A schoolteacher gets waylaid in the Australian outback and takes a journey into the heart of darkness in Wake in Fright, a revered and groundbreaking thriller that for 40 years lived only in the memory of its initial viewers. But following its miraculous recovery and restoration, the "lost" film made a triumphant return to screens nationwide this fall. Now it will make its home entertainment debut when Drafthouse Films releases it on high-definition Blu-ray and DVD on January 15, 2013.
Alongside Mad Max and Walkabout, Wake in Fright is widely acknowledged as one of the seminal films of modern Australian cinema. Author Neil Rattigan, in his book about the New Australian Cinema, Images of Australia, called it "a cinematic trip into hell. ... No other Australian film offers such a savage indictment of a great number of cherished cultural perceptions."
Directed by Ted Kotcheff (First Blood, North Dallas Forty, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz), the movie tells the story of a British schoolteacher's descent into personal demoralization at the hands of the deranged, hard-drinking residents of a remote Australian town. John Grant (Gary Bond, Anne of the Thousand Days, the BBC's Great Expectations) teaches at a tiny school in the outback. On his way to Sydney to catch a vacation flight, he stops in a rural mining town, where he is reluctantly drawn into the macho antics of the local men. After losing his money in the gambling game two-up, he is taken on a drunken and brutal kangaroo hunt with three of the beer-guzzling louts - a horrifying ordeal that culminates in a shattering sexual assault.
Wake in Fright had its world premiere at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival, where it was nominated for a Palme d'Or. Retitled Outback and hurried into a few theaters across the U.S. with minimal advertising support, the movie lasted barely a week before it was pulled from circulation and vanished into obscurity. For over three decades the film materials were thought to be lost, until the movie's persistent cinematographer unearthed the original negative elements in Pennsylvania in canisters marked for imminent destruction.
The materials were painstakingly restored frame by frame and the new restoration was invited back to Cannes in 2009. Guest curator Martin Scorsese said:
"Wake in Fright is a deeply - and I mean deeply - unsettling and disturbing movie. I saw it when it premiered at Cannes in 1971, and it left me speechless. Visually, dramatically, atmospherically and psychologically, it's beautifully calibrated and it gets under your skin one encounter at a time, right along with the protagonist played by Gary Bond. I'm excited that Wake in Fright has been preserved and restored and that it is finally getting the exposure it deserves."
The film went on to a successful theatrical release in 50 top markets this fall. It has been lauded for its stark and uncompromising vision by such champions as Rex Reed, who said "may be the greatest Australian film ever made," and celebrated musician and screenwriter Nick Cave, who said it's "the best and most terrifying film about Australia in existence."
Wake in Fright - which co-stars versatile film favorite Donald Pleasence (Halloween, Escape From New York) and rugged Australian icons Jack Thompson (Breaker Morant) and Chips Rafferty (Mutiny on the Bounty) - is back to reclaim its title as one of the most awe-inspiring, brutal and stunning films of all time. And Drafthouse Films has created a Blu-ray/DVD package befitting the movie's status as a revered treasure.
- Audio commentary by director Ted Kotcheff and editor Anthony Buckley
- The making-of featurette "To the Yabba and Back"
- A Q&A with Kotcheff an from the 2009 Toronto Film Festival
- A look at the movie's restoration
- "Who Needs Art?" vintage segment on Wake in Fright
- Theatrical trailers
- A 28-page booklet