Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Vancity Theatre must-see: Wake In Fright

Take heed, cinephiles: this coming Friday and Saturday, the Vancity Theatre will screen Wake in Fright. I'm not exactly sure of how a Canadian director, Ted Kotcheff, ended up making one of Australian cinema's most important movies, but the film - also known as Outback, made in 1971, and believed lost for many years - is definitely a must-see, for those interested in Australian cinema, 1970's cinema, or in gritty, sweaty, strikingly cinematic dramas about smalltown demoralization and despair. I'm not sure it's the sort of film that I'd ever watch a second time, but it's one that everyone should see once - though it's not particularly pleasant, and may require a fairly hardy filmgoer to take in all it offers.
The plot is simple: a schoolteacher, on vacation, ends up stuck in a small outback town, and there experiences a sort of angry, alcohol-fuelled degeneration as he gets sucked into the local colour. I love the blurb on the Vancity Theatre website about how the film combines elements of "Heart of Darkness, After Hours, and Groundhog Day" - an apt bit of critical cleverness, but one that probably, in comparing the film to two comedies, doesn't really do justice to how ugly it can be. In particular, nastiness-wise, footage of an actual kangaroo hunt was used, which will be upsetting to people with even a passing fondness for animals - you can read more about that on the film's Wikipedia page. But there are familiar faces for cinephiles, like Donald Pleasance and Jack Thompson, and Kotcheff's choices as director are often inspired and highly cinematic; if he made a better film (he's also noted for First Blood and for what I remember as being a well-acted cult deprogramming film called Split Image) I haven't seen it.
The most curious thing about Wake in Fright, ultimately, is that Australians apparently love it; if a Canadian made a film about America that was anywhere near this unpleasant, he'd get accused of America-bashing, but Australian cinephiles I've encountered seem positively proud of this movie. I guess nationalism isn't a strong trait in Australia; this film is about as appealing an advertisement for visiting the outback as Wolf Creek. Still, it's a highly recommended film experience, if you've go the stomach for it.

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