A Beautiful Nightmare: Infamous for Its Brutally Honest Take on the Austrailian Outback, Restored Kotcheff Classic Shakes Us Awake
Excelsior! The best movie of the week is also the best movie news of the year. Wake in Fright, the long-lost 1971 Australian masterpiece, has been found, restored and redeemed in a sparkling new print available to the public for the first time in 40 years. When I first saw it, shown in competition at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival, with its original title Outback, I was so devastated by its haunting beauty and by the strange, hypnotic power of its overwhelming narrative force, I couldn’t move. The uncompromising story of a civilized schoolteacher trapped for five days in a remote, nightmarish mining town called Bundanyabba showed a primal, terrifying side of Australia—a heart of darkness never before captured on film. It received rave reviews from everyone, including the Aussie critics, but when it was released it was so angrily denounced by the filmgoing public in Sydney that it disappeared forever—well, nearly. They were so aghast at the world of violence, aggression, ritualistic drinking, brutality toward nature and warped homoerotic sexuality masquerading as macho masculinity and bogus male bonding, that Outback was a box-office flop. This was a new era of patriotic films opening up a worldwide passion for Australia as a land of mysticism and romance, and Outback was directed by a Canadian (Ted Kotcheff), adapted for the screen by a Jamaican (Evan Jones) from journalist Kenneth Cook’s blistering autobiographical 1961 novel Wake in Fright, and starred two great English actors, Donald Pleasence and Gary Bond. Like Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout and Tony Richardson’s Ned Kelly, it suffered the fate of being made in the wrong time, in the wrong place and by the wrong people. The Aussies have since embraced lighter views of the land down under, like Crocodile Dundee.
Time has proved them wrong. Read More