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Credits Directed by
Bob Ellis (I)
CAST Alexander Archdale .... Sir Charles
Tony Barry .... Greasy
Bryan Brown .... Geoff
Peter Carroll .... Newsco scriptwriter
John Clayton .... Cliff
Don Crosby (I) .... A.G.
Slim DeGrey .... Fay's father
John Dease .... Ken
Gerry Duggan .... Len's father
David Elfick .... Rocker
John Ewart .... Charlie
John Flaus .... Father Coughlan
Drew Forsythe .... Bruce
Les Foxcroft .... Redex trial driver
Anne Haddy (uncredited)
Chris Haywood .... Chris Hewitt
Mark Holden (I) .... Len's new assistant
Wendy Hughes .... Amy Mackenzie
Bill Hunter (I) .... Len Maguire
Paul Jones (IV) .... Charlie's assistant
Gerard Kennedy .... Frank Maguire
Jude Kuring .... Geoff's wife
Lorna Lesley .... Ellie
Bill Lyle .... Macka
Angela Punch McGregor .... Fay (as Angela Punch)
Bruce Spence .... Redex trial driver
Richard Brennan (associate)
Original music by
Film Editing by
John Scott (II)
Production Design by
Costume Design by
Richard Brennan .... production manager
Brian Bansgrove .... gaffer Top of Page
Newsfront (1978) directed by Philip Noyce, is considered one of the 'quality' films produced in the New Age of Australian cinema which began in the late 1970s. The films of the early Seventies, such as The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972) and Don's Party (1975) directed by Bruce Beresford and Alvin Purple (1973) directed by Tim Burstall had extreme 'ocker' characters and themes. Although they were relatively financially successful, their rather gauche content did not reflect the true creative potential of Australian filmmakers. Directors at this time turned their attentions to the craft of film making rather than the Pom bashing of The Adventures of Barry Mackenzie or exploiting sex as in Alvin Purple.
Newsfront tracks the rivalry between two Newsreel production houses, Cinetone and News Co International based in Sydney. The action follows the career of Len Maguire (Bill Hunter) who works for Cinetone as a cameraman and rival cameraman Charlie Henderson (John Ewart) working for News Co International. There is a further complication as Len's brother Ken Maguire (Gerard Kennedy) now works for News Co having left Cinetone.
Noyce uses actual newsreel footage in the film to create a very realistic, documentary look. He also switches from black and white to colour to underscore the documentary qualities of the story line. The film does more than just explore the relationship between these two men. Len is married to Fay (Angela Punch) who is a neurotic, over-zealous and puritanical Roman Catholic, and the film explores the breakdown of their marriage. Frank Maguire's relationship with Amy Mackenzie (Wendy Hughes), a girlfriend of long standing is also examined. His treatment of her and his refusal to marry her leads to tension between the two brothers, especially when Frank declares to Len that he is leaving for America and eventually goes.
Earlier in the film, Len's assistant Chris Hewitt (Chris Haywood) asks Len why his brother Frank works for the competition. He is told that Frank is a "self-serving bastard" and this leads to the exposition of yet another theme of the film, that of loyalty. Len explains to Chris that during the Depression, both brothers were employed at Cinetone and therefore, in his book the company deserves some loyalty. Chris Haywood's own casual relationship with Elle Wilson (Lorna Leslie ) and her resulting pregnancy is another incident where Len encourages Chris to do the right thing and marry her. This further underscores the inherent decency of Len Maguire's character.
All these personal relationships and tensions are set against a backdrop of newsreel footage covering the severe flooding in Maitland New South Wales, The Redex car trials across Australia, the election of the Menzies government, Nixon's visit to Australia and the fear of Communist infiltration into the unions. In effect the Menzies government's attempt to ban the Communist Party forms a central theme of the film in that the confrontation stands as a metaphor for all rights of free speech in a democracy. This political theme is explored within the narrative as Geoff (Brian Brown) clashes over politics with his boss AG Marwood (Don Crosby) representing the establishment.
Finally, the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games is the setting where Frank's opportunism is thwarted by Len's principles. Frank sees a quick profit in selling controversial footage of the water polo match between the Hungarians and the Russians. (This was the first and very public meeting of the two sides after the Russian invasion of Hungary). Len stands by his principles and loyalty to his firm and will not sell a reel.
