Back in the Australia of 1948, television had not taken off in the way it would in later decades so the public had to rely on the newsreels they saw at the cinema. One company producing such media was Cinetone, and Len Maguire (Bill Hunter) was one of their cameramen, a professional which is more than could have been said for their rivals who delighted in getting in the way of his shots. As the years passed, Len would stay loyal to a form of reporting that was incrementally going out of date, through his marriage and through the changing political climate of the country...
Newsfront swept up the majority of prizes at the Australian Film Institute Awards, and it's easy to see why as with its mixture of nostalgia and intelligent commentary on the near ten year period from 1948 onwards it flattered the home audience, making their lives more significant by rendering them on the big screen just as the newsreels had done. Abroad, the film's quality was also recognised and many viewers considered themselves educated by what could have been a dry history lesson but in effect brought the events depicted to engaging life, and all thanks to its masterful use of actual newsreels.
In fact, such is the skill the newsreels are incorporated into the action that it's difficult to see where they end and the fictionalised material begins. The film shifts between colour and black and white to make this transition smoother, and it's a technique that should have been distracting, yet actually couldn't have been more effective. Both the political world and the social happenings are covered, as all the characters have political views they voice throughout - original screenwriter Bob Ellis walked off the project when he felt it was getting too talky and too left wing.
The revised version was by director Phillip Noyce, making his presence felt on the international stage with this work, which may still be his best film. The knack he brings to the human side of the drama is what makes it so compelling, although the characters tend to follow in the wake of history so you never get the sense of them influencing anything except the way the news was delivered, and even then they are growing more irrelevant with the success of television.
Heading an excellent cast is Hunter, the stoic example of old school integrity as Len, who nevertheless entertains progressive views that are out of step with many of his countrymen as a Red scare grips them. He refuses to vote to ban the Communist Party of Australia, which deepens the division between him and his strict Catholic wife (Angela Punch McGregor) and hastens his relationship with co-worker Amy (Wendy Hughes). If there's something of the soap opera about all this, it still rings true thanks to the real life that is woven into the narrative, and Noyce is unafraid to let us fill in the gaps so he doesn't have to spell everything out. There's humour, tragedy and human interest galore in this tribute to a bygone era, one of the brightest gems in Australia's new wave of the seventies. Music by William Motzing.