Wake in Fright (1971)

Wake in Fright
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
(number 442)

Australian movies are so enticing to me. They’re so lonely and dark, but filmed in such a wide open and bright landscape. Lots of yellows and deep blues of the sky, bright glaring sun. They’re so often depressing and yet I keep going back to watch them.

Apparently the movie adaptation of a novel, made by a Canadian, this movie starts off feeling eerily like the Australian version of the Wicker Man. The story is very different, but there are parallels there – it’s the horror of the human existence, rather than religion gone wild, and there’s no campy Christopher Lee. It’s very 70s though, the colour palette of the movie and the quality of the film, the clothing and the music – all very much of the time.

Instead there’s a well spoken school teacher (John) who is hating the post he has in a tiny outback Australian town, and on his way to his Christmas holiday he ends up descending into barbarism and madness. Well… it’s a slow burn. He starts out with beer and gambling and loses all his money, and then there’s more beer and a steady parade of men willing to buy him more.

The solution to everything is drink up, have another beer… which isn’t too far off the experience of small town New Zealand. Hell, it’s the solution in the cities as well.

The movie follows his slow course of destruction and through a roo hunt (real, and brutal, not for any one who that sounds upsetting to), fighting and drinking and dust and sweat. There are moments with strange horror movie music – mostly when John is wandering through a town or just utterly confused about what is going on. There were some really fucked up images in there.

I was pleased that a man on man wrestling match did end up with a homosexual encounter between John and Doc, because it had all seemed to be heading that way. The camera tastefully pans up to shoot the lightbulb and then fades to black but hey – they went there. That’s cool with me.

Does it make me love the people? I guess it made me love John, and you see the kindness of the people he encountered. It’s a careful balancing act, showing their tenderness and their humour and then the dark side and the way it was so easy for John to slip into the dark side himself.

Bechdel test: Nope. Only one named female character and the other is just called the Receptionist. Women exist in this movie, in this landscape, as a rare and desirable commodity. The receptionist is a strange dreamy mix of bored and constantly orgasmic – rubbing cold water on herself and tilting her head back to enjoy the desk fan. Janette is shown as being up for sex and described later as a slut, but in a kind of good, admirable way.

Best line:
“Discontent is the luxury of the well to do. If you have to live here, you might as well like it.”

State of Mind: what just happened? What was that?

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