The big re-discovery of 2012 (for me at least) was the restoration and re-release of Ted Kotcheff’s almost-lost-forever Australian classic, Wake in Fright. As an admirer of Kotcheff (First Blood, North Dallas Forty), I was honored to have a chance to interview the man this past fall about the film. Now it is finally hitting DVD and Blu-ray today. And you need to see it. Don’t just take my word for it. Musician and sometimes screenwriter Nick Cave said Wake in Fright “may be the greatest Australian film ever made.”
The movie tells the story of a British schoolteacher’s descent into personal demoralization at the hands of the deranged, hard-drinking residents of a remote Australian town. John Grant (Gary Bond) teaches at a tiny school in the outback. On his way to Sydney to catch a vacation flight, he stops in a rural mining town, where he is reluctantly drawn into the macho antics of the local men. After losing his money in the gambling game two-up, he is taken on a drunken and brutal kangaroo hunt with three of the beer-guzzling louts (including Donald Pleasance like you’ve never seen him, and probably never will want to see him again) – a horrifying ordeal that culminates in a night of kangaroo “hunting” and much, much darker things.
Wake in Fright had its world premiere at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival, where it was nominated for a Palme d’Or. Retitled Outback and hurried into a few theaters across the U.S. with minimal advertising support, the movie lasted barely a week before it was pulled from circulation and vanished into obscurity. For 40 years it lived only in the memory of its initial viewers, yet it has widely been acknowledged as one of the seminal films of modern Australian cinema. Author Neil Rattigan, in his book about the New Australian Cinema, Images of Australia, called it “a cinematic trip into hell. … No other Australian film offers such a savage indictment of a great number of cherished cultural perceptions.”
For decades the film materials were thought to be lost, until the movie’s persistent cinematographer unearthed the original negative elements in Pennsylvania in canisters marked for imminent destruction. The materials were painstakingly restored frame by frame and the new restoration was invited back to Cannes in 2009 by cinema supernerd Martin Scorsese, who said of the film: “Wake in Fright is a deeply – and I mean deeply – unsettling and disturbing movie. I saw it when it premiered at Cannes in 1971, and it left me speechless. Visually, dramatically, atmospherically and psychologically, it’s beautifully calibrated and it gets under your skin one encounter at a time, right along with the protagonist played by Gary Bond. I’m excited that Wake in Fright has been preserved and restored and that it is finally getting the exposure it deserves.”
· Audio commentary by director Ted Kotcheff and editor Anthony Buckley
· The making-of featurette “To the Yabba and Back”
· A Q&A with Kotcheff from the 2009 Toronto Film Festival
· A look at the movie’s restoration
· “Who Needs Art?” vintage segment on Wake in Fright
· Theatrical trailers
· A 28-page booklet
By the Blu from Amazon, or if you’re feeling really crazy, you should hop over to Drafthouse Films’ site to get one of their collector’s editions.