During his Q&A session after the showing of ‘David Stratton: A Cinematic Life’ at Carlton’s Nova Cinema, I asked David Stratton, its star and subject, if he had any advice for a budding film critic. He said that anyone who wants to write on film should watch a lot of films, particularly the old ones, and ‘steep yourself in film history’.
Director Sally Aitken’s documentary is as much about the life of beloved Australian film critic David Stratton as it is about the history of Australian film. The film is driven by the narrative of David’s life. It follows the first moment he came to Australia from England to his years as co-host with Margaret Pomeranz on ‘The Movie Show’ and ‘At the Movies’. What Aitken also does, however, is interweave this story with clips from iconic and controversial Australian films. She cuts in interviews with filmmakers and actors discussing their work, ultimately piecing together the rich narrative of Australian cinema. This film, like David himself, is steeped in Australian film history.
At the beginning of the film, celebrities and filmmakers such as Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, and Eric Bana all praise David and his place in film history. Admittedly this feels a little ostentatious, as if the purpose is to boost the film’s star power. Thankfully this passes pretty quickly and the film gains strong footing when it explores these films in depth. Toni Colette discusses ‘Muriel’s Wedding’, Eric Bana weighs in on ‘Chopper’, and director Geoffrey Wright relays a tale about throwing a glass of wine at the critic, because David didn’t like ‘Romper Stomper’.
Visually, the film is a treat to anyone even somewhat familiar with Australia’s films. At times it feels like a virtual tour through a museum of Australian film history, as clips are played while Stratton acts as your familiar guide. The film’s narrative is also deeply personal. Aitken selects film clips befitting David’s own life events, including a touching interaction with his father which reveals a great deal about their relationship. Intimate glimpses of Stratton’s upbringing shown through the medium of film.
An absolute must for cinephiles and enthusiasts of Australian film, A Cinematic Life is an entertaining piece of history—and worth it just to see Margaret and David bickering with each other one more time.
Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.
David Stratton: A Cinematic Life is now showing in cinemas around Melbourne.