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Review: David Stratton – A Cinematic Life


David Stratton is a pioneer in both critiquing films, and Australian films themselves. If you ever want to be a critic, you should take a good look at some of Stratton’s reviews, as they emphasis what is important about filmmaking, and how to perfectly break it down, dissect it, and give a professional opinion. David Stratton: A Cinematic Life, reveals a lot more about the man behind a critical perspective than you would ever imagine. However, it also reveals things that you could assume and gather from him, as a bit of Stratton is in every one of his reviews which have been in Variety, The Movie Show and At The Movies.

Directed by Sally Aitken, the documentary does more than just explore David Stratton’s fascinating life; it gives a wonderful homage to Australian cinema, and how far its come over the years. The documentary is wonderfully broken down by certain Australian films, and how the both impact and reflect Stratton’s life. I feel bad saying that the majority of films on screen that are shown are one’s that I haven’t seen before, and I’m not alone in this. A lot of the crowd murmured at moments when a new or unknown film came up, but the best part about this is that we all have gained something new to watch once we get out of the theatre. The documentary does give a bit of a jumbled and out of order description of Stratton’s life, and it does occasionally become a bit confusing to follow. Some of the relations to films and how Stratton’s life was impacted by them do come across as a bit of a stretch to, however there always needs to be a bit of disbelief in films like these.

In addition to seeing the film, we were treated to a live q&a with the man himself afterwards. Stratton expanded upon his experiences reviewing films, and creating the documentary, such as how he went about writing his narration for the film (he edited the director written speeches when he thought they weren’t good enough) and how the director hadn’t seen any Australian films, nor had she heard of Stratton himself. Following this, questions for the crowd were allowed, and surprisingly I had one up my sleeve which i pleasantly got to ask first. It was quite nice for the crowd to laugh at my question, “will you be reviewing this film?”, but nicer that Stratton joked along, telling us that he’d leave it up to other reviewers to break the film down, but judging by our response, we liked it. Or, that he hoped we had liked it.

Going into the film, I didn’t assume I would enjoy it a great deal. It’s not because the film is about David Stratton himself, more because I didn’t think it would be possible to make a documentary about a critic interesting. That is what David Stratton: A Cinematic Life, does best however. It’s a surprise, a pleasant surprise, one that you don’t get to be rewarded with much nowadays. Stratton is a highly interesting, and singular man, however there’s also, and it sounds funny saying it, a bit of David Stratton in all of us. We are all critical of something, be it film, music or life. We are critical because we love what it is about, we are critical because we’re seeking the best of the best, to interact with anything we can, to engage and dissect and talk about why we love it or why we can’t stand it. David Stratton resonates the critic in the everyday person, and it’s a glorious moment to see him rewarded with a perfectly fitting documentary which captures the films that he loves, and how they have shaped the man that he is today.

Written by Hamish Vallance