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Australia 1978
Directed by
Phillip Noyce
110 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

Newsfront

Based on the history of Sydney-side film newsreel cameramen from 1946 to the advent of television in 1956, Phillip Noyce’s first full length feature film (his first feature, Backroads, ran 61 mins) was a deserved critical and commercial hit in its day, storming the Australian Film Institute awards in its year of release. It is a remarkable effort by Noyce who was one of the earliest graduates of the then newly established Australian Film, Television and Radio School and still today stands as one of the most accomplished Australian films ever made.

The film deals with the rivalry between the Cinesound and Movietone news companies during the 1940s and 50s, who went head-to head in a hotly-contested field that pre-dated the battles of today’s television networks for news supremacy. Of course it was the advent of television that led to the demise of the film newshounds as a species..

Controversial wordsmith Bob Ellis’s original script, which was re-worked by Noyce, ispart factual social history, part fictional drama. It re-casts the commercial rivalry as one between Len Maguire (Bill Hunter) and his brother Frank (Gerard Kennedy), Len working for the Australian-owned Cinetone, Frank for the US-owned Newsco. The film depicts the day-to-day competition in the field and seamlessly combines real news footage of the times with reconstructed scenes (notably the Maitland floods) and integrates this with the semi-fictionalized narrative. The result, aided by the superb production design and Vincent Monton’s fine cinematography, is a fascinating portrait of Australia of the times, an era when the culture of “mateship” became firmly entrenched as the national character, although the winds of change were already stirring and there is a undertone of melancholy at the passing of the times as the local industry struggled to cope with the American behemoth.

In a career-making performance that became his stock-in-trade, Bill Hunter is effortlessly winning as Len, but Gerard Kennedy, Chris Hayward, John Ewart and Wendy Hughes all help to make this one of the finest portrayals of the Australian ethos ever made.

DVD Extras: Excellent value here. An audio commentary from Noyce, Ellis and producer David Elfick (backed up with comments from members of the cast and crew), not only reveals much about the seat-of-the-pants production but, most-interestingly, the deep rift that developed between Ellis and Noyce and Elfick over the direction the film was taking. Also includes a documentary on how the film's production history, a DVD-Rom study guide, reviews and original assessments and bios of cast and crew. With subtitles for the hearing-impaired.

Available from: Village Roadshow

 

 

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