At Drafthouse Films our motto is simple: "Share the movies we love with the widest audience possible." And no film could be more fitting to our brand than Ted Kotcheff's Wake In Fright - at least in part because more beer is consumed onscreen in this movie than any other of its time. Today marks the end of a dedicated, three year long process to secure North American distribution rights for one of my personal favorite films. I first saw the film in 2009 at Los Angeles' Cinefamily during its brief resurgence following the creation of a stunning, newly restored 35mm print. I was awestruck by its nightmarish vision of masculinity and the way that, without classifying as a horror film, it was more terrifying and sinister than most.
Alongside Max Max and Walkabout, Wake In Fright is widely acknowledged as one of the seminal films in the development of modern Australian cinema. Combining the backwoods horror of Deliverance and the gritty nihilism of Straw Dogs, the film tells the story of a British schoolteacher's descent into personal demoralization at the hands of drunken, deranged derelicts (including a very inebriated "doctor" played by Donald Pleasence), while stranded in a small town in outback Australia. As a friend once said, "You'll be picking outback sand out of your teeth for days."
The film made its world premiere at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival where it was nominated for a Palme D'Or and its US distribution rights were sold. Retitled Outback and hurried into a few theaters across the country, the film barely played for more than a week before it was yanked from circulation due to poor attendance and lack of advertising. Wake In Fright vanished into obscurity, not ever appearing on VHS or DVD. For over three decades the film materials were thought to be lost until the film's persistent cinematographer unearthed the original negative elements in Philadelphia in canisters marked for destruction just one week away from its impending incineration. The materials were painstakingly restored frame-by-frame at Sydney's AtLab Deluxe with the support of the National Film And Sound Archive of Australia. The new restoration was invited back to Cannes by guest curator Martin Scorsese, where it held the honor of being one of two films to ever screen twice at the festival (the other being Antonioni's L'Avventura).
Virtually unseen in the US and renowned in its home country after years of neglect for its daring criticism, Wake In Fright is indeed ripe for rediscovery, and Drafthouse Films is proud to release the restoration in cinemas beginning with engagements at Film Forum in New York City on October 5th, The NuArt in Los Angeles on October 19th and expanding to several additional markets before a home video and VOD release in the first quarter of 2013.
Ready your Drafthouse Films Alliance membership for this one mates!