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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
by Garon Cockrell
Have a Beer in 'The Yabba' - A Review of Wake in Fright
email print
Dec. 30, 2012 5:15 p.m.

 
Wake
in Fright was a last minute addition to my Fantastic Fest 2012 agenda; I
knew nothing about the movie except that it was older and set in Australia. It
was mostly on a whim that I parked myself in the theater for an 11:40 AM
showing of the 40-year-old film. What I experienced was one of the most unexpected
and unique pieces of cinema of the 20th century. WiF is a tale of
the outback (one of the first in fact) and helped establish a genre.  After its release it came within a hair’s breadth
of being lost forever. <>
                The
plot of Wake in Fright concerns one
John Grant, a school teacher serving a two year contract in a small outback
town. At the start of the film, the semester is just wrapping up and he hops a
train for the town of Bundanyabba, or ‘The Yabba’ as the locals call it, with
the intention of catching a plane to Sydney for the summer. When John arrives
he is initially amused by the backwoods nature and alcoholism of the locals (he
is a city-boy). However, when he loses all his money and plane fare on a local
gambling game called “two-up”; he is forced to rely on the charity of those
same locals. What follows is a slow tearing away of John’s identity as he shacks
up with a drunken, washed-up doctor (played by Donald Pleasance) and begins to
indulge himself in all the dark entertainments that “The Yabba” has to offer. <>
 
Wake
in Fright is helmed by Ted Kotcheff who later directed First Blood (Rambo part 1) and Weekend
at Bernie’s, but WiF is as far removed in style from those films as they
are from each other. Kotcheff spoke about WiF before the screening at Fantastic
Fest and how it was almost lost entirely. Wake
in Fright premiered at Cannes in 1971 and despite good critical reception
the film failed at the box office. In the US, Kotcheff attributed this to
United Artists not supporting the film and only opening it in a theater in New
York during a blizzard. After that it more or less disappeared; never shown on
television and never released on VHS or DVD. WiF came to be considered a lost
film with the original negative missing and few who could claim to have
actually seen one of the remaining prints. <>
Anthony Buckley, the editor of the
film, at his own expense,  traveled
around the world for years following rumors of where the negative might be and
coming up with nothing. It wasn’t until 2004 that he found two large cargo
containers that contained the negative and other source materials in a facility
in Pittsburgh. The containers were labeled to be destroyed two weeks later. At
this point in the story the now elderly Ted Kotcheff began to choke up and it’s
not hard to see why. If the one man looking for it had been just 14 days late;
this genre establishing film would have been lost for all time. <>
At his own expense the editor carried
out the painstaking restoration of the much degraded negative. In Kotcheff’s
opinion that picture quality is superior to that of the prints that were struck
for its first release. The colors of the Australian desert shine crisply in
Technicolor, with a vibrancy and scope reminiscent of shots from Lawrence of Arabia. The dark shadows of
the films many night scenes and all the characters that inhabit “The Yabba” are
restored to their original gritty, sweaty, and dirty glory. After the film’s
restoration in 2009 it again played at Cannes, making it only the second film
to be screened on two different years at the festival (the other being L'Avventura).<>
Scenes of actual kangaroos being
hunted and butchered have led to some controversy and allegations of animal
cruelty about the film. According to Kotcheff, the kangaroos were not killed
for the film, but he did accompany and film Australian hunters. Kotcheff was
adamant that the hunters do nothing special in his presence and simply go about
their work as they would on any normal hunt. The Royal Australian Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals encouraged the use of the film he shot to draw
attention to the slaughter of kangaroos in the outback. <>
 
Alamo Drafthouse’s distribution arm
Drafthouse Films, has picked up Wake in
Fright for American theatrical and DVD/Blu-ray release. The movie is
available for pre-order at drafthousefilms.com. The Deluxe Collector’s Edition
features the movie, a poster signed by the director, digital copy of the film,
and a pair of “two-up” gambling coins. Also available are sets that include
just the Blu-ray and poster, Blu-ray alone, and Digital Download alone. Wake in Fright releases January 15th,
2013.   

Special Features
  • Audio commentary with director Ted Kotcheff and editor Anthony Buckley
  • To the ‘Yabba and Back…’ featurette by Not Quite Hollywood Director Mark
  • Hartley
  • Q&A with Kotcheff at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival
  • ’ABC’s 7:30 Report’ on the rediscovery and restoration of the film
  • Who Needs Art?: Vintage segment on Wake in Fright
  • Chips Rafferty obituary
  • Theatrical trailers
  • 28-page booklet
  • <>

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