TV critics for 25 years

BY JAN THURLING

Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton. Image used courtesy of ABC TV

The often feisty discussions between Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton are the highlight of a show that has entertained and informed Australians since they began working together in 1986, co-creating the half-hour program The Movie Show on SBS.

At the time, they had both worked at SBS for a number of years: Margaret as the producer of tv programs like Front Up, Subsonics and the AFI and IF Awards; and David as SBS’s feature film consultant and host of the film programs Cinema Classics and A Whole World of Movies (later Movie of the Week ), which showcased the latest in world cinema as well as foreign classics to an Australian TV audience.

David and Margaret wanted to create a new film review program for SBS. Initially Margaret was only going to produce the show, and there was a hunt for an appropriate co-host for David, until it was suggested that Margaret should be both a host and the producer.

Their first episode aired on SBS on 30 October 1986, and it included a review of Bruce Beresford’s Australian feature [legacy-smartlink:The Fringe Dwellers]. After 20 years at SBS, the program moved to the ABC, where on 1 July 2004 it became At the Movies.

The show to this day often includes interviews with filmmakers and actors, and coverage of special events including national and international film festivals, and Australian film awards. At the Movies has recently added a ‘classic’ film, picked each week by Margaret or David, with the review discussing the film’s place in cinema history and the other work of its director or stars.

The format of their show is simple. David and Margaret each introduce a film (four to five new films are reviewed each week), show clips, describe the plot and give a short review. The other then gives their opinion, some discussion is had, and then they both award the film a number of stars out of 5.

The spontaneity of their reactions to each other’s comments is real as they choose not to discuss their opinions before the show begins filming. While their opposing views create much of the fun of the program, they often agree about films more than they disagree. David Stratton believes that the success of the show comes from “a fascination in seeing two people who come from totally different backgrounds, but who share a love for cinema discuss, and sometimes argue and fight, about movies.” Each has their own pet hates, with David’s aversion to hand-held camerawork well known.

One issue they particularly agree upon is the impact of censorship on film culture in Australia, which has been a constant theme of the programme over the years.

Since David and Margaret are extremely popular, millions of devoted watchers – myself among them – congratulate them on their first 25 years.

The National Film and Sound Archive have a large number of episodes of The Movie Show in its collection. The NFSA has also contributed material to the Australian Mediatheque (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) to help celebrate David and Margaret’s 25th.

About Margaret Pomeranz
Margaret Pomeranz studied at NIDA in the Playwright’s Studio, and began her career as a screenwriter, writing for television, radio and film. With the establishment of the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) in 1980, Margaret joined the new organisation as a writer and producer. She produced and wrote a number of programs prior to the creation of The Movie Show with David Stratton in 1986. She has been a member of the Advertising Standards Board, was a President of the Film Critics Circle of Australia, is a member of the board of the Australian Writers’ Foundation, and is a committee member for the community organisation Watch on Censorship, a group which aims to 'protect and promote the rights of adult Australians to freedom of speech and expression in all media'.

About David Stratton
David Stratton is a former Director of the Sydney Film Festival, and a former President of the International Critics Jury for the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals. He has written two books on Australian film (The Last New Wave and The Avocado Plantation) as well as his autobiography (I Peed on Fellini: Recollection of a Life in Films). He also wrote reviews for many years for the American film publication Variety. He still writes reviews for The Australian newspaper and TV Week magazine. Over the last 10 years David Stratton has produced a series of lectures in film history at the University of Sydney. In 2006 he was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters in recognition of his career and his contribution to the University. David Stratton has been honoured several other times for his work in film: in 2001 was awarded the Australian Film Institute’s Longford Life Achievement Award, the Croix de Commandeur of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Literature) for his services to cinema, in particular French cinema, and the Centenary Medal for Service to Australian society and Australian film production”. In 2007 he was awarded the 60th Anniversary Medal by the Festival du Film de Cannes, and the Brisbane International Film Festival’s Chauvel Award.