1971 movie ‘Wake in Fright’ (digital re-release) showing at the Chauvel in Sydney is a harrowing, surreal tale of outback life. A ‘bonded’ new school teacher serving in the country is drawn into a hopeless downward spiral of two-up losses, hard drinking, kangaroo shooting, culminating in a homosexual act and attempted suicide.
A menacing aura of violent mateship and misogyny is awash with the conformist Aussie ethos of beer-drinking which defined masculinity. The only female character is treated as an almost sub-human sex object, and brutal wrestling scenes between ’mates’ are charged with latent sexuality.
Chips Rafferty, Jack Thompson & John Meillon play the caricatures and acting is left to Donald Pleasence (villain Blofeld in You Only Live Twice) as ’Doc’, who befriends teacher John Grant. English-born Gary Bond played the lead role, and died of AIDS at 55 y.o.
Not a film for the faint-hearted, with real kangaroo-shooting sequences, it ruthlessly portrayed bush town society with hyperbolic exaggeration, and the effect is grotesque, worrying and ’close to the bone’.
Interestingly the film was well received at the Cannes Festival in 1971 and subsequently had a good run in French cinemas; but it failed to attract an audience in Australia. Videos and DVDs have not been available since and it was considered ’lost’ until this year. Distributors are hoping to include the Kookynie Ritz in its coming outback season.