NEWSFRONT -- At the Outer Circle.
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Nostalgia rolls on, relentlessly going back over the same three decades of explored territory. Is there a minute of the precious recent past, with its quaint problems and nifty styles, that we have missed?
Newsreels! Remember newsreels, with their booming, patriotic narratives, their dog-in-a-bonnet humor, their winking bathing-beauty feature stories, and their clock-sweeping dissolves from one scene to the next?
The Australian newsreels of the last '40s and early '50s, obviously very much like ours, are the subject of an Australian film "Newsfront." It's done with such cleverness as convince one -- even against internal evidence -- that the old newsreels were the last bastion of integrity in visual reporting.
Now that's a terrific trick, comparable to running films of high diving backwards, which newsreels also regularly did. Actual excerpts and faithful recreations of newsreels clearly show that the narrations editorialized shamefully, leered openly at their women subjects and puffed away constantly at self-promotion. Fine cameramen often got amazingly good footage, but was it significantly better or more honest than later camera reporting?
"Newsfront" is the story of two brothers -- a homely, loyal company man, played by Bill Hunter, who spends his whole career filming for an organization called Cinetone, and a cock-eyed adventurer with a sort of Bogart chic, played by Gerard Kennedy, who sells out by going to America to make movies.
The good brother faces a series of what are made to seem enemies -- the Catholic church, which fights his politics and ruins his sex life; decaying ethics, as exemplified by the dirty-trick competitors in the rival newsreel company, Newsco; decaying standards, as personified by his decent young sidekick's being replaced by one who demands overtime; television news and Brigette Bardot films, which take over, respectively, the function and the theaters of newsreels; and, finally, Hollywood.
"He's just a bit old-fashioned" is the admiring epithet that closes the film, suggesting that all of the above have destroyed personal and working integrity. Only afterwards does one ask oneself why it's more honest to film newsreels than movies or television news, and what's so wonderful about a man who leaves his wife from boredom over her fear of constant pregnancy.
Only a powerfully nostalgic force could pull off this tour de force. Newsreel clips, home movies -- shot by the professional cameramen and inexplicably as jerky and awful as any amateur's -- pull one backwards, suggesting that this man belongs to us, and we have a stake in his uphill struggle. Part of the movie is shot in black-and-white, part in color, but the characters are always shown with such lovable imperfection of appearance and living conditions that one is tugged toward them.
And just when we thought we had put nostalgia behind us.