DAVID STRATTON: A CINEMATIC LIFE [2017]

Directed by Sally Aitken


David Stratton is a very unique figure in Australian culture, as his work as a film critic from a young age propelled him to national stardom as he co-hosted the immensely popular At the Movies/The Movie Show for nearly 30 years with the charismatic and popular Margaret Pomeranz as his verbal sparring partner. Following the sad end of At the Movies a few years ago, this documentary chronicles David’s journey of discovering, and then advocating for, film.

More importantly, this film is extremely informative about the history of Australian film, an immense passion for Stratton.

The most important part of David’s journey is his ongoing influence in the world of Australian film, as he helped propel films such as Gallipoli and Mad Max to the global stage. We should all be thankful for this. His knowledge is certainly deep, as he takes us through the history of Australian film, from the first feature film ever made (Yep, it came from Australia in 1906!), to the pioneering film Jedda, the first Australian film shot in colour, and the first to boldly choose to tell a story about an Aboriginal couple.

Made during a time when Aboriginal people were literally in concentration camps, one wonders whether these Indigenous People had a choice in the matter. Regardless, we explore other films that have probed Australia’s very real horrific treatment of the true custodians of the land we live on.

Australian film icon David Gulpilil, by far the most accomplished and talented Aboriginal actor working today, is disappointingly and conspicuously absent.

The use of the Australian outback as a setting for horror is also explored, from the early Wake in Fright (1971) to recent films such as Snowtown (2011) and Wolf Creek (2013). In one of the rare instances where there is human interaction, Stratton visits an old pub that is littered with history of films made in the area. The vast scope of the Outback is certainly a great setting for a horror film, and it is interesting to see just how many movies have been filmed in that area alone.

Unfortunately, this interaction is not memorable at all, and lends a dull tone to the film as it explores films set in the outback.

More recent films are studied, and Stratton correctly points out that, unfortunately, it is extremely hard in Australia for local films to have any effect at the box-office. He doesn’t explore this opinion though, which is disappointing, as it is spot on.

This aspect of the film is its biggest strength, as we hear from several prominent Australian directors and actors commenting on the classic films being discussed. This makes up only half of the film. The other half is spent listening to David drone on about his some-what touching but largely boring, typical family tale of moving from England to Australia as a youngster, and his passion for everything related to film.

It is about as fun as it sounds.

Often referred to as a ‘walking encyclopaedia of film’, David lacks the charisma of his former co-host, or any charisma for that matter, to the detriment of the film. This is partly due to the decision to combine David’s life story with a study of Australian film, but it also must be said that as a person, David does not come off as very likeable, which is evident in the almost complete lack of interaction between David and Australian film-makers and actors. We get a lot of talking heads, but almost no discussion.

The only real interactions are the few minutes he spends with Margaret Pomeranz, who, while reminiscing over their 30 years together on television, essentially states, in a very polite way, that David is a stubborn, close-minded man. George Miller is the only film-maker that David actually talks to for the entire running time.

This is beginning to paint a picture of an extremely self-obsessed man.

David’s story as a critic is certainly interesting, and enviable. But one gets the sense that he is an extremely arrogant man with a closed mind. We are provided with the only example of him changing his mind on a film, originally giving the Australian classic The Castle 1.5 stars. He has since come to see the charm of the film, and why we all love it, but this close-minded attitude becomes grating.

This attitude was most prevalent in 1992, when he literally refused on television to rate a film because he disagreed with its apparent racist views. This provides the only interesting aspect of the film relating to Stratton; as director Geoffrey Wright‘s reaction to Stratton’s childish attitude is by far the highlight of the film, as brief as it is. This blunt refusal to give a rating to a film further demonstrates his dismissive nature, as if he is the king of film knowledge, and his word is final. He certainly acts as if this the case.

His story can inspiring, but is it anything special? One wonders, if he hadn’t watched so many films (over 25,000 according to David) while he grew up,would his opinion mean anything? If he was never paired with the incredibly charismatic Margaret Pomeranz, would this film exist? There is no doubt that their debates/arguments made the show very entertaining, but David by himself would be akin to torture


Simply watching a large amount of films and writing about them, without bothering to revisit past works, does not make for an amazing critic, though Stratton has certainly convinced many Australians of this. There is no doubting his passion, and he has done a lot for Australian film. This film is at its strongest when it focuses on the history of Australian film; if this had been the only focus, it could have been brilliant. I doubt thought that Stratton would want give us his perspective on the history of Aussie film if his own name wasn’t in the title of the film.

Half a sixer.

3/6

20 Comments on “DAVID STRATTON: A CINEMATIC LIFE [2017]

  1. Yeah this guy sounds like he’d be annoying to listen to. Interesting insight.

    Like

  2. Great post 🙂 Speaking of Australian cinema, their is this unique great film from British filmmaker Nicholas Roeg called Walkabout (1971). A masterful film in my opinion. In fact, Nicholas Roeg also directed The Man Who Fell to Earth with David Bowie. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I loved that Bowie movie!! I’ll have to check out Walkabout, that wasn’t mentioned in the doco. So was that filmed in Australia?

