Wake in Fright
- Street Date:
- January 15th, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- Bruce Douglas
- Review Date: 1
- January 12th, 2016
- Movie Release Year:
- Image Entertainment
- 114 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Release Country
- United States
Please welcome Bruce Douglas to High-Def Digest! Bruce schooled himself in cinema by clerking at video stores in America and Australia, studying the breadth of cinema one stack of videos at a time. As his tastes evolved, he began to seek out weird, exotic cult movies that were only spoken about in hushed tones. When not collecting films, Bruce is writing about them, watching them, or boring friends with screenings of the newest foreign exploitation flick on his shelf. From Corman to Cassavetes, Bruce will literally watch anything... except 'Spiderman 3'.
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
“New to the Yabba?”
I first experienced 'Wake in Fright' in 2009 when it was playing the festival circuit in Australia. At the time “Ozploitation” was a recent genre-term coined by Quentin Tarantino to include the films coming out of the continent in the 70s that were schlocky, exploitative, and completely over-the-top. Wake in Fright arrived in 1971 and shocked the world before it was lost for 38 years. As a die-hard fan of Aussie cinema and specifically Ozploitation films, I was excited to learn that the granddaddy of Ozploitation was making its way to Blu-ray. This was going to be something special. 'Wake in Fright' sits alongside 'Mad Max' and 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' as a pioneering entry in Aussie cinema. To celebrate the praises of a film that follows the downward spiral of a schoolteacher into a bloody, beer-soaked oblivion, you’ve got to be off your rocker, mate! To those I say, “May you dream of the devil and wake in fright.”
Our film opens with a wide crane shot of an arid desert split with railroad tracks. We see a few small white buildings defiant against the red landscape. John Grant is an Englishman teaching in this tiny town on a bonded contract with the educational board. Effectively, he is stuck here until he can repay his bond. After dismissing his students for Christmas break, he heads to his room above the pub to retrieve his luggage. Grant is quickly established as a fish-out-of-water. His suit, clean cut appearance, and English sensibilities distance him immediately from the environment he obviously dislikes. Grant hops a train from Tiboonda to Bundayabba where he will catch a flight to Sydney for Christmas break. Grant nods into sleep during the ride. We see flashes of a woman in a red bikini on a beach. The same woman whose photo graces Grant’s wallet. The film’s color palette quickly blushes into vibrant colors. Gone are the burnt oranges, yellows, and browns that up until now filled the frame. Our hero’s motivation is quite clear! All Grant has to do is stay overnight in Bundayabba and catch that flight to Syndey to rendezvous with the bikini-clad beach babe.
After checking into his room, Grant makes his way to the pub. As one does in Australia! While there he is greeted by the local lawman, Jock Crawford. Towering above Grant, Jock buys him beer after beer showering him with condescension when he doesn’t finish each beer quickly enough saying “Well, its easy to see you’re not a Yabba man!”. At the restaurant Grant meets “Doc” Tydon, the friendliest nutcase you’ll ever see committed to film. Played fiendishly by Donald Pleasance, Doc reveals he is a disgraced Sydney doctor who is “accepted socially because he is an educated man.” Between the crowded pub and slot machines Grant is shown the town’s fixation: two-up. A simple coin toss game that can make or break a man’s paycheck. Grant sees this as his opportunity to buy out his bond and escape his sentence as a teacher. As you might have guessed, Grant never makes that flight to Sydney after a few rounds of two-up.
The descent into gambling mayhem spirals Grant into the street the next day looking for relief from the blistering heat and a plan out of the Yabba. At the pub Grant befriends a local named Tim who applies a generous amount of aggressive hospitality much to Grant’s surprise. They drink, play snooker, and head back to Tim’s house for more beers. With nothing to his name, Grant cannot refuse the invite. The party begins with the arrival of Tim’s miner friends Joe and Dick played by Peter Whittle and the legendary Aussie actor Jack Thompson. Doc Tydon arrives to perform his best drinking stunts. It’s clear that Grant’s attempts at humility have no place in the Yabba. The boys want nothing more than drinking, more drinking, and hell raising. When he tries to leave Tim regards the action as an insult. Grant submits to the hospitality and drinks himself into the night. What follows is a true descent into madness. Now along for the ride, Grant submits to the boy’s day out. The hunt is especially telling of Grant’s fall from grace.
The controversial kangaroo hunting sequences have gone down in film history. Imagine 'Mad Max' crossed with Faces of Death! Director Ted Kotcheff included a disclaimer in the film’s credits due to the brutality shown. Those scenes are clearly not for the faint of heart.
