Wake in Fright

Americans who laughed at Crocodile Dundee back in 1986 had no idea what the Australian Outback was really like. Ted Kotcheff's 1971 Wake in Fright was recently rediscovered and restored, and it's a sun-baked, brutal revelation. Hoping to join his girlfriend back in Sydney during Christmas break, a rural schoolteacher gets waylaid in a hellhole called Bundanyabba, which looks like the set for a Sergio Leone or Sam Peckinpah western. The townsmen do nothing but drink and gamble, and the women cower in fear (or freely behave like slags). The handsome teacher (Gary Bond) feels superior at first, with his clean suit and paperback Plato in his luggage, but he soon blows his money and finds himself on a drunken, frenzied kangaroo hunt. (Yes, those are real 'roos being shot.) Memories of his girlfriend and civilization itself fade into the shimmering heat waves. All that's left in his new reality are sweat, dust, and shame. He's reduced to his lowest instincts and desires—no different than the savages he once scorned. (Before their boozy wrestling match, the alcoholic local MD, played by Donald Pleasence, tells him, "Sex is like eating—just a thing you do because you have to, not because you want to.") Like another notable film released in '71, Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, Wake in Fright peels back the lid of social propriety to reveal something rotten inside. (NR) BRIAN MILLER

Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2012

 
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