Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Movie Review: Wake in Fright

Wake in Fright (1971, Ted Kotcheff) - 4.5
A schoolteacher working in a small town in the isolated outback of Australia leaves for vacation, and ends up stuck in another small town, where everyone drinks non-stop, and I guess he hates it there. It seems this is meant to be a descent-into-madness type of movie, but it either never takes things far enough, or I just simply didn’t get it. We’re meant to believe he’s in some kind of personal Hell, but why? Because all anyone does is drink? I fucking loathe drunks, and if asked to describe what my own personal version of Hell would be, "surrounded by drunk people in a hot, sweaty environment" is precisely how I would answer. But aside from a few sleazy moments from Donald Pleasance, nobody ever reaches the levels of loud, pushy, repetitive obnoxiousness that I’m accustomed to dealing with anytime I enter a bar, or go to a party, or step foot onto Haight Street. Instead, the characters are consistently friendly and hospitable, and their only real fault is being kind of boring. They do kill some kangaroos, and the main character shows some trepidation about joining in, but it’s not like he’s ever forced to do anything he doesn't want to. I kept waiting for someone to turn on him, or get violent toward him in some way, or at the very least, make him listen to their slurred thoughts on politics, followed by maddeningly endless apologies for being so drunk and aggressive. It never happens. Maybe it’s my own fault (or the fault of whoever wrote the synopsis for the film festival this played with) for expecting this to be something menacing and Hellish. What it is instead is a portrayal of a normal guy’s somewhat wild weekend in the Outback. And that’s fine, but not especially interesting.

There are also two sort-of sex scenes that I didn’t understand at all. The first is with a woman he’s been flirting with. They take a walk, and she finds a place to lie down, ready to go, but after kissing her for a minute, he starts vomiting for no apparent reason. He kind of stares at her freaked out for a second (like maybe she did something wrong?), so she buttons up and they go back to the house. Later, Donald Pleasance says something like if she were a man, she’d be considered a rapist because she had slept with most of the town. Was this the impression I was supposed to get from his experience with her? All she did was make herself available after he flirted with her!

The other scene comes at the end of a drunken night where the main guy and Donald Pleasance are wrestling, and they end up on top of each other, looking into each other’s eyes, and it looks like they’re about to kiss. Cut to the next morning, they’re in various states of undress. The main guy has a look that’s basically a “Man, I just had a wild night and now I’m hungover” type look, and it’s not even especially clear if they actually had sex or not. In a Q&A after the movie, the director referred to this scene as a “homosexual rape.” WHAT? There was no look of fear on the guy’s face when they were on the ground together (I don’t even remember who was on top of who because it didn’t matter), nor was there any look on his face the morning after that implied his asshole had been violated. I think the director may just be really confused about the definition of rape. He apparently thinks it means “making yourself available to an interested party” which is quite literally the opposite of “forcing yourself on an uninterested party.”

The documentary Not Quite Hollywood made all these Ozploitation movies look so amazing, but so far, other than The Howling III, I’ve been having really bad luck with them. This reminded me a lot of Long Weekend, which I also watched recently. That movie is fucking worthless, and this one is somewhat better than worthless, but they shared the quality of a good concept that never delivers. Somehow, though, I feel like this movie isn’t simply terrible (as Long Weekend undoubtedly is), but rather that I’m missing something. For whatever that’s worth, anyway, I still would never recommend it.

05/02/10: 35mm

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