by Brad Nelson
For those who like “small” movies (and you know who you are…you like offerings such as Waking Ned Diving and Local Hero), Newsfront is small even on that scale. This is not a three-alarm story, but it is an honest one. And by “honest” I mean that there are no gratuitous car crashes, very few camera shakes in place of actual story, and very few cliches. And perhaps it could have used a few of those clichés because, although the characters seem honest and true to life, there’s not a lot of story here. And the story that is told is not as nostalgically iconic as the film wants it to be.
This is the story about the men and women who presented the news in moving pictures long before TV and the mainstream media were a forged twinkle in Dan Rather’s eye. In the comfort of your movie theatre you could receive news about the greater world around you, all filmed and narrated in dramatic tones using the most up-to-date technology.
In many ways, newsreels, although technically journalism, were an art form unto themselves that were perhaps sadly replaced by the bland talking heads of network TV news. Unfortunately, the interesting process of capturing and making the newsreels takes a bit of a back seat to inter-office politics and the various relationship problems of the main characters. That’s fine to a certain extent, but this was a film whose selling point is the journalism and excitement of the newsreel and not enough time is spent on that.
However, this is a very nice movie to look at. Filmed in warm tones and interspersed with black-and-white segments and real newsreel footage, Newsfront is the story of Australia’s newsreel industry before it was killed off by television. It follows a few newsreel photographers in post-war Australia in the late 40’s and early 50’s.
Included in this look at newsreel journalism is an attempt to follow the political development of post-war Australia. But that aspect mostly falls flat. Not enough details are including to merit including this subplot. This movie should have stuck to the newsreels and (can you believe that I’m saying this?) left the politics off the table, as well as most of the seen-it-before relationship stuff.
But that said, I still found this to be an engaging, if slow and somewhat uneventful, film. It’s a style of film that — rather than rattling the cage of your brain with as much noise, violence, and sex as can be artificially induced — Newsfront quietly unfolds and puts itself much more on the human scale.
These “small” films can be a blessed island of relief from the mainstream sledgehammer films where “blockbuster” is equated with “attention deficit disorder.” That’s how the “large” movies seem to view its audience. Still, this “small” film was barely large enough for my tastes. I give it 2.2 unspoken-police-states out of 5. But what it lacks in pure movie magic it somewhat makes up for in the original subject matter.