Cast: Bill Hunter, Chris Haywood, Gerard Kennedy, Wendy Hughes, Bryan Brown, Don Crosby
A team of newsreel company employees struggle to balance their personal and professional lives amidst the backdrop of political strife, natural disasters and historic events in post-war Australia.
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In the years before television became a staple in living rooms all over the world, people had limited options as where to get their news. Of course, they could read about it in the local paper. But there was only one way to actually see the news, witness what was happening with their own eyes: go to a newsreel theater. There they would see short films, which summarized news stories from around the world. These types of films became especially important during World War II, as they provided the only opportunity for people to see what was actually happening in Europe and the Pacific. Newsreels were produced all around the world and, in some cases, are the only footage that exists of many major global events of the time.
Newsfront (1978) is the story of an Australian newsreel company that documents the political changes, and major historical events, that are happening in its country. Len Maguire (Bill Hunter) is a dependable cameraman who covers everything from the influx of post-war immigrants, the arrival of Vice President Richard Nixon, the 1955 Hunter Valley floods to the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. Along the way he marries, then loses his wife, sees his brother (Gerard Kennedy) sell out his principles to take a job in America and watches his country struggle with a wave of anti-communist propaganda during the Red Scare. People come and go, but the news always continues. Ultimately, though, television comes along, signaling the beginning of the end for the newsreel business.
One of the real strengths of Newsfront is the use of actual newsreel footage from the time period. Shot in both black and white and color, the newsreel footage is woven into the film so seamlessly that it is sometimes hard to tell what is old footage and what is new. An example where this is especially apparent is during the flood sequences. This gives the film a layer of authenticity that it would not have had otherwise. It is a major factor in letting the audience really believe that the characters are right in the middle of these events, putting their lives on the line. Many of the historical events in the film are probably unknown to international audiences, and by placing them right there with the characters, the audience is given the best possible view to experience these incidents for the first time.
The film is, if nothing else, a history lesson on post-war Australia, a subject about which most people probably know little or nothing about. The best films teach as they entertain, and Newsfront does this very well. This also becomes a major flaw of the film, however. The movie lacks a clear plot for the audience to hang on to, drifting from major event to major event and not developing much in between. The characters are given very little development; they seem to be there mostly to comment on the events happening around them. Even though Len is the main character of the film, the audience isnít given much reason to care about him. His marriage and divorce happen so fast that we never get to actually see the couple together. The film never allows the audience to become emotionally attached to anything, seeming to care more about the setting than the characters.
Newsfront is a film whose biggest achievement is also its biggest problem. The film attempts to cram in so much information about life in Australia during the 1950s that it neglects the plot and the characters. Things that the audience should care most about seem to matter the least. But in just giving the audience a clear sense of what it was like to be in Australia during these years, the film is a major success. The prevalent theme of the film is the ever-changing world, and we only truly grasp what that means because we are given such a clear understanding of what was and what is going to be. This a movie for people who enjoy a type of historical documentary; those looking for a film with a strong plot and characters, though, should look elsewhere.