Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
Australia, 1978. Palm Beach Pictures, New South Wales Film Corporation, The Australian Film Commission, Village Roadshow Pictures. Screenplay by Phillip Noyce, based on a screenplay by Bob Ellis, from a concept by David Elfick. Cinematography by Vincent Monton. Produced by David Elfick. Music by William Motzing. Production Design by Lissa Coote. Costume Design by Norma Moriceau. Film Editing by John Scott.
This early, breakthrough Phillip Noyce effort was Australia’s most celebrated film of its year, a warm and intelligent recounting of the era between the Second World War and the advent of television when a group of dedicated reporters, camera operators and editors brought the country its most important events through newsreel footage. A variety of characters are followed through a picaresque narrative that, rather than build to a climax, starts with the exuberance and joy of the group’s camaraderie, then whittles things down to just a burned out, jaded Bill Hunter manning the job practically on his own when his colleagues are seduced by other work or, in one tragic case, lose their lives on the job.
After establishing themselves with their part in helping build the nation’s morale after the war, the newsreel company is threatened by outsider competition, fighting back by placing more emphasis on traditional entertainment to contribute to a sense of national character (lots of farm footage of kangaroos and those adorable rabbits fighting the new nation-long fence). The Red Scare threatens the jobs of a few of the crew who advocate for democratic free speech, and has an even harsher effect on their personal relationships at home, while the excitement of covering fun events like the “Redex Car Race” is juxtaposed with the devastation of heading into the Hunter Valley Floods of the mid-fifties and wading in waist-deep Maitland waters with cameras in hand. By the time of the Melbourne Olympics, television news has arrived and newsreels are rendered obsolete, which dovetails with Hunter’s own ambivalence of what direction to take in his own career.
It’s not an exciting film, the lack of a central plot will be a turn-off for those who need films to hinge on a hotter pulse of conflict, but it’s a thoughtful and heartfelt tribute to a time gone by, and to the efforts of many forgotten artists.