Daily Archives: Saturday, March 15, 2014

  • Wake In Fright Ted Kotcheff (Australia 1971)

    P { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; }

    Wake in Fright Ted Kotcheff
    (Australia 1971) Donald Pleasance; Gary Bond, Chips Raferty

    Viewed ICA Cinema London 10 March 14;
    Ticket £6

    Signs of the times: delirium tremens

    I think the title Wake in Fright points
    directly to the intention of the film and probably, but in a
    different context, of the book which I haven’t read.In relation to
    the film, the title seems not so much a description of anything in
    the film but an injunction. It’s an injunction to wake up and see
    what’s in front of you. Ted Kotcheff’s movie is directed not so
    much at the Australia of the early 1960’s when the book was written,
    but more urgently as it found itself in 1970 at the end of the long
    blood drenched Vietnam war characterised by the slaughter of
    innocents. Murders now forgotten.

    Viewed from 2014 Wake in Fright is an
    allegorical rendering of the forces of nihilistic destruction that
    have been unleashed many times in recent history: Bosnia, Lebanon,
    Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan to name but a few.

    Wake in Fright chronicles the delirium
    of the male when he enters into the world of the dead, or the world
    of war. The subsumation of the individual male identity into a
    murderous quasi tribal collective psyche.

    We see the mild mannered teacher John
    Grant enter the craw of a male dominated mining town. As the script
    develops he is stripped of his thin outer socialised veneer, his
    teacher persona.

    Drink, serial ritual drinking a common
    element of hazing initiation, breaks him down, replaces the civilised
    with the instinctive. His judgement eroded, his perception debased,
    his psychic responses are concentrated into a limited number of
    survival reflexes. Like a Viking Warrior, he enters a state of
    delirium which is his only protection, both from himself and others.
    Psychically life is replaced by death as an energiser. In Paul
    Virilio’s phrase: the right to live is replaced by the right to die.

    Grant is stripped of his money his
    clothes and his possessions and enters the final series of drinking
    bouts that reduce him to an automative appendage of the collective
    male machine. Grant played by Gary Bond is a sort of satirical
    inverse of James Bond. The screen realisation of the Bond persona is
    a fantasy male figure par excellence. The man who is always in
    control. He is intelligent urbane calculating, and has sex appeal.
    He is an appendage of the the consumer culture which with its
    Ferraris, Computers, Aperitifs etc can festoon him with baubles of
    desire. John Grant represents the other pole of reality. As he
    enters the fog he is bereft of desirable attributes, there are no
    products of desire with which to associate. The alcohol is not so
    much a product, it’s a gateway to death. And yet the statement in
    the persona of Grant has a resonation deep in the male psyche. This
    is what is real; it is more real on its own terms than Bond, this is
    what it means to be a man to accept and respond to life: to live in
    the delirium of the male. Out of control, indiscriminately
    murderous, brutal and psychotic. The history of documented combat
    killings: Mai Lai in Vietnam, Haditha in Iraq, and numberless other
    unrecorded and unattributed slayings almost unremarked in everyday
    life attest to the reality of the delirium.

    I did wonder if Gary Bond, who plays
    John Grant, had ever been considered for the eponymous part in the
    Bond franchise?

    If so his association with Wake in Fear
    will have killed it off.

    In Wake in Fear Ted Kotcheff gives most
    vivid expression to this male delirium in the sequence of the
    kangaroo hunt in which Grant takes part. These creatures frozen
    immobile transfixed in the beam from the mounted headlight on the car
    roof, offer themselves as sitting ducks to the guns of the hunting
    party. The ‘roos are slaughtered amidst the sound of hysterical
    laughter and merriment. The men are lost in an immediate trance in
    the spasm of the killing. They are proto hunters engaged in a magical
    ritual. In inflicting death, and it is the finality of death that is
    important (there is no appeal from the death wound inflicted), the
    hunter becomes an elevated being and acquires for himself the magical
    protective mantel of their slain victims. Savage. And perhaps it
    was like this inVietnam and Iraq and out on the streets.

    The ‘roo hunt is depicted as fuelled by
    alcohol but the conditions for the delirium are established through the scenario. The physical
    proximity of the men and the singing of songs, that are little more
    than chants, with strong repetitive motifs, are all strong bonding
    elements creating the conditions necessary to the state of collective
    male delirium. So although alcohol is a driver in Wake in Fear, fear
    itself, with its adrenalin rush, or drugs or righteous belief systems
    have the same effect.

    The structure of Wake with Fear is
    symmetrical in form. It ends and begins with the same shot.

    A big wide shot of the isolated
    community in the middle of the outback where John Grant is the

    In the opening sequence he leaves. In
    the final sequence he returns. Outwardly we can see no difference in
    him. Like the vets who return to their communities, unless they are
    injured, on the outside they appear the same. It is within where we
    cannot see what it is that the delirium has wrought or writ.

    Wake in Fright belongs to an era when
    the concern of significant film makers was to seize consciouness and
    engage with the world in whatever manner. Numbered were the days.

    Adrin Neatrour