David Stratton: A Cinematic Life Review

I’m not sure where to begin with this, so will just dump my thoughts on paper and go from there. In fact, I really wish I’d taken pen and paper to the cinema for this. Not that I’d anticipated reviewing it in this way, but it did so much more, and gave me so much more than I was anticipating, so now I feel compelled to do this… ain’t cinema grand the way it does that to you… Not always, but when it does, it does

I guess my surprise by the depth of what this film gave me shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, given its subject matter, and main character – the iconic David Stratton… and the life and times thereof… but to be honest, I thought it was just going to be a lovely little romp with a few flashbacks of his amazing career, interspersed with a bit about this personal/family life – just a fun romp for everyone who loves David Stratton… and/or cinema.

But, the reason I shouldn’t’ve been surprised that it gave so much more is that I suspect David would not let it be any other way – he wouldn’t allow such a film to be released that didn’t pay such attention to narrative and editing and montage and pathos.

So yes, I loved it, and yes, it was so well crafted. David even corrected himself in the post-screening Q&A when he baulked at calling it a documentary, and referred to it as a hybrid. Because it really is a film within a film.

You’re taken on a journey – that is almost less about David as it is the evolution of the Australian film industry, but intertwined with his life, well, film-related life story, using, you guessed it, films. So clever. That may sound obvious, but I wasn’t expecting them to do this. From the first cut to a film… to continue the narrative, I was like ‘ahhhhhh!’. Because I was expecting something like, “David Stratton was born in the UK, loved cinema from an early age, had some issues with his father/family, ended up in Aus, has enjoyed a cracking global career and become a household name and global cinema icon. These are some of films that impacted his life and career. The end.”

I had no idea it was going to focus purely on Australian cinema – and because it was done so beautifully, I already want them to make one about his international film experience, film festival gallivanting, interviewing actors, directors, producers, etc. It didn’t even touch on his incredible foreign film knowledge and experiences.

There were a couple of Australian films that sprung to mind that didn’t get a mention or much air time (Blessed – one of my all-time favourite Australian films, though they did include interviews with its director, and Candy, and no mention of Heath Ledger, and others…), but honestly, how do you decide which ones make the cut? Well, that is why it is so well edited, I guess!

It made me want to see – and/or revisit – so many Australian films and want me to see more of these kinds of films about David and film! David’s French collection, David’s silent film analysis, David’s actor/director/producer series.

I laughed – boy did I laugh, particularly at the David & Margaret scenes (I think we all still pine for them!) and the cleverly edited jokes – visual or verbal.

I was moved… so many times… I was scared to see some of the films it urged me to want to see (Wake in Fright), dying to re-watch Shine and Picnic at Hanging Rock, and genuinely moved by the nostalgia of The Castle… In my screening, the audience was cackling at these old Aussie jokes that have become part of the vernacular, and reciting back to the screen, “tell ‘im ‘e’s dreamin’”.

But, importantly, it wasn’t just a look back at Australian cinema – and particularly not just the ones that put Australian cinema on the map – it looked at the challenges of film-making, in general, the role of women in cinema, the role of Indigenous Australians in cinema – particularly as an outsider looking in – David’s campaigning against censorship… so much stuff, all within a narrative and his personal story.

And, I think, what I really wasn’t expecting, was in him reflecting on different films at different points in his life and/or why film has made such an impact on him or rather, how he has made such an impact on the Australian film industry, made me realise how much he has impacted my life, and when film became such a big part of it. I was always interested in film/arthouse films at uni, etc, and as an artsy/music reviewer in my early 20s, film was an extension of that, but I think my bigger love for it came from people like him, bringing international film festivals to Australia, and talking about/reviewing foreign films. Perhaps I would not’ve explored it much further after uni if it wasn’t for At The Movies with David & Margaret? Who knows… and I didn’t really know how much he has done for Australian cinema.

What was interesting was that while it showed mostly glowing, respectful accounts of him in the cameos – as you would expect in a tribute to him – there was an inclusion of a couple of snarky remarks about ‘pompous David and his fecking reviews’ (again, humorously edited), when he gave someone’s film a poor review, and he acknowledged that he revisits films if he feels like he might’ve been wrong the first time, or he’d changed his mind, and how he said he possibly should’ve given Romper Stomper a review instead of not reviewing at all because of the moral issues he has with the film… So while it was largely a positive account of his life, it was authentic, and showed his humility and the high regard in which he is held.

There’s a reason many of our audience gave him a standing ovation… and as he thanked the audience, he was seemingly emotional, saying, ‘we’ve only screened it a couple of times, and you seem to’ve, well, to’ve received it warmly’, in his very David, very under-stated, humble way.

Director: Sally Aitken
Starring: David Stratton, Margaret Pomeranz, Geoffrey Rush

Jeanette Muscat

Jeanette is a writer/editor by day and film nerd by 'whenever she has time'... Within her journo degree, she dabbled in a bit of film studies and semiotics, so loves deconstructing both the aural and visual elements of film. She's written a few film/arts reviews in her time, been an 'odd guest' on Ireland's 'leading' film review podcast, Spoilerama, and loves a good opening night, film festival, special event, immersive experience... An adventurer at heart (both literally and metaphorically), she loves the power of cinema to transport and transform. When the lights dim, generally with wine in paw, she sinks into that delicious world only films can take you.. She loves a good drama, films with underlying philosophical narratives, and stuff that makes ya think, but can also giggle her face off at a silly rom-com or animation loaded with jokes for adults... She loves telling the story about meeting film director Mike Leigh and that one time that William McInnes asked her for a lift on the back of her pink scooter (#truestory).

Liked it? Take a second to support The Curb on Patreon
Become a patron at Patreon!