Sunday, July 19, 2009

Welcome To Australia, Pt. II: Wake In Fright

Since having touched down in Australia two weeks ago, the hype surrounding the re-release of Ted Kotcheff’s 1971 film Wake In Fright has been thick. I had the opportunity to see the film at the Revelation Film Fest in Perth and the film lives up to the hype and then some. Wake In Fright stars Gary Bond as a teacher stuck in a one-room schoolhouse in the outback. Due to the intricacies of the Aussie school system, he’s trapped there until he can buy out his $1,000 teaching contract. Given that he’s an erudite city-slicker, this prospect does not go down smoothly. For winter holiday, he’s planning to head to Sydney, but he has a one night lay over in “The Yabba”, an outback mining town. Bond quickly takes a condescending tone to the beer-swilling denizens of the Yabba. It’s a world of redneck machismo, a world which he clearly disdains. But the townsfolk pour beer after beer down his throat. He drinks to be hospitable and in a moment of drunken clarity, he realizes he might be able to raise $1,000 by entering an epic game of “two-up”, a rudimentary gambling game that all the men seem transfixed by. Things go south quickly and he ends up flat broke with no way out of the Yabba. He’s forced to rely on the kindness of strangers and what follows is the lost weekend to end all lost weekends. Bond descends headlong into a world he clearly has trouble navigating. Drinking, gambling, fighting, hunting and awkward sexual dalliances follow. The film’s grim centerpiece is an utterly brutal, drunken kangaroo hunt filled with bloodlust, a high marsupial body count and, believe it or not, hand-to-paw combat with the plucky roos.

Ultimately the film is a critical look at the culture of machismo in Australia, as well as an exploration of the cultural divide between rural and urban lifestyles and attitudes—a divide that exists in more places than Australia.

One of the fascinating things about seeing the film in Australia is the debate about weather Australia has left this culture of masculine posturing behind. The film is almost 40 years old, but many still seem to question how far Australian culture has evolved in that time span, especially in light of recent debauched footballer escapades in both Sydney and Melbourne. I’m just a tourist, so I can’t weigh in on that debate, but I definitely recommend seeking out this movie. Not sure if will appear in reparatory in America, but I imagine a dvd release can’t be far behind.

Oh, and Donald Pleasance is brilliant in the film as well.


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