The name David Stratton goes hand-in-hand with cinema in Australia. For many cinephiles watching David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz discuss the new movies opening each week on SBS and in later years the ABC was a weekly ritual – it just didn’t feel right going to see a movie until you had David and Margaret discuss (and occasionally argue) about the film first. When they decided to finish the show a couple of years ago now, it truly was a sad day in Australian television.
Now director Sally Aitken has put together a stunning new documentary titled David Stratton: A Cinematic Life which not only looks at David Stratton’s life as a life lover and journalist but also allows Stratton to walk the audience through a history of Australian cinema in a way never seen on the screen previously. David Stratton joined us to talk about this fascinating documentary.
When asked about how the documentary came about being made Stratton says “I was approached by a producer from the ABC at first. That was after At The Movies came to an end and we talked about me doing a program where I reflect on Australian films. But that didn’t work out for various reasons, we sort of changed courses a little bit mid-stream and then we came up with this idea, A Cinematic Life, which is partly my reflection on Australian films but is also partly about my life, especially my early life and where I came from and so on. It was a fascinating experience to make it, and it was very challenging for me really because I wasn’t used to this kind of thing. But I think it turned out really well, and I am very happy with it.
One of the things that really stands out about David Stratton: A Cinematic Life is the way director Sally Aitken has managed to select movies that tie into David’s life so well, and he says that really surprised him. “It did surprise me,” he admits. “She has done a remarkable job finding connections between my life and some of those movies that I like so much. To be honest some of the connections I wasn’t even aware of, and now it has me thinking about all the other films that I am very fond of and what personal connections may be there as well.”
The documentary doesn’t only celebrate the films that Stratton has enjoyed either, it takes a look at the fact that he wasn’t a fan of The Castle when it was released and the fact that he was an opponent of the Russell Crowe film Romper Stomper so what was it like for David to be reminded of things like that. “Well it was a pleasure to go back to The Castle,” he says. “The problem I had initially with The Castle was a problem that sometimes occurs with comedy. Comedy is a very difficult medium to find acceptance for. I mean what makes me laugh isn’t necessarily the same thing that will make you laugh and so maybe when I saw The Castle my British sense of humour didn’t allow me to see through this Aussie iconic, dry wit. I’m not sure why I didn’t… I should have done but I just wasn’t very impressed with The Castle when I first saw it, but I was very pleased to go back to it. In fact, I have seen it several times over the years, and I am very sympathetic to Michael Caton’s lovely comments in the film and several other people who comment from The Castle as well. So it is a shame that I was so mean originally, but I certainly wouldn’t be so mean today. Romper Stomer is another question, though. I think it is a very well made film, a very well acted film – it was one of Russell Crowe’s best roles, but I have moral issues with the film. I think it is a film that failed to take a stand against the type of violence that was depicted in the film. It had a real risk of being used in the wrong way by people, not because the director ever intended that I know, but I feared that might happen.”
For somebody like David Stratton who has been a champion of Australian cinema for so long it has been wonderful to watch the dark days of people avoiding Australian films turn into times like the current Oscar season which saw films like Lion and Hacksaw Ridge receive multiple nominations and Stratton says it has been a wonderful thing for him to watch. “It has been fantastic,” he says. “As an adopted Australian it has been wonderful to watch how many Australian filmmakers, actors, production designers, costume designers, scriptwriters, etc. have become successful on the international stage. We can be so proud of our cinema and our filmmakers. I have this huge amount of gratitude for all of them because they have told not only so many of our own stories, but I also feel that you get foreign films made with an Australian sensibility and that is a really interesting thing to have happen.”
As I interview David I pick that he is a very humble person so what was it like for him to watch a documentary where people such as George Miller, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe talk about him so fondly. “They were all so generous,” he says. “It was very nice to see them say those things, so I was very humbled by some of the things that were said in the film.”
David Stratton: A Cinematic Life opens in cinemas on March 9th.