Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Was there ever a time when Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton were not on our screens? It doesn’t really matter because this pair of bickering intellectuals have been entertainers for years unnumbered, and solved the secret of success without really knowing they were seeking it. Wakefield Press has produced a booklet that honours the achievements of Margaret and David on the occasion of their retirement in December 2014.
As individuals they are dissimilar. Gillian Armstrong makes a big point about this. The “captivating husky laugh” and “endless hours of passion and devotion creating that little film for it to be cut dead by one bad review” (6) – that’s Margaret. An “obsession into serious film appreciation”, a “festival director and reviewer, assisting that new Australian filmmaking wave to be seen, screened and appreciated – uncensored” (7). That is David all right. Besides knowing about camera angles, lighting, editing, music and casting, these champion reviewers emphasize the human element – for them, content and ethics are at the heart of films. When we see them together, we no longer think of individuals but of “a lively, fiery, passionate, laughter-filled partnership” (7).
“But you know what?” Armstrong asks. “…we all admire them for …their integrity” (8) She’s right. Ask anyone about Margaret and David and it is their honesty and down to earth manner that sets them apart. On the question of stars and stardom and her part among them, Margaret is consistent. “There’s no way I’m ever going to have my face on the side of a bus” (62).
Adolfo Aranjuez points out that Margaret & David might have been contracted to award a numerical score for each film, but they never left that as the final comment. “They contextualized each work, historicized it, made reference to the canon, challenged us to weigh up its shortcomings against its successes…they taught me…that a good critic ensures each piece of commentary is bolstered with erudition and evidence…a good critic…interrogates why a particular scene generates discomfort, or why a certain character is so unlikeable” (44).
Aranjuez’s summing up of Margaret and David’s approach to critiquing I find reasonable and important (even though his remarks are couched in general terms):
In a way, then, the critic embodies the quintessential representative of the culture – appreciative; astute; willing to approach an artwork, be affronted, and then articulate the whys and wherewithals of arriving at such an opinion…Ultimately, though, it’s the conversations that critics inspire that count the most – even when sending a dish back to the kitchen, we need to be able to say exactly what about it we find distasteful and why” (47).
So many memories are triggered by a simple statement. When Kath Shelper and Warwick Thornton reminisce, they remind me (and many others I am willing to believe) of one of the features that we observed so often:
For Margaret to screech, David! with that gorgeous, throaty laugh of hers. And David to conclude that he “found it a bit tedious to be perfectly honest.” Banter and often radically different takes on the films they’d reviewed – that’s what distinguished Margaret and David at work, while on a personal level, Premier Jay Weatherill found them ‘genuine and generous’.
It should be very clear by now that Margaret and David is never going to rise to literary heights but is simply a collection of plaudits from those who know the couple best. It is a charming snapshot covering thirty or more years. Who appears in the book is as interesting as what is said. A very pleasant read.
Edited by Amanda Duthie