Unlike My Brilliant Career 1979 (Gillian Armstrong) or Picnic at Hanging Rock 1975 (Peter Wier), the other two best-known successful quality productions of the late Seventies. Newsfront was not an adaptation from a novel but was based on a script idea by Bob Ellis, developed by Phil Noyce. The film also focussed on a more recent period in history that has deeper resonance with audiences.
The difference between these quality scripts as opposed to the 'ocker' releases from earlier in the decade was that they allowed the director to utilise all the aesthetic elements of cinematographic production.
'Ocker' films are, by their very subject matter, a series of set pieces based around a visual or verbal gags and situations, which required the minimum amount of subtlety to communicate with an audience. A quality script requires a greater subtlety of exposition to transfer it to film. Newsfront is a fine example of this process and Phillip Noyce was well-qualified to develop the project.
Phillip Noyce was trained at AFTRS, starting in 1973. The same year as Gillian Armstrong and Chris Noonan. (In 1985 Noyce was to collaborate with Noonan in the TV mini-series Cowra Breakout). After this 'submersion' in film discipline he worked in the Commonwealth Government Film Unit making documentary films for 27 departments and for television release. Noyce responded to the Bob Ellis script story by bringing the two film disciplines, documentary and feature, into the one production.Noyce achieved this by blending actual Newsreel footage into the film narrative. This was particularly effective in the Redex Trials and the Maitland flood sequences. By colour timing the film to match the density and contrasts of the original Newsreel footage Noyce achieved an almost seamless transition between the two film stocks.
A characteristic of Australian cinema is the ordinariness of the characterisation. This realism and verisimilitude represented in the style of characterisation is a strong feature of Newsfront, even Wendy Hughes' star quality is subjugated to character.
Newsfront uses the backdrop of the rivalry between the two newsreel production companies to explore the tensions that exist in the main character's lives, set against the historic moments recorded in the Newsreels. Adding further tension is the inexorable arrival of the television medium with its instant coverage rather than the six days it takes to process and distribute the newsreels. This motif is portrayed in the film by three scenes depicting the queues waiting to see the newsreels at the movie theatre. In the first scene, showing the movie theatre there is still a long queue at the box-office when an usher puts the full up sign out on the pavement. This underscores the popularity of newsreel features and reflects on the fact that this was the only moving picture record of current events available to the Australian population at this time. The second sequence shows a queue but features interaction by the audience directly with the film maker in contributing, through a collection box, to the support of Chris Hewitt's widow. We have already seen Chris Hewitt drowned in the Maitland floods. The last scene in this motif is a sequence where Len Maguire is driven past the cinema on his way home in a taxi to find that it is now a feature film Theatre. There is added significance as the feature showing is an American import.
Newsfront's sub-plots are equally soundly constructed and marvellously captured by Vincent Monton's eloquent cinematography. For example in the sequence when Len's marriage is on the verge of break down and his wife refuses to let him touch her, Len gathers together his belongings from the shared bedroom. Monton shot this in close-up as we see Len's hands gather up his possessions from the dressing table. This is coupled with a mid shot of Len removing his belongings from the communal cupboard, Len is cramped into the left of frame as if events are crowding him. We then cut to a high angled shot, looking down on Len as he removes the clothes; this dominant camera position victimises Len and his position. Finely in the sequence, Len is left baffled and perplexed in the centre of the room. As he hears one of his children cry out he looks up. The camera pans from Lens face out of the room, not to find the child as expected but to focus on the front door to the house symbolising Len's final exit from the marriage.
Another fine example of character construction, with minimal explanation, is the exposition of Amy Mackenzie's ambivalence regarding her relationship with Frank Maguire. This takes just one short scene and one solitary shot. The establishing scene shows Amy bringing supper to the editing room. She reminds Geoff (Brian Brown), the senior editor, that they have to complete an inventory of the contents in the storeroom. We cut to Geoff who suggests they "do it" right now. Then we cut back to a close up of Amy agreeing with a knowing smile. She leaves and Geoff's assistant bets him five bob "he won't". Later in the film, when all at Cinetone are involved with helping Len build an extension at his house, a rainstorm interrupts proceedings and whilst inside Amy is asked how she is doing. She replies "I'm making out". The camera immediately cuts away to a mid shot of Geoff looking guilty.
