David Stratton: A Cinematic Life

An icon of Australian film-criticism and arguably the most well-known cinephile to grace the small-screen in the decades, David Stratton has well and truly left a permanent impression upon the artistic world. Despite the unusual style of the documentary and the fact that it does not have the same high-level substance that has dominated the resurgent documentary genre in recent months, it was a thoroughly interesting tale of a man who helped shape the film industry within Australia.
Remarkably, David’s story is not one that you would typically expect from a British critic – instead he subverts your understanding of his lifetime as the film intertwines his memories with films to which he relates. Through insecurity and family drama to the isolation of being an outsider, David Stratton’s story never ceases to be entertaining. A Brit, who sacrificed a comfortable family enterprise for a life threatened by job insecurity and a subjective audience. A man who forged an industry within the early stages of national television programming and has left all ardent cinephiles with a changed artistic landscape for film criticism and film production alike.

The unusual structure of the documentary intertwines David’s life with the history of Australian film, with cameos from various actors (e.g. Jackie Weaver) adding in snippets of what his work has done to affect their careers. However, the efforts to correlate the Australian films to David’s life seems, at times, forced and laborious. In particular, the interesting dynamic between David and his father feels undercut by the connection to Careful, He Might Hear You. Even still, the double narrative does serve to provide an alternative insight into David’s most ardent passion – the evolution of the film industry, and it is only fair that he chooses to tell his story through this medium.
Whilst I might have preferred to see more of his witty interplay with his co-critic Margaret Pomeranz, which propelled David to fame during their three decades of At The Movies and The Movie Show on ABC and SBS, it is clear how integral David has been to the Australian film landscape. More than that, as a film enthusiast, I would have liked to see the way in which David approached his reviews and his personal evolution as he adapted to the ever-changing medium of film, and yet this is barely mentioned. The documentary does leave you wanting more from our “national treasure” of film.

As much as I did have my issues with this feature, I would definitely recommend this to any budding film critic who wishes to learn about a father of the craft, or any other person who is interested in one of the shaping forces to the Australian film industry.

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