David Stratton: A Cinematic Life

DAVID STRATTON: A CINEMATIC LIFE. Documentary with David Stratton and others. Directed by Sally Aitken. Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language). 106 min.

This Australian documentary, dedicated to David Stratton's friend, Paul Cox, provides a fascinating journey through Australian cinema, seen through the eyes of well-known film critic. It is a journey of discovery and shows the love of Australian cinema by David Stratton, who shares with us his experience, thoughts, and perceptions. Stratton is a person, who migrated to Australia in 1963. He is obsessively dedicated to films, and he has seen 25,254 of them in his life-time. The film is a moving tribute to him, and is directed by Sally Aitken, a New Zealander.

Stratton's family is in Britain and it doesn't share at all his love of films. While there, he worked as a young boy in a local cinema. After migrating to Australia, he nurtured his passion and commitment to films to become a highly influential Director of the Sydney Film Festival, a position that he held for 17 years. He has spent the last six decades of his Professional life imparting to others his encyclopaedic knowledge of movies. This has been through the writing of books, and (for 28 years) through his partnership with Margaret Pomeranz, who sparred with him regularly in the popular television program, "The Movie Show". Most recently, he leads a variety of educational programs that he offers to willing listeners, and that includes the making of this movie.

Stratton obsessively files his reviews, makes copious notes on any movie that he sees. He lives and breathes cinema, and he has done that all his life. This is a movie with a wide emotional range - it is a documentary about Stratton, narrated by him, and about Australian cinema.

The documentary uses actors, directors, editors and other professionals drawn from an extraordinary array of famous Australian movies, and it features an illustrious line-up of famous cinema people, Directors and Actors alike. Stratton liberally uses film clips, interviews people who made the movies, and employs comment on particular movies from Directors who are famous for making other movies. He uses footage of movies like "Wake up in Fright" (considered by Stratton, a masterpiece), "Muriel's Last Wedding," "Samson and Delilah", "Breaker Morant", "Strictly Ballroom", Jedda", "Lantana", "Picnic at Hanging Rock", "The Castle," and many others, and he tells his audience why they are important to him.

Through his comments on these and more than 50 other movies, the documentary provides rich and valuable insights on the development of the Australian film industry. It tracks the growing influence of films about Indigenous Australia, the curious emergence of the horror genre in Australian cinema, and introduces us to the films of a young Russell Crowe, and Geoffrey Rush, supplementing material from their early work with contemporary interviews of them as mature professionals, skilled in their craft. The film's images breathe Stratton's love of this country.

This is a film about a journey through experience, and not a movie about film criticism as such. We do not learn a great deal about the struggle to review a bad film, or how to curb enthusiasm for a film thought to be a good one where private enthusiasm has limits, and objectivity is forced to raise its relevance dispassionately. We come to appreciate Australian cinema much more than we did, but the movie is not about the chosen style of a particular film critic. Rarely does Stratton change his opinion about a film (though he did so with "The Castle"), and some biases and prejudices are communicated freely (such as his public and private dislike for the Censorship Board). His passion for movies and their making, however, is never in doubt.

This is an enjoyable, and entertaining documentary that exposes the viewer to the extraordinary richness of Australian cinema, as well as the anomalies of the culture we all live in. Thanks to David Stratton, whose film it really is, we emerge from the cinema much more educated than before about the level of maturity and quality of cinema that exists in Australian cinema today.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

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Released March 9th., 2017

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