• 'David Stratton: A Cinematic Life' (Transmission Films)
Dan Barrett caught up with the beloved film critic about the documentary 'David Stratton: A Cinematic Life'.
By
Dan Barrett

9 Mar 2017 - 6:07 PM  UPDATED 10 Mar 2017 - 2:15 PM

At the Hayden Orpheum cinema, there was a sense that the audience in the theatre that night was to experience something unique. Scheduled was the Sydney premiere of the feature documentary David Stratton: A Cinematic Life followed by a Q&A with Stratton and his long-time on-screen partner Margaret Pomeranz, but even without the accompanying Q&A, one presumes that the loving, supportive mood of the room would have remained the same.

For over thirty years, David Stratton’s voice and critical opinion has been a core component of the Australian cineaste experience. No lover of film in this country can say with honesty that they haven’t at some stage looked to see what David Stratton thought about a movie. So, to experience this documentary, on a cinema screen, no less, was to reflect back upon the audience its own collective experience of engaging with film discussion.

“Australian cinema is pretty amazing and has been for forty years or so. We’ve made some extraordinary films and I thought it was a good opportunity to reflect on some of those. Remind people of what we’ve done, what we’ve achieved”.

Using his life as the narrative spine of the documentary, A Cinematic Life threads landmark Australian films through the experience of David Stratton. The film doesn’t promise a comprehensive look at Australian film, but is instead a curated look at what Stratton believes to be representative of our national film culture.

In a conversation with SBS Movies, Stratton explained that he is taken with the unique structure of the film: “I don’t know of another film quite like this. A film that combines film clips from well-known and not-so well-known films with interviews of film practitioners talking about not their films, but other people’s films that influenced them and this sort of personal journey all thrown in together. I think it’s an interesting combination."

“Australian cinema is pretty amazing and has been for forty years or so. We’ve made some extraordinary films and I thought it was a good opportunity to reflect on some of those. Remind people of what we’ve done, what we’ve achieved”.

If you're looking to this movie to learn more about Stratton's private life, you will not get much from this movie. It comes as little surprise for those familiar with Stratton, even if only through watching him on screen, that he’s a guarded person who isn’t comfortable in seeing himself in the spotlight. So much so that he hasn’t watched the film yet with an audience.

The experience of watching himself on screen, he said, was “Very strange.

“I still really can’t quite get used to it. I have seen the ending of the film several times because I have been going around the country doing Q&A’s, so I have seen the last ten minutes and I still can’t get used to seeing myself in this sort of situation.

 

Watch trailer:

 

In watching the film, the audience will leave the theatre knowing how Stratton's lifelong passion for films put him at odds with his family, fracturing the relationship he had with his father. But what they won't see is anything relating to the parts of his life that he is the most protective of. Not mentioned at all in the film is his relationship with his wife. This, Stratton makes no bones about, was intentional.

“I didn’t want her… neither of us wanted to go into that relationship. I think it’s personal enough as it is,” he said.

His relationship with long-time film critic Margaret Pomeranz receives some screen time, but even this is somewhat limited in the documentary, save for a very charming exchange with Pomeranz mocking Stratton for his choices in clothing.

One gets the sense that it isn’t that these relationships aren’t important to Stratton, but rather is more comfortable in internalising these considerations. In describing his relationship with Pomeranz, Stratton went to great length to define the relationship as precisely as possible: “We’re not close friends. We’re very different and we live a long way from each other, so we couldn’t be further away. We occasionally run into each other at preview screenings. We might occasionally have lunch. Something like that. But we’re not intimate friends and never were.”

When pushed, a little more, he quietly agreed that what he has with Pomeranz is in fact a friendship. “Well, it is. It is a friendship, yeah.”

In giving up his weekly role reviewing movies on TV with Pomeranz, Stratton is vocal that the rise of special effects-driven superhero movies he had little interest in seeing was a contributing factor. With most of the sort of stories that used to be told in mid-tier budget movies now pushed to television, one would assume that Stratton might be more drawn to TV than he has previously expressed an interest in. The form factor of TV simply doesn’t interest him.

“I like to watch political programs on television, like Insiders on a Sunday morning. Some of the political programs on SBS, I enjoy.

“I’m not much for watching drama on television. Even though everybody tells me it’s the future of cinema, I find the fact that the format for television drama is, generally speaking, six hours, I think filmmakers from the little I’ve seen, and I’ve seen very little, use it in a very indulgent way and pad out the material in a way that somebody making a feature film would never dream of doing. I find that actually gets a bit boring. I’ve watched a few and then gave up,” he revealed.

With some of the great auteurs like Steven Soderbergh now moving to television, does Stratton feel like he’s missing out on something?

“I possibly am [laughs], but maybe he’s possibly missing out on something by not doing it for the cinema.”

Wanting to peak behind the (cinema) curtain somewhat, it’s difficult not to be fascinated at how Stratton watches movies.

As mentioned in the film, Stratton tries to see one movie every day. With a home projector system, Stratton spoke with pride of his home set-up. “I have a very good home cinema with a big screen, curtains that open, and lights that dim. All that sort of stuff, so it’s a proper film experience. It’s a good way to see films,” Stratton revealed.

With reviewing duties continuing for The Australian, Stratton still regularly goes into Sydney for movie screenings. “I don’t especially enjoy doing that, but that’s pretty much what I have to do,” he said.

Seeing movies at home or at screenings is split 50/50, keeping Stratton away from regular cinemas.

“I haven’t bought tickets to the movies for a very long time”, Stratton said with a gentle laugh.

 

'David Stratton: A Cinematic Life' opens nationally on March 9.

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