Newsfront is full of examples of the director's craftsmanship. The music score with its Road to Gundagai motif carried forward from the non-diegetic opening newsreel sequences and culminating in the diegetic performance of the song is inspired. It is ironic that the performance is by an American lounge singer, and sung as a tribute to Franks return from America. In addition, the soundmatch of the crescendos at the end of the newsreel sequences gives authenticity to and underscores the historic feel of the film.
The realistic performances and exemplary cinematography, coupled with the ingenuity of recreating the scenes inserted into the Redex trial coverage also add 'verisimilitude' to the story line, the characters and events recreated are real and believable. This is particularly noticeable in the scenes of the Maitland flood where Chris Hewitt meets his death. These scenes were shot on sets reconstructed from blow ups taken from the actual newsreel footage and built at Nambeen Lake. The raging torrent was simulated by using a powerful Jet boat anchored 15m from the main action location with high pressure pumps producing a cross current. The jet boat was moved to within 8m for the close up scenes for maximum effect.
Newsfront fits the category of local product "that seemed to be an almost 'seamless' web between working to the local and being internationally successful". It was financed locally the through Village Roadshow, directed by the Australian director Philip Noyce, the cinematographer was another Australian, Vincent Monton, as were the crew. The major cast are Australians, with at least four of them going on to reach almost iconic status. Bill Hunter, Wendy Hughes, Brian Brown and Gerard Kennedy.
Newsfront also fits well with Tom Ryan's description of Australian film making mentioned by O'Regan, where he says. "Perhaps the most significant recurring narrative pattern is that which locales the characters in positions of powerlessness in relation to the movement of the historical periods in which they are placed." All these elements are ever present in the plot of Newsfront. The news reel industry facing the arrival of television. Len Maquire's helplessness in the face of his wife's puritanical Catholicism. The subsequent failure to hold a relationship with Amy after his brother Frank returns from America. The strife caused by the government reaction to the Communist Party threat, seen in the recorded Newsreels used in the film and within the Cinetone narrative as staff and management clash over matters of politics and professional ethics. The reflection on attitudes to sexuality, current at that time in Australia's recent past. All these factors place the protagonists on the back foot and there is no real heroic action to save the day.
The 'hero' if you can call him that, portrayed by Bill Hunter, is another exemplar of a perceived distinctive quality of Australian cinema. He looks every day, even ordinary, hardly 'star quality' in the Hollywood sense, yet his acting ability is unquestionable. His portrayal of Len Maquire as a straightforward, decent 'bloke' has a belief and realism that constitutes one of the defining factors of Australian cinema.
Newsfront also celebrated another, often overlooked, facet of Australian cinema and that is its long and meritorious delivery of documentary films. Newsfront celebrates this history, not only by utilising black-and-white archive footage from the Forties and Fifties but also by a judicious use and mix of colour footage which melds a reality in which at some moments we don't quite know whether we are watching a documentary or a feature film. This gives the Newsfront an historic reality and vivacity that will always have a validity. Top of Page
BIBLIPGRAPHY & ONLINE PRESENCE T O'Regan (1996) AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL CINEMA Routledge London New York Cinema Papers (1978-1979) August/September 1978 Newsfront does not have a comprehensive presence on the net. The IMDBhad only the credits and a short synopsis. The 'entry' Phillip Noyce produced a multitude of hits but all were concerned with The Saint, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger or The Bone Collector. The malcolm.screensound.gov.au has plenty of archival material however most of it is only released for a fee! My information was gleaned from articles in Cinema Papers and by applying the contents of T O'Regan's "Australian National Cinema". Top of Page
Newsfront Box Office 1978-1979
28.5.78-12.8.78 AU$40 182
13.8.78-14.10.78 AU$365 062
15.10.78-6.1.79 AU$459 776
7.1.79-17.3.79 AU$152 286
TOTAL AU$1 017 306
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Links Internet Movie Database ScreenSound Australia Top of Page Created By Miles Northover for H231 Australian Cinema. Tutor: Dr. Garry Gillard