classic in 2009 and was screened again as part of the 2009 Cannes Classics retrospective program, Kotcheff holds the honor of having one of only 2 films to have ever been screened twice at Cannes.

    A landmark film in the renaissance of Australian cinema in the 70s, Wake in Fright was lost for many years and has been restored by Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive and re-issued and is now considered one of the greatest Australian films of all time. The film is distributed via Madman Entertainment.

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