Wake in Fright is a nail-biter from start to finish. Even the opening shot of the arid outback will make you nervous...and thirsty! The rollercoaster ride you are taken on with Grant is like nothing you've ever seen. I think the film really succeeds at achieving this downward spiral through the moments of quiet desperation that ring like church bells. At first you don’t notice the drawings on Grant’s apartment walls. You need a second glance into Janette’s eyes when Grant talks about London. Pop on the subtitles and understand some of the gibberish Doc Tydon spills out. As much as Wake in Fright distorts the senses in a surreal fog of booze and brawling, it’s attention to detail makes this film something special.
The Blu-ray Vital Disc Stats
'Wake in Fright' arrives on Region A Blu-ray thanks to Drafthouse Films. The movie is pressed onto a BD25 disc housed in a clear case with reversible slip cover and booklet. Also included is a Digital Copy code (if that’s your thing). The disc opens with the Drafthouse Films logo followed by the Image Entertainment logo before settling into the Main Menu.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
'Wake in Fright’s Blu-ray presentation is a clean 1080p HD resolution with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. For a “lost film” this is an utterly brilliant digital restoration from a negative packed away for 38 years. The film has seen some criticism over the restoration efforts because of a smoothness to the picture and a lack of grain. Due to the condition of the negative used for the restoration efforts it's a bloody miracle that the film looks as good as it does! Without a proper original print to compare it’s difficult to make these arguments.
Colors on this film are beautiful. The bright washed out colors of the outback sing with reds, yellows, and browns. You can almost feel the sunburn! Kotcheff juxtaposes bright lights against darkness quite often in the film. Black levels are very good during these intense moments of light/dark interplay. Wake in Fright is one of those few films where I’d say “Every Frame is a Painting.”
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The DTS-MA 2.0 and DD2.0 tracks on the Blu-ray are passable. For such an intense, nail-biting film you want something more, but unfortunately the center channel gets all the action here. Sound levels are solid throughout both dialogue heavy scenes and action sequences. Only during some of the more intense dream sequences will the score appear to sound distorted, but it’s this reviewers opinion that the sound design intended such noise to appear in the mix. For a lost film brought back from the dead, it sounds marvelous.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
Audio Commentary: Wake in Fright offers one audio commentary with Director Ted Kotcheff and Editor Anthony Buckley. Ted does most of the heavy lifting here telling a number of stories about the production and keying the viewer in on unique details not seen before the restoration. Anthony chimes in to offer more technical details about the production and at times keeping Ted’s memories grounded.
To the Yabba and Back: An Interview with Ted Kotcheff (HD 12:45) (DD2.0)
Interview with director intercut with footage of the film. The information provided is more or less present in the audio commentary to the film. Filmed in 2009, this interview segment was taken from the Mark Hartley film “Not Quite Hollywood.” If you’d rather not listen to the commentary, check this out instead.
Q&A with Kotcheff at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival (HD 45:51) (DD2.0) Consider this Q&A moderated by Martin Knelman to be an extended version of the “Yabba and Back” interview. Some interesting stories here only briefly mentioned in both the audio commentary and the interview segment.
Who Needs Art?: Vintage Segment on 'Wake In Fright' (5:36) (DD2.0)
Classic 70’s Australian news report on the film’s international crew rending the film possibly un-Australian. As a fan of Aussie cinema this was a real treat! Definitely check this out.
Chips Rafferty’s Obituary (HD 3:19) (DD2.0) Months before Wake In Fright’s release the legendary Aussie actor who portrayed Jock in the film passed away. This original TV broadcast segment includes interviews, tributes, and highlights of Chips celebrated career.
ABC’s 7:30 Report on the Rediscovery and Restoration of the Film (HD 6:23) (DD2.0) An Australian news segment on the film’s recovery from a Pittsburgh storage facility and the digital restoration afterward. Not an in-depth technical report, but plenty of interesting info here.
-Wake in Fright
-Drafthouse Alliance Stinger
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
There are no HD exclusives.
'Wake in Fright' is a surreal thrill ride from start to finish. What appeals to me most about it is how little we know about our main character. We are thrust into the story with very little information. No backstory, no happily resolved ending. I love it! The cover art for the Blu-ray has a quote from Scorsese in which he says, “it left me speechless.” Typically that’s how I try to explain this genre defying film to my friends. Drafthouse Films has put together an amazing package for this lost piece of Australian cinema. With a stellar 1080p transfer the film has literally never looked better! Even though the audio presentation isn’t scoring high marks it is still a successful complement to the film. Wake in Fright shook a few audiences and ruffled a few feathers back in the day. For that reason, this film proudly sits on my shelf. Highly recommended.
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- English SDH
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