David Stratton is best known to Australian audiences in his role as a film critic. For 28 years he co-presented a movie review show, first on SBS, then on ABC, with Margaret Pomeranz. The pair became known for never seeing eye-to-eye on the movies they saw (not true) and for a fractious presentation style which could make them seem more like a bickering couple than professional film critics (absolutely true). Their antics were celebrated and parodied by a dedicated audience who, as we discover, included some of the best and brightest in the Australian film industry.
Within industry circles Stratton is best known for his championing of Australian cinema during his many years as the director of the Sydney Film Festival. His work as a critic is known internationally through his writings for Variety magazine and for his role on film festival critics’ juries at Cannes, Venice and Berlin. Now he’s the subject of a documentary feature film written and directed by Sally Aitken.
Stratton’s story began in England in 1939 at the outset of World War 2. His father was away fighting for Stratton’s first five years which later affected their relationship. From an early age, Stratton loved going to the cinema with his mother. When he was only ten-year-old, he began using an index card system to document the films he saw and give them mini-reviews. His passion for cinema sat at odds with his shopkeeper father who wanted young David to work in the family business. The documentary covers Stratton making the difficult decision to leave England and starting a new life in his adopted country. Overall, his personal story is lightly sketched, although we are shown how much his decision to leave home affected young David. Greater emphasis is given to his “cinematic life” and its effect on the culture. Australian films like Peter Weir’s PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK and Gillian Armstrong’s MY BRILLIANT CAREER were supported by his work at the Sydney Film Festival.
The documentary uses clips from an impressive array of Australian feature films. The star-studded roster of industry talking heads is also comprehensive; Russell Crowe, Jackie Weaver, Jack Thompson, Warwick Thornton, Sigrid Thornton, Margaret Fink, George Miller, David Michod, Geoffrey Rush and Rachel Perkins are but a few of those who have anecdotes to share and observations to make.
David Stratton is a constant voice in support of Australian film. He has worked to promote world cinema and this country’s place within it, for more than fifty years. Aitken’s documentary allows us to track that journey and understand something more about what makes Stratton tick, while simultaneously celebrating a half century of Australian cinema. DAVID STRATTON: A CINEMATIC LIFE is thorough and engaging. 90 mins. (7/10)