Wake in Fright (Kotcheff, 1971)

Wake in Fright will give you a hangover just from watching it. The amount of alcohol consumed in this sweaty, frightening film is headache-inducing.

Teacher John Grant (Gary Bond) who, on vacation in Australia, meets a bunch of drunk and pretty crazy townsfolk, including Doc Tydon (Donald Pleasance, who gives an unbelievable performance as a learned maniac), and his own sanity starts to go downhill. I thought at first blush that this film might be close to Straw Dogs, but it’s less an us vs. them, as it is a me vs. me vs. them narrative.

It’s funny that outfits from 1971 Australia look exactly like modern hipster clothes:

Screen shot 2015-09-14 at 10.07.34 PM

Check out that tanktop-shorts combo. “Wake in Fright” could be the new 2015 style!

Ted Kotcheff’s film is filled with tight close-ups that get more and more grotesque as the film progresses (regresses? devolves?):

Screen shot 2015-09-14 at 10.08.12 PM

Here’s a quick look at some of Kotcheff’s blocking. That’s Grant frame right, with his newfound friend Tim Hynes (Al Thomas) and her daughter Janette (Sylvia Kay). The yellowish hue, which dominates the film is pretty sickening:

Screen shot 2015-09-14 at 10.09.05 PM

Janette exits from right and Kotcheff pushes into a tighter 2-shot on John and Tim-

Screen shot 2015-09-14 at 10.09.21 PM Screen shot 2015-09-14 at 10.09.32 PM

-and soon cuts to a CU on John, with Sylvia now in the background and out of focus. That soft background is important. It keeps Sylvia in the same frame as John, ostensibly (and visually) pairing them. It also functions as a literal “back of the mind” for John:

Screen shot 2015-09-14 at 10.09.56 PM

This is somewhat typical blocking for Kotcheff and it really works. He uses a lot of foreground-background to keep John close to us and other stimuli hovering nearby. Like this shot-

Screen shot 2015-09-14 at 10.10.17 PM

-which reminds me also of this shot-

Screen shot 2015-09-14 at 10.12.05 PM

Both of which feature John (first in the foreground, second in the middle-ground), where other lesser characters stare at him, adding to a sense of imminent danger, paranoia, and general unease. That’s the major strength of this film. It’s so uneasy front to back.

There are so many great, strange side characters. Like this hotel manager who gets an amazing visual introduction:

Screen shot 2015-09-14 at 10.11.00 PM

Kotcheff uses a lot of blown out windows against an otherwise dark interior. It’s hangover territory here. Don’t open that door, John, or your head will explode!

Screen shot 2015-09-14 at 10.12.19 PM

There’s a kangaroo shooting sequence in Wake in Fright that is absolutely horrifying. I was going to get screen shots of it, but I didn’t really want to watch it again. It’s perfectly done in its attempt to disturb and also to show John’s further descent into the rugged mania of the small town where’s he staying.

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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2 Responses to Wake in Fright (Kotcheff, 1971)

  1. John Charet says:

    Love everything you say about this underrated film especially how you point out that it is “a me vs. me vs. them narrative” You are also right on target in pointing out that the clothes in this 1971 film is the type of clothes hipsters are wearing today 🙂 Keep up the great work as always 🙂

  2. Pingback: Best Films of 2015 | dcpfilm

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