DAVID STRATTON: A CINEMATIC LIFE
Film critic David Stratton relates the fascinating evolution of Australia's cinema history. Taking us back to his first experience of discovering Australia through film at his local cinema in England, David recounts first seeing images of a strange and exotic landscape he would eventually call home. His migration to Australia as a 'ten pound pom' in 1963 would provide him with a unique opportunity to help shape the cultural landscape of a country gradually discovering its own identity, before embarking on a life of international travel and national recognition as Australia's highest profile film reviewer. Alongside David, the protagonists of his story are the giants of Australian cinema - both behind the camera and in front of it - including George Miller, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Sam Neill, Bryan Brown, Hugo Weaving, Eric Bana, Jacki Weaver and Judy Davis.
Review by Louise Keller:
Margaret Pomeranz calls him a national treasure but in the same breath damns him with faint praise, telling him he was never fashionable and berates him for still being 'very British'. It is these moments that are especially endearing in this engaging documentary, in which critic David Stratton juxtaposes his views on Australian films alongside his personal story about his love affair with cinema.
Australian films through the decades are explored through David's eyes and the prism of his own personal life. Targeted to Stratton fans and those interested in Australian films, it plays like an intricate tapestry in which the stories, movie genres and trends are interwoven, taking its audience on a journey in which David's favourite Australian films are revisited - in context. It also traces David's life from his British roots to his migration to Australia, where film not only continues to be his passion but his platform and career.
Interviews with actors and filmmakers including Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Jackie Weaver, Jack Thompson, Rachel Griffiths, Geoffrey Rush, Stephan Elliott, Bruce Beresford, George Miller, and Fred Schepisi, are integrated with David's own narrative in which films as diverse as Wake in Fright, Mad Max, Muriel's Wedding, My Brilliant Career, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Head On and The Castle are analysed and discussed.
There are some wonderful insights, such as actress Jeanie Drynan's anecdote about P.J. Hogan's Muriel's Wedding, Bryan Brown's notion about being too young to play an old codger in his wife Rachel Ward's Beautiful Kate and Sam Neill's outrage about the public's response to his playing Michael Chamberlin in Evil Angels. Romper Stomper director Geoffrey Wright's recollections about his controversial relationship with David also makes for good viewing. A chat with aboriginal filmmaker Warwick Thornton by a campfire as they discuss the making of Samson & Delilah is also memorable.
There are also some affecting personal reflections, especially in the context of his difficult relationship with his father, who had wanted him to go into the family grocery business.
Director Sally Aitken has nicely combined the personal and professional face of the man at the film's centre, while editor Adrian Rostirolla has seamlessly used film clips to construct the film's stepping stones on which David treads. Pomeranz' intermittent presence and the way she cuts through David's formal, scripted approach is indicative of the reason their television movie review programme was such a success. It's that lovely contrast of styles and being unafraid to cut through the formality that reflects the essence of the Australian culture. And why people have a soft spot for films like The Castle.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Geoffrey Wright still hasn't forgiven David Stratton for the latter's refusal to award any rating stars to his film Romper Stomper and says he would throw another glass of wine over him like he did at the Venice Film Festival when they were at the same function. This time the wine would be red. That's pretty much the only negative any filmmaker has to say about David in this unique doco, not counting the loving and expected unpleasantries from Margaret Pomeranz, with whom David shares Sydney rock oysters and memories against a backdrop of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
David's concern with Romper Stomper is explained: he admires the filmmaking but loathes the subject matter.
Made for ABC TV (where it will be seen later in its full glory), Sally Aitken's excellent doco has been cut into a 100 minute feature film - with astonishingly adroit editing by Adrian Rostirolla, and a marvellous score by Caitlin Yeo. This is not a mere hagiography but a valuable addition to the textured history of Australian cinema. It is also a personal and sometimes intimate insight into the David Stratton we know - and don't know. His personal story is embedded in the narrative, although when I say personal, it is only personal in a limited way, and mostly only as far as his life relates to film. Mind you, that's just about all of it.
Dipping into some of the milestone films of Australian filmmaking, the doco also reminds us of the many innovative and exciting Australian films that are of lasting value.
Glancing at over 60 Australian films - from the very first Ned Kelly feature in 1906 - David's narrative is driven by his immersive love of film, which some would call obsession. Fans of the David & Margaret movie shows over the past 30 odd years will flock to feast on this rich and rewarding exploration of a life lived observing the world of cinema - and the perhaps final on screen conversation (& confrontation) between the two highest profile movie reviewers in Australia.
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DAVID STRATTON: A CINEMATIC LIFE (PG)
CAST: Documentary featuring David Stratton, George Miller, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Sam Neill, Bryan Brown, Hugo Weaving, Eric Bana, Warwick Thornton, Jacki Weaver, Judy Davis and others
PRODUCER: Jo-anne McGowan
DIRECTOR: Sally Aitken
SCRIPT: Sally Aitken
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Kevin Scott
EDITOR: Adrian Rostirolla
MUSIC: Caitlin Yeo, Angela Little
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 9, 2017