From the SMH:
March 11, 2009
THE lost classic Australian film Wake In Fright is set to reach the screen again after a painstaking restoration of material found in more than 260 cans marked "for destruction" in a Pittsburgh vault.
Considered one of the greatest films to be made in this country, the 1971 psychological drama has been notoriously difficult to see for decades. Without a surviving print in good condition, it has not been screened in cinemas, released on video or DVD, and the TV rights have long lapsed.
But the film's editor, the veteran producer Tony Buckley, confirms that the National Film and Sound Archive and the laboratory Atlab have completed a frame-by-frame restoration over 18 months and are waiting for final legal issues to be resolved before the film can reach the screen again.
"It's been digitally restored - it's not a chemical process - that's why it's taken so long. It looks stunning on the screen," he says.
The film centres on a city schoolteacher, played by the little-known English actor Gary Bond, who is confronted with the harshness of Australian life when stranded in a country town. A decidedly unflattering portrait of rural life includes a raucous "six o'clock swill" at a pub and a violent kangaroo hunt.
Also starring in a film that upset Australian audiences but won high praise from critics were Chips Rafferty, Donald Pleasence, John Meillon and a young Jack Thompson.
Buckley started to search for the film's missing negative in the mid-1990s, originally on a promise to one of the film's producers, the late TV star Bobby Limb.
A damaged print with "four nasty joins" was found in Dublin in 2001 but was not in good enough condition for restoration. The real breakthrough came in 2004, when 263 cans of film were rescued from a Pittsburgh archive shortly before they were due to be destroyed.
"We found not only the negative and the soundtrack but also the tri-separations and mixing tracks," Buckley says.
At the time, the senior manager of the archive's collections branch, Meg Labrum, described it as one of the great finds - equal to the discovery that led to the restoration of the silent classic The Sentimental Bloke. Archive representatives will not comment until legal issues are finalised, with the film's ownership passing to a new trust, but two new 35mm prints have been struck.
"It will have a limited theatrical release in the winter, with a DVD release following at the end of the year," Buckley says. He considers Wake In Fright to be "the best film that has been made in Australia" - a sharp portrait of Australian life from an outsider's perspective.
Based on a novel by Kenneth Cook, the film was written by a Jamaican living in London, Evan Jones, and directed by a Canadian, Ted Kotcheff.
When the film was released it was a commercial disappointment. "A lot of people were disgusted with it, but the critiques were sensational," Buckley says. "A lot of people back in 1970 didn't want to recognise the fact that parts of us are really like that. Its portrait of Australia in 1970 was spot on."