Wake in Fright (R)

Drama 114 October 5, 2012
By Karina Longworth
As director Ted Kotcheff told Senses of Cinema magazine, when Aussie grind house creeper Wake in Fright premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1971, "There was an American seated in one of the rows immediately behind me, and he kept saying: 'Wow! This is great!'" That American turned out to be Martin Scorsese, who, ironically, would claim that the screening "left me speechless." Now a pristine print is making the repertory rounds, courtesy of Austin upstart Drafthouse Films. Fright begins with Nowheresville, Tiboonda, schoolmaster John (Gary Bond) in a hurry to catch the train that will take him to the Old West–esque town of Bundanyabba, so he can fly to Sydney and spend Christmas nestling icy beers between the breasts of a blonde whose pic he keeps in his wallet. In his travels, he finds himself repeatedly held hostage by men who demand he prove his manhood by submitting to drunken misadventure. The night he stops over in Bundanyabba, one beer leads to another, and the next thing he knows, he has lost all his money in a pub game and missed his flight, leaving him dependent on the "kindness" of small-town strangers he plainly detests. "Discontent is the luxury of the well-to-do," says one of John's new friends, Doc (Donald Pleasence). Stripped of that luxury by his desperate financial situation and the desolation of his physical location, John has no choice but to give himself over to the customs of a breeding ground for unchecked male id. Too slow-going to work as a traditional midnight movie and too depraved for the art house, this road movie uses undeveloped land as a blank screen on which to project a dark deconstruction of masculinity and manifest destiny.
Ted Kotcheff Donald Pleasence, Gary Bond, Chips Rafferty, Sylvia Kay, Jack Thompson, Peter Whittle, Al Thomas, John Meillon, John Armstrong, Slim DeGrey Kenneth Cook, Evan Jones Drafthouse Films

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