      Like

      • Glad to hear you love that one. And yes, Walkabout was indeed filmed in Australia. Once again, keep up the great work as always 🙂

        Like

  3. Food for thought Jordan, I never considered the talking heads because he lacked friends. It seems a flimsy way to theme a movie. You’re right that it came alive when Pomeranz appeared and they fell back into their familiar shoe shuffle. I was more moved by his recollections of his family. I don’t know if he’s a prick, I met the man once and have enjoyed his work. Little things touched me. The reviews he wrote as a kid reminded me that I had once written reviews at 12 or 13. Making his way to England and having the courage to strike out on his own made me think on regrets I have of not doing the same. Working at the film festival took me back to volunteering at BIFF. Needing approval from his parents and remembering his father had been to war. This things resonated for me and the audience (older people I’ll admit) I saw it with. But a feature worth shelling out 20 bucks for instead of a TV show? Yeah I think it’s better suited for television and I’ve seen better docos on the ABC like about The Easybeats.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I dunno, because there was sooo little interaction between him and other filmmakers/actors, I kinda thought, why only one interaction (George Miller?

      All fair points you make. Though honestly, my Puppa’s past is more moving than Stratton’s. And not because he is family, because it is heavy. It probably doesn’t help that I don’t know much about the guy either way, I barely saw any of At The Movies, so in that way it was harder to care about his story. But I’ve heard much more interesting stories that deserve to be told, over his relatively simple tale. Relative being the key word there 😛 I’m glad though that it brought up good memories for you, that is awesome. I do agree I liked the moment where he showed reviews from when he was a kid. I always used to do that too, then I started putting them on forums, then on imdb and whatnot, etc etc. That part was nice.

      Not a feature film for sure. But if they removed most of him, focused on him and Marg and the more moving parts of his story, but mostly on Aussie film itself, this coulda been reeeeally good. Cos when it explores Aussie cinema it does it very very well. And that is obviously thanks to Stratton, perhaps he’d have been better behind the scenes?

      Heh its fun to speculate 😛 Good to hear though that you got more out of his personal story than I did tho. I am such a pessimistic bastard aren’t I!

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re as thoughtful and perceptive as I am if not more. It’s interesting to discuss what we both took away from it and I’m glad to hear your perspective which makes me re-evaluate.

        Liked by 1 person

      • right back at ya 🙂 its fun to discuss and possibly change an opinion about something. Hell, I gave Logan 4/6, but I watched some older movies to get to know the characters, and damn Logan is near perfect. And I hate that superhero genre! I’m gonna write a ‘take two’ review, cos my mind was swayed and I think too many people decide they hate a movie and that’s that, nothing can change it. I think that’s a bad attitude tbh, but that’s just me.

        hence why I mention that he changed his mind once about a film. They use The Castle example as if its the ONLY time he has ever reassessed a movie. What kind of movie fan doesn’t give films more than one chance??

        He is overrated as hell imo, and like I say in the review, if he hadn’t watched sooo many movies, would we even care about what he says? Would this movie even exist?

        Certainly belongs on SBS or something

        Liked by 1 person

      • You can certainly argue he’s overrated. I don’t think his calling card is how many movies he’s watched. He had a passion for film and some smarts to get the work at the Sydney Film Festival and being a writer for Variety. Not too shabby. These are things that many people do achieve. The film exists and we know of him for one reason and one reason only. His work on television. Do you know Des Partridge? He was the film critic for The Courier Mail in Brisbane for many years? Do I know a film critic for a local rag in Adelaide? About as much as I would have known about a contributing writer for Variety Magazine and the former runner of the Sydney Film Festival if he hadn’t been on television.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hmmm…. some very interesting thoughts there mate. Never heard of that Des bloke.

        Yeah the way he got into the industry before the TV stuff was great, not too shabby at all! I just think the guy is pompous, and I still can’t believe that, while hosting a movie show, he refused to rate Romper Stomper. I mean, seriously, get off your high horse already!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s his prerogative to do that and he had his reasons but you think the guy’s pompous and that’s your prerogative too. 🙂 Certainly a disappointing watch for you. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well I really enjoyed the history of Aussie cinema, if it had have been more focused on that, like 80/20, I’d have liked this a lot more I think

        I just heard its playing at Cannes. that is awesome for him and hopefully future Australian movies, but… yeah, never liked the guy heh.

        He has accomplished a lot though, can’t argue with that

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad I’m able to show you new stuff mate. I’ve been super busy recently, hence the lack of activity on my blog and I haven’t been checking out the ones I like, like yours cos you always seem to review older movies that I’ve never heard of

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Jordan, Thanks for the review. I missed this as I went os before it came out, but I’m not sure I would have gone anyway, despite being an Oz film-lover. It seemed like material for a TV doco rather than a cinematic release. I’m really surprised the ABC didn’t replace him and Margaret with another couple, just to keep the conversation about films going. I’m sure it would have done well – even Judith Lucy and Jason Di Rosso did a good job filling in at times. Surely it would have been popular and cheap for Our ABC.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh I agree completely. Hell it would have been nice to fuck off Stratton and have Margie on there with a younger, less pompous, arrogant twat!!

      I still can’t get over that he literally refused to rate Romper Stomper. Refused. I mean….. you’re on TV bro, its your fucking JOB to review it!!!

      This documentary is good for its exploration of Aussie film, but makes you realise just what a dickhole Stratton is

      They aired something like this over ABC i was told, was it this or something else? Cos I agree, this was NOT worth the money

      Liked by 1 person

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