Sunday, March 07, 2010

Dream Of The Devil

Wake In Fright is a 1971 quintessentially Australian fillum, despite being directed by Canadian Ted Kocheff, produced by an American and starring Englishmen Gary Bond and Donald Pleasance.

The plot tells of an English school-teacher who is trying to get to Sydney for his 6 week summer holidays but who gets lost in an inescapable Hell - outback Australia in the 1960s. Things are much better there now of course; they have air-con.

The DVD release of this movie has a great detective story behind it.

For many years, the only known print of Wake In Fright, found in Dublin, was deemed to be of insufficient quality to justify its transfer to DVD or video tape for commercial release. In response to this unsatisfactory situation, Wake in Fright’s editor, Anthony Buckley, began to search in 1994 for a better-preserved copy of the film in an uncut state. Ten years later, in Pittsburgh, Buckley found the negatives of Wake in Fright in a shipping container labelled: “For Destruction". He rescued the material, which formed the basis for the film's painstaking 2009 restoration. Wikipedia

More details on the extended search for and the eventual discovery of good film stock can be found on the fillum's website


Speaking of searches, I had been looking for the DVD each time I was back in Australia in the last six months or so, ever since I heard about the re-release. I had seen the movie on TV a few times in the 70's/80's and its blistering take on Aussie mateship and incessant beer consumption has always had a strong effect on me. I loved it, even more than Nichola Roeg's existential piece, Walkabout. I serendipitously found the DVD down on the bottom shelf of a store in the airport in Melbourne, just as I was despairing of getting myself a copy.

It is my favorite Australian fillum. We had studied Kenneth Cook's awesome and austere novel in high school and discussed it feverishly.

In those days it was fashionable to be critical of your home country. I wish there was more of that attitude around these days actually - all this flag-waving nationalism is the wedge in the door for many social and political evils IMHO, like war for one example.


So Indiana, GF, Izzy and I sat through Wake In Fright this evening.

From the initial 360deg pan which shows the absolutely flat, ochre-red landscape to the delicious detail of the hands-less clock on the Tiboonda railway siding which suggests both timelessness and eternity, and the "abandon hope" claustrophobia of this desolate, ancient landscape, we were all hooked.

It is a truly terrific and terrifying movie. It is set in an outback (the name for the movie's original overseas release) town called Bindanyabba that is based tightly loosely on Cook's stint as a journalist in Broken Hill, where the film's exteriors were shot.

Here in the 'Yabba, the honest, open, Aussie generosity ("Have a beer mate! Drink up!") of your new, best mate can turn him into your worst enemy when his camaraderie becomes threatening, aggressive, even homoerotic. Or, with an never-ending supply of that beer, your mate's persistence can turn *you* into your own worst enemy.

Here in the 'Yabba, you either succumb and join the beer-swilling louts in their mindless orgy in the ("shut the door, we're closed") after-hours pub and the Two-Up game which are simmering with a smiling violence, or you create your own mindlessness with a carefully aimed rifle bullet. Or both.

A sickening and surreal kangaroo hunt at night, a real dream of the devil, is the centre-piece. Even more surreal is that a real kangaroo cull was filmed and then inter-cut with views of the drunken 'hunters' chasing the poor animals through the dust in their recklessly speeding car...

A frightening wake up call for the Australian image of itself in the 60's; and remember, these people are still out there...

Have a beer mate! Oi, oi, oi.


"Dream of the Devil and you wake in fright," is the epigram that starts the novel.



Lost in Melbourne said...

I can't believe that I haven't seen it and now I will need to retrace your steps to get myself a copy (if my local video library doesn't have it.

I remember my road trip to QLD as a young guy with my ex, we pulled over off the highway and put up the tent in the middle of the night on the side of a farm. We heard shots in the distance and drifted off, extremely tired.
Not sure how much safety the tent wall would have afforded us from a stray bullets of the drunken country boys out havin' a good night. Woke the next morning in time to break camp and speed off for the highway as the unhappy farmer chased us on his farmbike.

expat@large said...

Scott: the outback police are rumoured to advise landowners to shoot trespassers or potentially threatening intruders dead, because it is much more simple in court when there is only one version of events...

Paula said...

But remember, we're not ALL that bad! (Never could watch that movie - the kangaroo cull - horrible stuff and heartbreaking, plus too scary overall!)

To counteract the horrible image of Australians from the above movie, here's an extremely refined version of the traditional Australian folk song "Botany Bay" and the lady (Mirusia Louwerse - typical Australian name of course..) who even says oi oi oi at the end!

expat@large said...

Paula: she's got a much better voice than that bloody ugly pommie cow, Oozin' Boil. Oi! ;-)

The thing about the movie is that hardly anything taken "in context" was that bad or damning, it was the whole effect over the weeks 'trapped' there that desensitized the once refined Englisman.

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