timespace coordinates: 1970’s mining town of Bundanyabba – known by the locals as “The Yabba” – outback Australia
Wake in Fright (initially released as Outback outside Australia) is a 1971 psychological thriller film directed by Ted Kotcheff, written by Evan Jones and starring Gary Bond, Donald Pleasence, Chips Rafferty, Sylvia Kay and Jack Thompson. Based on Kenneth Cook‘s 1961 novel of the same name, the film follows a young schoolteacher from Sydney who descends into personal moral degradation after finding himself stranded in a brutal, menacing town in outback Australia.
Filmed on location in Broken Hill and Sydney, Wake in Fright was an Australian-American co-production between NLT Productions and Westinghouse Broadcasting. Alongside Walkabout, it was one of two Australian films to be nominated for the Grand Prix du Festival at the 24th Cannes Film Festival. Despite attracting positive reviews, the film was a commercial failure in Australia, in part due to minimal promotion by United Artists, as well as audiences being uncomfortable with its portrayal of outback life, including a controversial hunting scene involving real kangaroos being shot.
By the 1990s, Wake in Fright had developed a cult reputation as Australia’s great “lost film” because its master negative had gone missing, resulting in censored prints of degraded quality being used for its few television broadcasts and VHS releases. After the original film and sound elements were rescued by editor Anthony Buckley in 2004, the film was digitally remastered and given a 2009 re-release at Cannes and in Australian theatres to widespread acclaim; it was issued commercially on DVD and Blu-ray later that year. Praised by critics for its direction and performances, Wake in Fright is now considered a pivotal film of the Australian New Wave and has earned a rare 100% approval rating on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.