Almost a decade before Mad Max was unleashed, and before directors like Peter Weir, Phil Noyce and Fred Schepisi (not to mention Crocodile Dundee, mate) started to define Australia on screen for world audiences, a Yank named Ted Kotcheff and two Brits, Gary Bond and Donald Pleasence, swaggered into the Australian desert and came out with a film called Wake in Fright.
The film, also known overseas as Outback, wasn't the quaint observational portrait by an outsider that some might have expected. Instead it was a shocking, grubby movie that proved a searing indictment of Australian working class men and the outback culture that had been mythologized by Australians for decades.
It has since been described as a horror film. Nick Cave has called it "the best and most terrifying film about Australia in existence." (Personally I would rate Cave & Hillcoat's own Ghosts... Of the Civil Dead higher on that list, however it's a pretty apt description). Wake in Fright makes The Proposition look positively brimming with hope. Here's a brief synopsis:
Wake in Fright is the story of John Grant, who arrives in the rough outback mining town of Bundanyabba planning to stay overnight before catching the plane to Sydney. However this young schoolteacher's eagerly anticipated summer holiday quickly becomes an alcohol-fuelled descent into violence and despair.
After a long, painstaking restoration that involved tracking down original prints that were thought to be lost or destroyed, Wake in Fright recently emerged into the public sphere yet again. In 2009 it was re-released in Australia, after playing at that year's Cannes Film Festival (it was also selected to play there in 1971, making it the only film to screen twice at Cannes) and I was lucky to watch the new version up on the giant screen at Sydney's State Theatre. The restoration is nothing short of incredible, and the new print is so sharp and colourful that I'd liken it to the Coppola restorations of The Godfather films in terms of restored former glory. It's that good.
Now American audiences have a chance to see the film in all its glory, as the increasingly dynamic and risk-taking Drafthouse Films has announced it will release the film from October, before going to VOD/DVD early in 2013.
I've managed to track down a high-quality promo clip from the restored film which spoils nothing but gives a good glimpse, as well as added some stills which show some of the crazed imagery (love the blooded hands of our hero as he downs that beer). Check them out below!