A fascinating look at the life of the famous film critic and the iconic local titles he helped champion.
He gave The Social Network five stars, Hostel none, famously refused to grade Romper Stomper, and declined to cover Wolf Creek 2 at all. But how would David Stratton rate a documentary about his own life and love of film? It's a question we'll never know the answer to, although the fact that we're all wondering speaks volumes about the veteran film critic's impact. It also explains why there's now a doco about him and the Australian cinema landscape he has helped shape for more than half a century.
Let's face it — for most Aussie film and television viewers, movies and David Stratton go hand in hand. For 28 years on SBS's The Movie Show and then ABC's At the Movies, he dissected the week's big screen releases on the small screen, with much of the country tuning in to catch his insights and hear his banter with co-host Margaret Pomeranz. He'd profess his hatred for shaky cam, she'd sigh "oh David," and their back-and-forth would make a conversation about an average film much, much more interesting. They even have their own board game. And while that might've all come to an end, the movie buff's movie buff isn't done sharing his love of cinema. Indeed, from the end of May, he'll talk audiences through the best flicks Australia has to offer in a three-part TV series. Consider David Stratton: A Cinematic Life the feature-length appetiser.
Directed by experienced television helmer Sally Aitken, the documentary endeavours to do two things: step through Stratton's life and career, and explore a selection of influential Australian titles. The former comes complete with tales of the critic's cinema-obsessed youth, photos of his pre-beard days, a glimpse inside his catalogue of movie notes (which he refuses to digitise), and a number of famous faces popping up to sing his praises, including Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, and Mad Max director George Miller. To achieve the latter, the film takes Stratton around the country to visit locations immortalised on film while diving into explorations of the titles in question – from outback horror Wake in Fright and beloved comedy Muriel's Wedding, to the roadway thrills of the original Mad Max and the relatable warmth of The Castle.
Understandably, there's plenty to fit in — the British-born Stratton arrived down under for what was supposed to be a two-year visit, became the director of the Sydney Film Festival for 18 years, and was the subject of ASIO interest thanks to his trips to overseas film festivals. Similarly, with around 100 flicks earning a mention, there's no shortage of movies in the spotlight. Using one as a gateway to the other, David Stratton: A Cinematic Life does an impressive job of weaving its two points of focus together. Hearing about Stratton's fascinating experiences will make you want to discover more (thankfully, his 2008 autobiography I Peed on Fellini can help fans do just that), while discovering his thoughts on an array of local films will make you want to dedicate the foreseeable future to an Aussie movie marathon.
Deftly edited and filled with affection, David Stratton: A Cinematic Life is the kind of film the man himself would likely give several stars and probably more. We reckon Pomeranz would feel the same way, although here we have to be content with her commenting on her former sparring partner's shoes. Yes, that's another reason the documentary is worth watching. Come for the moving tribute and informative trip through Aussie film history, stay for the long-awaited David and Margaret reunion.