Monday, 30 November 2009
Wake in Fright (1971)
Since I was a kid I've had a recurring dream of being on a beach, in light so bright I can barely open my eyes to see. This newly released on DVD classic of Australian cinema somehow captures that feeling - everything is yellow, red, light disturbs the characters, scrutinising their dark, more brutal sides. I've waited years to see Ted Kotcheff's film, and finally tracked it down on DVD. No lesser figures than Peter Weir, Bruce Beresford and Fred Schepisi regard Wake in Fright as the film that sparked the 1970s reniassance in Australian film making. The Cannes Film Festival has only ever screened two films twice: Antonioni's L'Avventura, and Kotcheff's Wake in Fright.
Though a critical success, it was apparently met by ambivalent public acclaim in Australia, with some audiences taking it all too personally, and a general feeling of "this isn't us". It certainly shines a light on male-dominated frontier towns of rural Australia - where men outnumber women and the stranger creates a rip in the fabric.
The performances are outstanding: as one critic rightly put it, Chips Rafferty as the local cop - in his final screen role before his death in 1971 - "exudes an unnerving intensity with a deceptively menacing and disturbing performance that ranks among the best of his career." Donald Pleasance is brilliant as an alcoholic doctor - and also claims my "best Australian accent by a foreign actor" award. Jack Thompson, Gary Bond and John Meillon round out the Australian all-star cast. This one will stay with me for a while. Would love to see it on the big screen.