These two crazy cinematic mindbombs have been doing the rounds for a while now. One of them for thirty-eight years. But they do linger – they’ve been ticking in my head for weeks.
These dinkum films made decades apart have much in common: they’re both set in red Oz a long way from the City; they deal with behaviour beyond the pale of civilised society; they are shocking to the viewer but eventually resigned in tone. They were both shown at the Cannes film festival earlier this year.
Years ago, after I had read the genius novel, I was passed an old videotape of Wake in Fright; a technology even then in visible obsolescence (one Christmas I was enchanted by metres of unspooling tape draped over a neighbour’s tree, flickering like fish in the brown heat). Watching the restored film sat me up straight – it’s brute, root and shoot. In the words of Our Nick (Cave not Kidman): ‘The best and most terrifying film about Australia in existence.’ Allowing for his gothic preferences, it’s at least an arguable case.
More extreme, definitely extremer, is Samson & Delilah. The rhythm of this film this is like a dream, or maybe more like an unfolding nightmare, savagely jolting, and then resettling you into helplessness as Sam and Del descend the circles of hell we call the black problem. It is, oh, two and a half times as confronting as Wake in Fright, and easily one of the most depressing films I have seen. (And if you haven’t, well, I…mm…recommend it…)
When we came out of the screening into a quiet street in the early evening, we turned to each other, aghast. In the silence I sort of croaked, ‘I feel ashamed.’ She said, ‘I know what you mean. And the whole world has seen it now.’ Cannes.
Wake in Fright leaves you reeling and reaching for a beer. Samson & Delilah leaves you stunned and sober.
We hung our heads and drove off.