Wake in Fright (found Australian psychological thriller film; 1971)
Advertisement poster for the film's re-release.
Date found: 2002
Found by: Anthony Buckley
Wake in Fright is a 1971 Australia-American thriller directed by Ted Kotcheff. The film chronicles one man's hellish experience in a fictional town in the Australian outback. Based on Kenneth Cook's 1961 novel of the same name, the film was received favorably by many professional film critics but was a commercial failure in Australia and the United States, partially due to limited marketing and distribution, as well as objection to the film's sordid content.
There was some controversy due to a scene in which multiple kangaroos are seen being shot to death (often messily and cruelly); the hunting footage was taken during a real kangaroo cull, which only ended when the crew orchestrated a power outage as an excuse to end filming. The professional hunters hired for the scene were said to be heavily intoxicated at the time, accounting for their poor aim, the results of which both angered and disturbed many of the crew members. Twelve people are said to have walked out of the film's re-release at Cannes in 2009 during the aforementioned controversial scene. Further criticism was brought against the film's portrayal of outback locals as brazen, hard-drinking hedonists, a depiction that offended many Australian viewers during its initial run in 1971. At one of the film's first Australian screenings, an audience member, disgruntled with such a depiction, reportedly stood from his seat, pointed at the screen, and shouted "That's not us!" Actor Jack Thompson, who played the miner Dick in the film and who was present at the screening, replied to the audience member, "Sit down, mate! It is us!" It was perhaps because of these controversies that when it was set to be shown in the United States, the film was minimally advertised, resulting in poor audience turnout and a truncated release schedule in the country.
The film's cold reception from audiences, as well as the scant distribution it received, led to virtually every complete print to vanish with time. To make matters worse, the film's distributor, Group W, went bankrupt, causing the original master negatives to go missing as well. For many years, Wake in Fright practically existed only by a handful of censored prints used for occasional TV airings and a few extremely rare VHS releases, which cut several minutes off of the film's original 109-minute runtime. A print was re-discovered in Dublin in the early 1990's, but it was not considered viable for a commercial release of the film, nor was it deemed good enough quality to warrant being cleaned up and remastered.
Desperate to save Wake in Fright from its otherwise inevitable fate, the film's editor, Anthony Buckley, set out to recover an uncut, good quality print of the film in 1994. In 2002, Buckley traveled to a Pittsburgh warehouse, and, to Buckley's amazement, and under incredible circumstances, the original negatives were discovered in a shipping container marked "For Destruction." Reportedly, if he had not recovered the film when he did, they would have been destroyed one week later. With a secure, workable copy of the entire film recovered, the painstaking process of restoring it began.
Seven years after Buckley's miraculous discovery, the restoration was completed and was premiered at the Sydney Film Festival in June of 2009 to rave reviews. A few months later, the film was released on DVD and Blu-ray. Contrasting with its initial reception, Wake in Fright is now considered one of the greatest Australian films ever made.
Restored Film Trailer
- The Making of Wake in Fright (Part Three) by Peter Galvin Retrieved 17 Jan '21
- ABC At the Movies interview with director Ted Kotcheff Retrieved 17 Jan '21
- Wake in Fright article by Al Burton at The World Cinema Guide Retrieved 9 April '21
- Film Courage interview with Ted Kotcheff Retrieved 17 Jan '21
- WorldCat listing for a 1993 VHS release Retrieved 17 Jan '21
- Scanned copy of a rare Norwegian VHS release Retrieved 17 Jan '21
- Wake in Fright: 2009 Restoration by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia Retrieved 17 Jan '21