Director Ted Kotcheff‘s (known for First Blood) masterpiece Wake In Fright was almost lost forever. After poor turnouts in theaters across Australia and a pathetic two night NYC opening (there was a blizzard) investors got fed up and pulled the film from US theaters. The film then ran very successfully in France before disappearing. This was in 1971.
30 years later a producer of the film spent two years tracking it down. He finally found the last print of Wake In Fright in a United Artists storage bin marked for destruction. If he had waited one more week the film would have been lost forever. Good thing he didn’t because Wake In Fright, after much restoration, has made a triumphant return to theaters. It became only the second film in history to screen at Cannes Film Festival twice and then headed to the SFIFF2010, which is where I first saw it…
Wake In Fright is the story of Australian school teacher John Grant who, on the way to Sydney from his teaching post in the outback, looses all his money gambling. He is then stuck in the Yabba (or as he calls it, Hell) where, in 100 degree heat, every one tries to drink him to death. After much hospitality and kindness Grant still hates the place and wants nothing more than to leave. Unfortunately for him, he’s flat broke and the labor center isn’t open on weekends. Beer drinking and Kangaroo fights ensue, then things start to get out of hand.
Brilliantly crafted, the film puts you right in the heart of the Yabba. The growing tension and always present uneasiness brings the character’s world to life as few films can. It is an intense look into a place where manly, beer drinking, un-educated men rule with a drunken fist and everyone has a good ol’ time. Everyone that is, except the Yabba women who, at the time the film was made, had the highest suicide rate in the world. You could say the Yabba doesn’t have much to offer for women or anyone else with an appetite for education and culture. As the film tag line states: “Have a drink, mate? Have a fight, mate? Have some dust and sweat, mate? There’s nothing else out here.” I’ve never wanted to leave a place that I’ve never been as bad as this film made me want to leave the Yabba.
Opens at Opera Plaza Cinema Friday, October 26th for One Week Only!