Well, its Wake in Fright revival week here at BmL! Larvatus Prodeo regulars will no doubt be familiar with frequent contributor Sir Henry Casingbroke. His comment on my previous post was such an interesting reflection - not only on the film, but also on the outback 1960s/70s Australia it dissects - that I went ahead and got his ok to do it up as a guest post: the very first here at Chez Fortaleza! And if you're among (the happy few) to have been following recent posts on 70s Ozfilm, you'll already know Sir Henry had a minor speak role in an earlier film of Michael Thornhill's - director of The FJ Holden. Hat tip also to Sir H for linking to this marvellous review of Wake in Fright by Kate Jennings.
Sir Henry writes:
Wake in Fright is magic realism. Wake in Fright's central idea is that in certain parts of Australia (and surely elsewhere), away from cities, there can be a "magnetic" metaphysical anomaly that keeps people tethered in place is spite of a lot of good reasons why they should leave - inexplicably they can't, hence the nightmare.
The longer you stay there the more difficult it is to escape this gravitational pull, and soon, like Doc, you look back on a weirdly wasted lifetime. This becomes the in-joke of The Yabba where Wake in Fright takes place.
I spent 1969 in a mining camp just south of Darwin near Pine Creek and what happened to me was similar, including the spotlight shoot.
When I first arrived in the Top End people asked me how long I was staying - this was trick question - I said: until the Wet, it would be about 9 months; I was there to get a quick quid and get out. They looked at each other winked and laughed. Everyone arrived there just for a few months and end up staying 20 years.
The metaphysical reality layer superimposed on mundane reality (nothing is quite what it seems) brings with it the temptation to step away from normally accepted social mores.
In 1970 Australia was still rather Victorian in its outlook on the surface. But the more pissed you got, the wider the two realities moved apart. All sorts of things could be countenanced, including murder (if it was deserved), hence, out there another set of moral and legal rules kicked in. Hence the ambiguous and ambivalent character of the police sergeant played by Rafferty. Rafferty the actor no doubt perfectly well understood the metaphysical reality, as many Australians in the outback experienced it themselves as I did.
Films made around then dealt with that metaphysical duality were: Cars That Ate Paris, Homesdale, Picnic at Hanging Rock, and The Last Wave, probably others.
This other world is now much submerged and a lot of people do not understand what is being discussed in Wake in Fright. Therefore they waffle on, not being aware that it is a documentary. And not seeing why a lot of Australians found the film uncomfortable at the time - they knew what it revealed and they wished it was kept under wraps, especially to outsiders.