The wonderful folks over at Glasgow Film Festival have truly delivered on their promise of late last year, programming a veritable cornucopia of Australian cinema for their 2015 installment, which runs 18 February – 1 March.
To celebrate the UK cinema release of Ivan Sen’s potent, highly-charged slow-burn western Mystery Road, this review (of sorts) meanders in search of the film’s place within forty-odd years of through lines in the Australian film industry.
Ever since it’s recovery, restoration and Australian re-release a few years back, Wake in Fright (1971) – Ted Kotcheff’s unnervingly brutal picaresque of life in the Australian outback – has done the rounds of London screening nights, played the odd festival, and even got a trio of excellent 35mm screenings earlier this year. But now, after reissues in Australia and North America – and over forty years after its original UK release as Outback in November 1971 – it is finally time for the film to return to British cinemas via a limited theatrical re-release, leading up to Eureka Entertainment’s deluxe Masters of Cinema dual-format treatment later in the month.
It’s a dark, disturbing, grueling exploration of the dark side of the Australian psyche. It also happens to be one of the finest films to ever emerge from that sunburnt country, and following revivals in Australia and the United States, it’s finally about to earn its due in Britain.
Britain’s biggest and best festival of horror, cult and genre cinema, Film4 FrightFest returns later this month to Empire Cinemas (Leicester Square, London) for five days and nights of blood and thunder. Australian cinema’s contribution to the latest FrightFest instalment may not be numerically significant, but its outback blend of ‘something old, something new, something bloody, and something blue’ still packs a mean punch!
Following on from the success of last year’s Scala Forever season, which saw London film clubs and screening nights band together to toast the spirit of the legendary Scala Cinema (and the subsequent Ken Russell Forever tribute), the next six weeks see the project expand into Scala Beyond, with screenings held across the country to celebrate all forms of cinema exhibition in the UK.
Of course, no proper celebration of weird and wonderful cinema from around the globe would be complete without a few Antipodean delights, and Scala Beyond is absolutely no exception. Here’s a brief rundown of the Oz treats in store…
Central to the Oz film experience during Scala Beyond are a tasty pair of double-bills at London’s Roxy Bar and Screen in the final week of August.
On Wednesday 29th – eager to prove that ‘Oz cinema is so much more than hi-octane stuntmen and girls in white petticoats’ – Videotape Swap Shop present a truly twisted helping of noisy Oz-weird with Rolf de Heer’s utterly fantastic tale of a shut-in gone wild, Bad Boy Bubby (1993) [trailer], slotting seamlessly alongside Terry Bourke’s shockfest Night of Fear (1972) [trailer], which provides an extremely original take on the ‘rural car crash victim meets unhinged local’ scenario. The two films are linked by their unique approaches to sound design, and both deserve a big screen viewing. No strangers to Australian genre cinema, the VTSS team have anticipated their ‘Noisy Oz’ double with a series of ‘Oz Month’ blog posts throughout August. Bargain basement £4 earlybird tickets were still available at time of writing, otherwise entry is a measly £6 on the night.
The following evening, Thursday August 30, VTSS’s fellow cult film aficionados Filmbar70 present an ‘Eerie Down-Under Double’ at the Roxy that pits Ted Kotcheff’s ‘rediscovered’ classic Wake in Fright (1971) against Tony Williams’ off-kilter Next of Kin (1982). Retitled Outback for its North American release, the unmissable, brutally brilliant Wake in Fright follows an English schoolteacher as he departs his outback home headed for the beaches of Sydney. But a brief stopover in the rough and tumble mining town of Bundunyabba sees his summer holidays descend into a Dantean nightmare of greed, violence and good old fashioned ‘mateship’ [trailer]. In sharp contrast, Next of Kin is a gothic slow-boiler that dips into a stylish bag of tricks to crank up the tension as a young woman returns home after the death of her mother, whose diary sparks a series of spooky occurrences [trailer]. Tickets are £5 and are available in advance from the Roxy website or on the door.
But the Oz action is not limited to London: Sunday August 26 sees the traveling delights of Picnic Cinema pitch up at Acorn Bank Gardens in Cumbria for an open-air presentation of Baz Luhrmann’s shamelessly gaudy Australian-shot, Parisian mash-up musical Moulin Rouge!. Tickets are £11/£6 (+bf) from SeeTickets and the gates open at 6pm with live music – BYO picnics and fin de siècle fancy dress highly encouraged!
The north-west of England is also home to one of the highlights of the wider Scala Beyond program; a series of screenings staged by the excellent Abandon Normal Devices festival in a full-scale drive-in made from wrecked cars. Originally built in San Jose, California, Empire Drive-In is the work of Brooklyn artists Todd Chandler and Jeff Stark, and features sonic artworks by day whilst playing nocturnal host to a selection of shorts, docs and features relating to cars, urbanity and post-industrial landscapes. And in a landscape of smashed cars, it’s only fitting that their screening on Friday August 31 plays host to George Miller’s post-apocalyptic sequel spectacular Mad Max II: The Road Warrior (1981), in which Mel Gibson’s Max helps a small enclave of civilized survivors fight off the hording bandits led by a proto-Bane named Humungous [trailer]. Empire Drive-In can be found in the QPark on Hulme Street, Manchester, tickets are £7 and the screening will be preceded by short films and feature guest ‘interventions’ by Manchester drag/art/party collective Tranarchy.
Given that this is a festival celebrating the spirit of the old Scala Cinema – infamous for its ’round the clock screening schedules – it wouldn’t be complete without a few all-nighters. Australian films feature in two London quadruple-bills, with Mad Max II: The Road Warrior (1981) getting a second Scala Beyond showing at FilmBar70‘s World Wide Action All-Nighter at the Roxy Bar & Screen on Saturday September 1. The night kicks off with the Arnie mercenary classic Commando (1985) and also features Indonesian Cameron rip-off Lady Terminator (1989), cross-cultural Hong Kong fightfest Mafia vs Ninja (1985) and FilmBar70’s specially selected Top 10 Action Scenes of All Time. Tickets are £15 from the Roxy website or on the door and include free coffee and breakfast. [EDIT 31/08: This all-nighter has been postponed due to licensing issues.]
Also at the Roxy, Midnight Movies bring Scala Beyond to a fitting conclusion on Saturday September 29 with a celebration of proms, parties and the darker side of teen angst. The Fright at the Proms All-Nighter will feature Shaun Byrne’s Aussie psychotic jilted-lover gorefest, The Loved Ones (2009) [trailer] alongside Canadian cult classics Prom Night! (1980) and Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II! (1987), as well as Brian de Palma’s classic blood-soaked Stephen King adaptation Carrie (1976). Tickets are £15 (+bf) from Eventbrite and the night kicks off at 10pm in true prom style, with photos, ‘guest chaperones’ and live DJs, with free breakfast baps for every ‘survivor’.
Scala Beyond runs from August 18 to September 29, 2012. Full programme details are available on the website.