Wow! What a gem of a film screening Wake in Fright was during Fantastic Fest 2012; first to view it and then when I was able to meet director Ted Kotcheff after the Q&A for the film screening. He is fascinating to listen to as he recounts the story of his feature film that screened at Cannes in 1971 and then had been considered a lost film.
Wake in Fright traces the transit of a young school teacher John Grant (Gary Bond) through the outback hell as he tries to get to an ocean side town for vacation and finds himself stuck in a remote town. The acting is great and the writers, Kenneth Cook (novel) and Evan Jonessure paint the not so pretty side of Australia. Downright scary in fact, so it was perfect for a Fantastic Fest screening experience.
Wake in Fright was a critical success when originally released in 1971, but Australian audiences did not take too kindly to the depiction of them so it did not do well commercially. The negative for the film went missing for years, but a tireless producer searched worldwide at his expense, noted the director, for the film. His search landed him in the U. S. with success in finding it in a Pittsburgh warehouse, but scheduled to be destroyed to clear space. Had it not been for his efforts, it would have been a loss for film history.
In 1971, a young Martin Scorsese saw the film and due to his impression of it since then, 38 years later, he serves as guest curator for the film back at Cannes. Wake in Fright is only the second film to be so honored and Kotcheff received thunderous applause when he recounted this in the theater.
Wake in Fright has at its central premise a rural town, debauched, beer-soaked, violent men, and suicidal women. It is not a pretty sight for any nation and the story is very dramatic, with some very rough scenes of both humans and animals. The audience is warned at the beginning of the film about the scenes, but also clarifies the filmmakers did not harm the animals, but showed factual footage of actions taken by professionals.
Wake in Fright is not for the faint at heart and can easily scare anyone who thinks of traveling with little to no money. Grant’s descent as he tries to get to the coast takes him much, much further than expected when he consorts with the locals, including Doc (the late Donald Pleasence) who was once a civilized doctor before becoming like the other wild men of the outback. This film is one not to be easily forgotten and one experience no one would wish on another. On October 12th, the film opens in Austin and in other cities across the country. See it while you are drinking a beer, if you dare.