John Grant is a middle-class teacher from the big city. He feels disgruntled because of the onerous terms of a financial bond which he signed with the government in return for receiving a tertiary education. The bond has forced him to accept a post to the tiny school at Tiboonda, a remote township in the arid Australian Outback. It is the start of the Christmas school holidays and Grant plans on going to Sydney to visit his girlfriend but first, however, he must travel by train to the nearby mining town of Bundanyabba (known as “The Yabba”) in order to catch a Sydney-bound flight. At “The Yabba”, Grant encounters several disconcerting residents including a policeman, Jock Crawford, who encourages Grant to drink repeated glasses of beer before introducing him to the local obsession with the gambling game of two-up. He also encounters the slightly strange Doc Tydon (Donald Pleasence). Hoping to win enough money to pay off his bond and escape his “slavery” as an outback teacher, Grant at first has a winning streak playing two-up but then loses all his cash. Unable now to leave “The Yabba”, Grant finds himself dependent on the charity of bullying strangers while being drawn into the crude and hard-drinking lifestyle of the town’s residents. His one night stretches to five and he plunges headlong toward his own destruction. When the alcohol-induced mist lifts, the educated John Grant is no more. Instead there is a self-loathing man in a desolate wasteland, dirty, red-eyed, clutching a rifle with one bullet left…

“Wake in Fright” (also known as Outback) is a 1971 Australian-American thriller film directed by Ted Kotcheff. The screenplay was written by Evan Jones, based on Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel of the same name. Made on a budget of A$800,000, the film was an Australian/American co-production by NLT Productions and Group W. For many years, “Wake in Fright” enjoyed a reputation as Australia’s great “lost film” because of its unavailability on VHS or DVD, as well as its absence from television broadcasts. In mid-2009, however, a thoroughly restored digital re-release was shown in Australian theatres to considerable acclaim. Later that same year it was issued commercially on DVD and Blu-ray Disc. “Wake in Fright” is now recognised as a seminal film of the Australian New Wave. Australian musician and screenwriter Nick Cave called Wake in Fright “The best and most terrifying film about Australia in existence.” The world premiere of “Wake in Fright” occurred at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival, held in May. Ted Kotcheff was nominated for a Golden Palm Award. In addition to the film’s atmosphere of sordid realism, the kangaroo hunting scene contains graphic footage of kangaroos actually being shot. A disclaimer at the conclusion of the movie states: Producers’ Note. – “The hunting scenes depicted in this film were taken during an actual kangaroo hunt by professional licensed hunters. For this reason and because the survival of the Australian kangaroo is seriously threatened, these scenes were shown uncut after consultation with the leading animal welfare organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom.” The hunt lasted several hours, and gradually wore down the filmmakers. According to cinematographer Brian West, “the hunters were getting really drunk and they started to miss, … It was becoming this orgy of killing and we [the crew] were getting sick of it.” Kangaroos hopped about helplessly with gun wounds and trailing intestines. Producer George Willoughby reportedly fainted after seeing a kangaroo “splattered in a particularly spectacular fashion”. The crew orchestrated a power failure in order to end the hunt. At the 2009 Cannes Classic screening of Wake in Fright, 12 people walked out during the kangaroo hunt. “Wake in Fright” received generally excellent reviews throughout the world and found a favourable public response in France (where it ran for five months) and in the United Kingdom. However, despite receiving such critical support at Cannes and in Australia, “Wake in Fright” suffered poor domestic box-office returns. Although there were complaints that the film’s distributor, United Artists, had failed to promote the film successfully, it was also thought that the film was “perhaps too uncomfortably direct and uncompromising to draw large Australian audiences”. During an early Australian screening, one man stood up, pointed at the screen and protested “That’s not us!”, to which Jack Thompson yelled back “Sit down, mate. It is us.” The un-restored version of “Wake in Fright” received a three stars (out of four) rating from the American film reviewer Leonard Maltin in his 2006 Movie Guide, while Brian McFarlane, writing in 1999 in The Oxford Companion to Australian Film, said that it was “almost uniquely unsettling in the history of new Australian Cinema”. Following the film’s restoration, Wake in Fright screened at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival on 15 May 2009 when it was selected as a Cannes Classic title by the head of the department, Martin Scorsese. “Wake in Fright” is one of only two films ever to screen twice in the history of the festival. Scorsese said, “Wake in Fright is a deeply — and I mean deeply — unsettling and disturbing movie. I saw it when it premiered at Cannes in 1971, and it left me speechless. Visually, dramatically, atmospherically and psychologically, it’s beautifully calibrated and it gets under your skin one encounter at a time, right along with the protagonist played by Gary Bond. I’m excited that Wake in Fright has been preserved and restored and that it is finally getting the exposure it deserves.” Roger Ebert reviewed the re-release and said “It’s not dated. It is powerful, genuinely shocking and rather amazing. It comes billed as a ‘horror film’ and contains a great deal of horror, but all of the horror is human and brutally realistic.” I just red about this “long lost” movie and felt intrigued to see it. The fact that I have lived in Australia for some years (the best years of my life so far) I feel encouraged and happy to support Australia in all sorts of things I hold close to my heart. Film is one thing and Australia has given us some truly fantastic movies as they have their own unique ways of putting films on the screen. “Wake In Fright” shows a forgotten sun-drenched, ruthlessly dark, isolated and brutal time in the outback. The confronting of the Australian male and the “mateship” is not very pretty and I reckon that in 1971 nobody in Australia would agree that this was the truth. I saw hints of it within the city life when I lived there, so it´s still in the DNA of Australia I would say. But, a lot has happened since that time. “Wake in Fright” is for sure a movie that should be seen as an Australian classic with an emotional realistic horror punch that hits hard and due to the direction and the performances you will never forget it once you´ve seen it. (4 out of 5)

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