Australian Screen

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Cinesound Movietone Australian Newsreels

The Cinesound Movietone Australian Newsreel Collection held at the National Film and Sound Archive comprises 4,000 newsreels from 1929 to 1975.

It includes the two predominant and competing cinema newsreels, Cinesound Review (1931–1970, 2,031 editions) and Fox Movietone News (1929–1970, 2,300 editions), as well as the Australian Movie Magazine (1970–1975, 1,386 editions). The newsreels are generally between one and five segments each, with some extended 'special editions’ that are up to 10 minutes in length. They cover significant events in Australian social, cultural and political history.

In the days before television, cinema newsreels were an important source of news and current affairs and formed an integral part of the cinema program. Newsreels provided the public with a weekly digest of both information and entertainment and formed the template for the format that we still see in television news today: a mixture of local, national and international stories, sporting features and lifestyle or human interest items. In Australia, the dominant newsreel of the silent era was the Australasian Gazette, produced between 1913 and 1932. The coming of sound heralded the demise of the silent newsreels and the birth of the Australian edition of American-owned Fox Movietone News and the all-Australian Cinesound Review. Sound brought an immediacy and reality to the newsreels, making them more popular than ever – especially throughout the 1930s and 40s. Prior to the coming of television in the mid-1950s, the output of these two newsreel production houses represents, in many cases, the only audiovisual depiction of major Australian historical and cultural events of the times.

Fox Movietone News was the first sound newsreel produced in Australia and one of several editions made by Twentieth Century Fox throughout the world. Movietone News featured the laughing kookaburra as its iconic logo. From 1935 until 1957, its newsreels were voiced by popular radio entertainer Jack Davey. The newsreel mixed international news items with local stories shot by Australian crews.

With the demise of Australasian Films’s Australasian Gazette and the launch of Fox’s sound newsreel, the Australian feature film production company Cinesound Productions – a subsidiary of the Union Theatres/Greater Union group – felt the need to launch its own newsreel, the Cinesound Review. Cinesound Productions was involved in both film distribution and exhibition, so the Cinesound Review was easily able to make its way into theatres. Unlike Movietone News, Cinesound’s newsreel did not contain a single imported news item and proudly labelled itself as 'the voice of the nation’. Its logo featured the red kangaroo (also used by Australasian Gazette) and commentary was provided by Charles Lawrence. Headed by Ken G Hall until 1956, the Cinesound Review was truly a 'news magazine’. Hall’s experience as a newspaper reporter, as well as his appreciation for attracting a mass audience, made the Cinesound Review a riveting combination of both facts and entertainment.

Cinesound’s extension into newsreels saw the beginning of a rivalry with Movietone News that continued until 1970 when the two companies finally merged. Like the newsmakers of today, the newsreel producers of both Cinesound and Movietone News spent a lot of time trying to 'scoop’ an exclusive story. Each of the newsreels released several extended 'special editions’ over the years with exclusive stories (see Cinesound Review: That Mersey Sound: Beatles at the Stadium). The Second World War provided steady news fodder for the newsreels, and it was during this time that Cinesound’s wartime newsreels came into their own, with their Academy Award-winning newsreel special Kokoda Front Line! (1942).

The newsreels continued steadily until the 1960s when they had to compete with improving television technologies which could supply news on a daily basis, and with increasingly better coverage. In 1970, the Cinesound Review and its rival Movietone News combined to form the Australian Movie Magazine. This ran for a further five years but screened its last edition in November 1975, not long after the introduction of colour television to Australia. It was a quiet end for a long and proud history of newsreel production in Australia.

The Cinesound Movietone Australian Newsreel Collection was donated to the National Film and Sound Archive in 1988 by 20th Century Fox and the Greater Union Organisation. In 1988 the five-year 'Operation Newsreel’ project was launched to preserve, restore, catalogue and copy the collection. The collection is listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, which aims at guarding against 'collective amnesia’ and promoting valuable archive and library collections worldwide. The Cinesound Movietone Australian Newsreel Collection represents a unique and comprehensive record of Australian life over half a century.

Titles in this collection

Australian Movie Magazine No 7201 1971

This 'year in review’ edition is not a typical example of the newsreel’s format. It presents some of the significant events of 1971 and includes a range of story types.

Cinesound Review: That Mersey Sound: Beatles at the Stadium 1964

This newsreel special of the 1964 Beatles tour captures footage of the band in Sydney, Melbourne and New Zealand, concert excerpts and the attendant 'Beatlemania’.

Kokoda Front Line! 1942

This iconic and Academy Award-winning newsreel shot by Damien Parer contains some of the most recognised images of Australian troops in the Second World War.

Movietone Special: Peace: Australia Celebrates 1945

This Movietone News special edition newsreel marking the nationwide celebrations at the end of the Second World War includes the iconic image of the 'dancing man’.

Road to Kokoda 1942

What’s remarkable about Damien Parer’s Kokoda footage is that there is no actual combat, and the Japanese presence is felt most keenly through its absence.