Wake in Fright Reviews
An educated teacher on his way home from the desolate hamlet he serves in the depths of the Outback stops overnight in a town that, like Hotel California, he almost never leaves. Alcoholism, gambling, misogyny and animal cruelty follow during a beer-soaked weekend of relentlessly bleak inevitability.
Gary Bond is great as the teacher, and Donald Pleasance fantastic as the barely-sane doctor who may have undergone a similar experience years before...
Compelling in a terrible way, it's also pretty tough, especially with its extended sequence of a real kangaroo hunt, not for the faint-hearted. I'd rate it higher but that (even though it is integral to the story) was grim.
Wake in Fright is definitely one of the most quintessential Australian films ever made. This is a brilliant accomplishment for a director like Ted Kotcheff, a native of Canada. The reason this works so seamlessly is because of the fact that the story centres around an outsider of Australian culture, a perspective which is very much confronted by the source of all the film's thrills. Wake in Fright is a masterpiece simply because it depicts everyday Australian life in an outback country town stylised to be a psychedelic and intense thriller. It functions perfectly as an example of the genre due to Ted Kotcheff's masterful grip on the feature.
Wake in Fright is very much the Australian version of Easy Rider (1969). The story depicts adventure across the Australian landscape in which the protagonist is confronted with seedy underbelly of real Australian life. The world discovered by John Grant is a violent and hypermasculine world which is endless with wide open spaces and yet so claustrophobic at the same time. There is a sense of similarity in the styles as well because both touch upon a psychedelic feeling of insanity at times. Like Easy Rider, the film is not necessarily about all that much since there isn't a grand focus on character development or an actual story path. Rather, it is simply an examination of real culture with such natural occurrence that it doesn't demand explicit social commentary. The realism in Wake in Fright is the core of its power, and it has the power to create shock effects for people of all different cultures including Australia's own people who will look at their country in a manner like perhaps never before.
Wake in Fright is a flawless examination of real Australian culture. While the characters are depicted as being very giving and maintaining friendly intentions, their blindness to the senselessness of their overbearing behaviour is what is so isolating to outsiders. We see the camaraderie that comes with the characters buying beer for each other and their patriotic respect for the ANZAC soldiers. We also see the inherently violent nature of the men and the melancholic struggles of women in the outback. Wake in Fright captures the positive and negative aspects of real Australian culture in such a manner that it is hilarious when it needs to be and practically terrifying at its most climactic moments. The screenplay is spot on in how it captures this, and it provides a perfect collection of characters to represent the darkness of the outback.
Visually, Wake in Fright USA piece of serious brilliance. The film begins with a full 360 degree turn which emphasises the endless and unforgiving heat of the Australian outback as well as its inherent natural beauty. The colour scheme is so dry that it perfect grasps the heatstroke induced suffering that Australians have to suffer through every summer. The cinematography constantly maintains a grip on the beauty of the Australian outback, though it frequently uses it simply as a backdrop for the actors while maintaining focus on their performances for prolonged periods without a demand for quick cuts. As a result, the cinematography technique both challenges the actors and captures the Australian scenery with perfection. And seeing the sights of 1970's outback Australia with the image of old architecture and vehicles provides a perfect experience of nostalgia to the experience.
One sight that is very much a struggle to handle is the sight of Kangaroos being actually hunted and killed in the story. Though a disclaimer certifies that this was handled by certified hunters, the actual sight of creatures being violently killed on the screen borders upon exploitation. Given the expository nature of the film it is only a reflection of the actual hunting that goes on in the outback every day, but it doesn't make it any more pleasurable to look at. However, it does push the intensity of the film into a far more shocking reality. This is the moment where the quick cuts and sound editing that create the most psychedelic moments in the film reach their endeavour. The entire film is assisted all the more by the brilliance of John Scott's musical score. Given the trippy intensity of the music with its use of western elements and even the didgeridoo to capture a native Australian feeling.
And under the guise of such tenacious direction, Wake in Fright accrues some extremely powerful performances from it's talented cast.
Gary Bond provides a perfectly solid lead actor. Playingnoff his English roots, Gary Bond carries an accent that separates him from the crowd of Australians around him and adds a slight sense of snobbishness to him. But as one goes on and we see John Grant embracing Yabba culture more and more, he gradually turns into a more likeable character. We see him transform into a real outback bludger with typical Aussie banter, beer and even homoeroticism driving his behaviour. Seeing him transform is a powerful period of character development which he later confronts as he becomes terrified at the person he has senselessly become. For a character who is so elusive in his background, Gary Bond manages to develop a greatly understandable protagonist out of John Grant whose insecurities and fears are conveyed to audiences clearly. The intensity in the character's facial expressions are a constant focal point of his performance while the gradual progression of his line delivery becomes more fierce as the story develops. His interactions with the Australian world and the characters he crosses all proves very organic, displaying that the man is one of very natural talents. Gary Bond provides a strong perspective on an outsider experiencing Australian culture as well as the downfalls of manhood, exploring his character's masculinity in a naturally flowing path throughout the story.
Donald Pleasance also provides a strong presence. Though it is hard to forget his strong history as an accomplished English actor, in Wake in Fright he embraces Aussies culture so perfectly that he becomes a solid representation of the country's people. His character carries the downfalls of all the surrounding hypermasculine male characters but also has a more accessible and likeable demeanour to him. However, this just makes him more unpredictable as a result. He isn't the most intense character, but he does make a more friendly presence in the film which provides a feeling that the protagonist isn't as alone. As an Australian, seeing Donald Pleasance taking on such a role nothing short of hilarious. And as an appreciator of genuinely good performing, the overall spirit of the character and his chemistry with Gary Bond provides a powerful sense of chemistry between the two. Donald Pleasance is an awesome supporting player in Wake in Fright.
Chips Rafferty provides a strong supporting effort due to his friendly and somewhat comedic nature being contrasted by a subtle menacing feeling, making him an unpredictable foil. Sylvia Kay also provides a memorably grim and melancholic performance.
Wake in Fright's slow pace and simple narrative may sway some, but it's inherently shocking examination of Australian culture is an insightful and stylish testament to Ted Kotcheff's brilliance as a filmmaker.