Category Archives: Rural noir

Wake In Fright at 50: mateship, masculinity and drinking in the Australian outback

Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright turns fifty this year. Based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Australian author Kenneth Cook, it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 12, 1971 and was released in cinemas in Australia on October 9. Despite being five decades old, it is hard to think of comparable piece of cinema that has come out of this country. Wake In Fright is not only a stunning rural noir, it is a blistering take on three of the central features of white Anglo Saxon male culture in 1960s Australia (although much of it is still highly relevant to today): mateship, the romance of the outback, and drinking. Especially drinking.

The central character, John Grant, is a mild-mannered teacher working in a tiny speck of a town called Tiboonda. Its isolation and distance from the coast has obliterated nearly all aspects of civilization, except the ability of the local pub to keep the beer cold. Grant is leaving for his Christmas holidays. He has his holiday pay in his pocket and fantasies of meeting up with his girlfriend in Sydney. All that stands in his way is an overnight train stop in Bundanyabba or ‘the Yabba’ as the locals call it.

Grant passes his night in the Yabba sinking a few beers in one of the town’s many pubs.… Read more

Book review: The Student

Regular Pulp Curry readers will know I have a particular fondness for noir fiction. In particular, Australian noir fiction. And, let’s be honest, when all is said and done, there’s not much Australian noir fiction, and I mean really noir fiction, out there. The publication of Iain Ryan’s The Student adds another more book to this rather slender canon of local crime writing.

I reviewed Ryan’s debut novel, Four Days, on this site when it was released in late 2015. A very dark police procedural set in the Queensland cities of Cairns and Brisbane in the 1980s, the plot of Four Days involves a borderline sociopathic cop with a drinking problem who becomes obsessed with the case of a murdered prostitute, in the process coming up against a police hierarchy who are keen to bury any investigation into her death.

Now Melbourne based, Ryan grew up in Queensland – a place that for various I am also very familiar with – and he completely nailed the corruption and picturesque sleaze that typified much of the state in the eighties, a time when its police force was one of the most violent and corrupt in Australia. Ryan cited James Ellroy as a major influence and I was particularly taken with the way he was able to pay homage to legendary crime writer without sinking into pastiche or cliche.… Read more

MIFF report back #5: Downriver

DOWNRIVER1170Grant Scicluna’s debut feaure, Downriver is a dark tale of secrets and redemption set in a small rural town. Although, I haven’t seen Scicluna stress the theme anywhere, it is also a film largely dominated by gay male relationships.

The film opens with eighteen-year-old James (Reef Ireland) being confronted upon his parole by the mother of a child whose death by drowning was the reason for his lengthy incarceration. The body of the boy has never been found, a fact that particularly haunts the mother. James suspects his childhood friend Anthony (Thom Green), who was also present when the child died, hid the body but he was never charged.

Once free, James is obsessed with finding the boy’s body. He defies his parole officer and his mother (Kerry Fox) and goes to stay at the caravan park near to the river where the death took place. James confronts Anthony, who claims to know nothing more than he has already told the police. He befriends Damien (Charles Grounds), an impressionable young man also staying at the caravan park, and who turns into an ally of sorts in James’ mission.

It becomes apparent very quickly that Anthony’s silence is bound up in a much larger and darker conspiracy involving the boy’s death and Anthony’s extremely dangerous family.… Read more

Strangerland

strangerland-poster-cinema-australiaInitial impressions can be deceiving in Kim Farrant’s debut feature movie, Strangerland.

On the surface it appears to be another version of the women-and-children-in-danger-plot-line so popular at the moment (think Gone Girl, Top of the Lake and half the crime novels that have been published in the last few years). But the film boasts some interesting twists and bravely examines themes you won’t see in many of the similar films.

The Parker’s have just moved to Nathgari, a spec of a town (‘population 1048’), surrounded by a seemingly endless expanse of beautiful but inhospitably sun blasted outback. The family unit – Catherine (Nicole Kidman), her highly-strung husband, Matthew (Joseph Fiennes), daughter Lily (Maddison Brown) and young son, Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton) – is clearly under pressure. Tommy, in particular, is intensely resentful about the move.

It becomes obvious fairly quickly that whatever it is that they’ve had to flee is connected to Lily and her burgeoning sexuality. Despite being a minor, she is sexually active and this has caused problems in the past, clearly sign posted when Matthew tells his son: ‘Don’t let her out of your sight, ok?’

It is no surprise then when both kids go missing. Indeed, Matthew watches from one of the windows of their home, as they leave in the middle of the night.… Read more

My top fiction and non-fiction reads of 2014

Time for me to present Pulp Curry readers with the list of my best reads for 2014. As is customary, I will start off by admitting, yet again, I feel I have not read nearly as much as I should have. My reading this year has been dominated by books for work, including material for freelance articles and the various literary festival panels I’ve been involved in. A considerable amount of my attention has also been directed to reading related to the non-fiction book I have been co-editing, Beat Girls, Love Tribes and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950-1980, which is scheduled to be published in October 2015.

With all that said, here’s the top ten books I read in 2014. I’ve split my list in two this year – fiction and non-fiction.

My top fiction reads are as follows:

escape-dominique-manotti

Escape Dominique Manotti

I have long been interested in the political history in Italy in the seventies and eighties, the so-called ‘years of lead’, when left wing paramilitary groups and right wing extremists in the military and police were locked in a shadowy, violent conflict. Dominique Manotti’s Escape is set in the late eighties and deals with the aftermath of that conflict. Filippo is a common street hood that shares a prison cell with Carlos, a charismatic former Red Brigade member.… Read more