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Re-visiting An (Almost) Forgotten Aussie Classic

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This generation of film audiences almost never got to see Wake in Fright. Made in 1971, a suitable print of the film was lost for over 30 years and only reappeared recently, found in a shipping container marked ‘for destruction’. Salvaged and restored to perfection, Wake in Fright is truly one of the greatest Australian films you’re ever likely to see.

Based on Kenneth Cooke’s 1961 novel of the same name, Wake in Fright is about John
Grant, a school teacher in the remote town of Tiboonda. When the holidays begin, he
jumps on the first train out of there with the intention of heading towards Sydney to soak
up the sun at the beach with a beautiful woman, but his plan is thwarted when he gets
stuck in Bundanyabba, a small town where he loses all his money in a game of two-up.
Broke and defeated, he must rely on the kindness of the strange townsfolk who involve
him in their way of life.

Grant is soon befriended by a group of blokes that buy him beer after beer (a dream that very quickly turns into a nightmare) and takes him kangaroo hunting: one of the most disturbing scenes in the film. Far from anywhere recognisable and unable to escape his new-found friends, Grant very soon wonders if he’ll ever get out of ‘the yabba’.

Directed by Canadian filmmaker Ted Kotcheff (First Blood), Wake in Fright captures, in
a very tangible way, the absurdity of Australian culture that I don’t think any other film
has been able to present quite so soberly (no puns!)

Beautifully shot and acted, there is such strong sense of place in this film. When I first
saw it about a year ago, the closest film that I could relate to it was No Country For
Old Men
, perhaps because both are beautiful yet harsh and vicious, set against desolate backdrops and about a very different struggle for survival within that environment. Perhaps it is also because they are faithful adaptations of incredibly cinematic novels?

Check it out over a few beers and a kangaroo steak. Maybe forget the kangaroo, actually.
You might come to regret it.


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