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David Stratton: A Cinematic LifeAustralia 2017
Directed by Sally Aitken
Running time 97 minutes
Synopsis: A documentary surveying the career of Australia’s best-known film critic, David Stratton.
Sally Aitken’s film is an endearing portrait of an endearing individual whose rather fussy, strait-laced persona, judiciously offset by his peppery onscreen partner, Margaret Pomeranz, became a critical presence in all film-literate households via SBS, then ABC, TV between 1980 and 2014. It also serves as a stimulating overview of Australian film from its earliest beginning to the present day.
As the title suggests, the film is essentially a homage to Stratton (special mention should go to editor Adrian Rostirolla who has wrangled the plethora of material into a seamless whole) giving us glimpses of his life from his childhood in England where he displayed a precocious interest in film to his well-timed emigration to Australia in the early 1960s and his subsequent serendipitous transformation into a cultural advocate for Australian film and Australian film-goers.
Aitken follows a loosely chronological agenda, oscillating between Stratton’s personal history and clips from Australian films that Stratton (rightly) regards as benchmarks, often with an explanation of the meaning they have had for him personally. She broadens this pattern with celebrity-bites from a panoply of well-known names from Nicole Kidman to Gillian Armstrong, Russell Crowe to Jacki Weaver who variously attest to Stratton’s contribution and/or offer comments or anecdotes on the films referenced.
Fortunately Aitken doesn't get too reverential - Margaret Pomeranz shows up for a spot of characteristically pugnacious banter with Stratton at a Sydney harbourside restaurant, an unrepentant Geoffrey Wright, director of Romper Stomper expresses his scorn for Stratton’s “pontifications“ and in a very funny scene set in a drive-in Stratton struggles to deal with Brian Trenchard-Smith’s slasher-fest, Turkey Shoot.
Suprisingly there is no mention of Stratton’s main contribution to Australian cultural life – his championing of world cinema, firstly through his directorship of the Sydney Film Festival then as host of Sunday Night At the Movies on SBS TV. Nor is Stratton given any opportunity to reflect on the functions and limitations of film criticism although late in the film he does discuss his positive revaluation of The Castle.
As the documentary will air on ABC TV later in the year as a three hour mini-series perhaps these omissions will be corrected. In its present from although it is rather superficial it is also surprisingly entertaining. I’m giving it three and a half stars. I’m sure David would agree.