Two cult classic Australian films recently restored by the National Film & Sound Archive show that our neighbours over the ditch are up there with the best when it comes to gritty, controversial filmmaking. Wake In Fright, directed by Canadian Ted Kotcheff in 1970, has as much in common with Billy Wilder’s Lost Weekend as it does with Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout. Released internationally under the more accessible, less threatening title Outback, its protagonist is a schoolteacher played by British actor Gary Bond, who at the end of the school term arrives in the small mining town of Bundanyabba—known to the locals simply as ‘The Yabba’—en route to Sydney. One of the locals invites him to have a drink, and his one night in town extends to five. By the end of the week he’s gambled away most of his money, downed a ridiculous amount of alcohol, and is contemplating suicide.
Tom Cowan’s 1976 film Journey Among Women is equally hair-raising, but for different reasons. Set in late-18th century colonial Australia, a group of convict women escapes a fetid, repugnant jail cell—and their equally disgusting captors—and flees to the bush to live a semi-feral life. The film is important from both a feminist standpoint and simply as a record of independent Australian filmmaking.
Raw, energetic and uncompromising, these two films are some of the best to have ever emerged from ‘the land down under’.
Both films are presented in a two-disc set and include interviews, commentaries and other material, as well as a booklet with essays—and in the case of Journey Among Women, a collection of the director’s various short films.