The canadian Ted Kotcheff will be for a majority of people like the director of Rambo, first name. It is too often forgotten that a dozen years earlier, he laid a film much more interesting, destined to become cult : Wake in Fright. Its re-release in cinemas on 3 December is a perfect opportunity to talk about this film unfairly unknown. Especially that this new release could never have happened. During tens of years, nobody knew where it was past the film’s negative. In the early 2000s, at the bottom end of a warehouse in Pittsburgh, the australian producer Anthony Buckley found the reels in a box labeled “For Destruction”. This episode participates of course to enrich the status of a cult film.
The film opens on an overall plan for the desert. In the middle of this range yellow, a small house and a railway. A 360° panoramic snaps to find out what there is around. And around, there is nothing, except a second home. The expanse of desert is overwhelming, no escape is offered. Why two houses lost in the middle of nothing with a railway stop ? It is necessary to recognize that the situation is somewhat absurd. The first plan is important in cinema, we note that it is often indicative of what will be the footage by following. This is verified even in the case of Wake in Fright. First, this rotating camera that performs a full turn, it informs the journey of John Grant from Tiboonda (the place that we discover in this plan) to… go Back to Tiboonda. So far, nothing too amazing. It will be noted that the beginning of the plan is not exactly the same as the end of the plan, as a home is introduced. So this is not exactly a turn to 360° and there has been a change. We return to the same place without really be the same, the house is still there and an item has been added. An element which, eventually, has always been there but was hidden. This is the subtlety between the beginning and the end of the plan’s first inaugural that makes the difference and, in my opinion, is a harbinger of the path traversed by our hero. During his trip hallucinating Bundayabba, John Grant is going to discover what is hidden in the depths of man, his worst sides buried that threaten to resurface.
The story is that of John Grant (the excellent Gary Bond), a teacher sent the bottom end of the australian outback to work. The school holidays arrive and he had planned to go to Sidney. Before taking his plane, he stops for a night to Bundayabba, a small town where people are strangely a little too welcoming. It does not go a single scene without the viewer to be intrigued by an item fishy. An escalation in the madness snaps into place little by little to reach the peaks crazy while hunting kangaroos nightmare. It takes the bet immediately that this scene will mark more than one. Such a nightmare kafkaesque, it is impossible for John to flee the city. With each attempt, he will dive back into it, so that the film forms a set of small loops that are linked together where the only alternative remains the degree of madness. Ted Kotcheff takes the time to ask his scenes, he made it last, sometimes excessively so that narrativement they do not require. Like John, the viewer finds himself a prisoner of events. Yet, it is difficult to say that Wake in Fright has to his cult in the staging deployed. We welcome necessarily the effective use of the close up on the characters face or the great surges frantic assembly. So far, the camera is rather discreet and doesn’t offer ideas crazy realization. A shyness which hinders not the film because one of its major strengths is to portray a universe unhealthy. The grime and the sweat is noticeable how if they were under our nose, there was concern almost as the heat penetrates the screen, and vienna, we oppress. This is not the time that of detail given to the sets, to the costumes or the acting that make the difference and participate in creating this global climate. One can argue without much doubt that Wake in Fright is a great movie atmosphere. In this sense, it recalls the texas Chainsaw Massacre, another great trip nightmare of the 70’s.
“In the tradition of works such as APOCALYPSE NOW or THE texas CHAINSAW MASSACRE. This advert reminds us how much the cinema of the 70s is precious.”
The two films, separated by 4 years, there are numerous connections, both formal and thematic. The echo the more immediate future lies in the light. Suffocating the light texan meets that of the australian outback. “There is also irony in the texas Chainsaw Massacre : the characters are in a naive total, they are honest vis-à-vis themselves but everything they do is in contrast with what happens to them,” said Tobe Hooper for les Cahiers du cinéma (number 705). This sentence could apply to Wake in Fright and the character of John. It is inhabited by the desire to stay right in his boots, yet he never ceases to give in to the temptation. He plays a game of money all that he has, or proposes to kill a kangaroo to the body. He yields to his impulses while always being recalled to the order by his reason. A reason governed by a different logic within the community of Bundayabba. We can note the use of the figure of police in the two films. In Ted Kotcheff, the officer crossed in the beginning of the film by John and offers him beer and never appears as an authority credible. Worst in Hooper, the shériff is plainly the villain of the story ! Wake in Fright and the texas Chainsaw Massacre come together on the society they depict. A society where violence lurks and threatens to arise at all times. In Kotcheff that materializes with the hunting of kangaroos, unexpected moment that begins the turning of a scene of calm between John and Doc (the amazing Donald Pleasence). Everything goes wrong and it is an outburst of violence which we are witnessing. In Hooper, we think, necessarily, to the first appearance of Leatherface, unexpected moment, as rapid as a glance. You know the rest… The two films are also inhabited by a comic force not to be neglected. A burlesque comedy, bringing smiles to at first in order to better distill the malaise. It seems unlikely to see nowadays of the projects, as frank and candid, stripped of a narrative construction developed to immerse ourselves in a pure journey. Wake in Fright follows on in the tradition ofApocalypse Now or the texas Chainsaw Massacre and this advert reminds us how much the cinema of the 70’s is precious.
• Achievement : Ted Kotcheff
• Screenplay : Evan Jones, based on the novel by Kenneth Cook
• Main actors : Donald Pleasence, Gary Bond, Chips Rafferty,
• Country of origin : USA, Australia
• Released : December 3, 2014 (exited), 21 July 1971 (the date of original output)
• Duration : 1h54mn
• Distributor : La Rabbia / The Covenant
• Synopsis : John Grant, a young schoolteacher, made a stop in a small mining town of Bundayabba before going on holiday to Sydney. In the evening, he plays his money and gets drunk. This should be the case, the night extends over several days…