“Come with us on a great exploration of amazing film to be charmed and touched and moved.”
That’s director Sally Aitken’s invitation to us for the new three-part ABC series David Stratton’s Stories of Australian Cinema.
The series is a walk through Australian cinema history, with chatty observations from famous home-grown Aussie actors and David Stratton, the Englishman who was appointed head of the Sydney Film Festival in 1966, thus beginning a life in Australian movies.
During his 28-year stint on The Movie Show and At the Movies with fellow film lover and frequent combatant, Margaret Pomeranz, David grew to become one of Australia’s best-loved and most respected movie critics.
Not that he always pleased everyone—his funny and sometimes feisty on-screen spats with Margaret were pure television magic, but there was the occasional director who took umbrage in a big way at David’s opinions.
One notable example we see in this series is how Romper Stomper director, Geoffrey Wright, regarded David’s refusal to review the movie Romper Stomper on the grounds that didn’t feel it brought anything worthy to Australian screens. Film directors are renowned for their artistic temperaments, and Wright gave free rein to his at a film function when he threw a glass of wine over David’s head.
But Wright is a rarity in this documentary—far more common is the admiration expressed by film luminaries such as Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe and director George Miller, to name just a few, who regard Stratton as a pillar of wisdom.
Episode one, Game Changers, examines the impact of the films Picnic at Hanging Rock and Crocodile Dundee on the international film scene. Picnic was seen as Australia’s first foray into the art film genre, while Crocodile Dundee took Australian film to America and the rest of the world, resulting in a significant spike in tourist dollars here. Two very different but hugely successful films.
The Castle is one of Australia’s most popular films, but initially it wasn’t a hit with Stratton. When it was first released, David said it was patronising, full of caricature and gave it one and a half stars. But with the passage of time, David has changed his view, and now regards Michael Caton’s characterisation of lead role Daryl Kerrigan as admirable, saying, “I must admit that if I reviewed The Castle today, I’d probably give it four stars.”
According to director Aitken, “David Stratton is the central guide of this work, but it is also David as he’s not been seen before. In reality the man behind the critic has a rather devilish sense of fun as well as an emotional vulnerability.”
If you love films, you won’t want to miss this fascinating series.