Calling all cinephiles: this one’s for you.
I grew up watching Margaret & David: At the Movies on ABC every week, and even before the advent of ABC iView, I’d beg my parents to record the show for me. Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton fuelled my love of film and exposed me to the wonders of world cinema. Needless to say, the new documentary directed by Sally Aitken about the charmingly grumpy film critic and champion of Australian cinema, David Stratton, filled me with a simultaneous sense of immense nostalgia and tremendous glee upon discovering that David’s obsessive behaviour with regard to film, pretty much mirrored my own.
The film initially hones in on David’s particular reviewer-quirks, including his cue-card filmmaker filing system – essentially an inventory of every film he’s ever seen (a meagre 25,000+) – and the lever-arch files full of every review he’s written since the age of seven. We become privy to into the struggles of David’s youth and his difficult relationship with his father, and how these informed his passion for cinema.
A Cinematic Life then shifts more towards a commentary on the many films of David’s adopted country (Australia) that influenced him throughout his life and career, including Jedda, Newsfront, Evil Angels, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Wake in Fright, Samson and Delilah, Strictly Ballroom and The Castle.
While Aitken’s documentary is not particularly ground-breaking in style or form, it does wonders for the promotion of Australian culture and identity by exploring a very personal journey Australian film history. Around 46 filmmakers and actors were interviewed for this documentary – and they reference their fondness for David (or not, but also how they were influenced by their contemporaries – including Ted Kotcheff (director, Wake in Fright) Nicole Kidman, George Miller (director, Mad Max), Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman and my own hero, Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career, Little Women).
It wouldn’t be a film about David without Margaret Pomeranz and her exasperated cries of, ‘Oh, David!’ – and it was wonderful to see the pair together again after a few years off air. However, the power of this film lies in its capacity to instil in its audience a renewed eagerness to devour each and every Australian film you can get your hands on.
David’s dream comes true as he joins forces with Jasper Fforde heroine, Thursday Next, to uncover the mystery of what happened to Miranda and her friends in Peter Weir’s 1975 classic, Picnic at Hanging Rock.