Film critic David Stratton lists his top five Australian films ahead of the release of documentary David Stratton: A Cinematic Life. By Caris Bizzaca.
“This is so hard.”
I’ve just asked David Stratton to list his five favourite Australian films.
Naturally, the critic who has seen more than 25,000 films (not including the ones he has seen multiple times) is torn.
The first two he rattles off quite quickly. From here is where it gets tricky.
“How do I put in three more films when there are so many that I love? It’s really, really hard. I feel as if they’re my nieces and nephews and I can’t pick out one at the expense of another,” he says.
Here are the ones he did pick for his top five (that he would probably prefer to be a top 25):
“Newsfront is my number 1. And it always has been – ever since I first saw it and I saw it in a rough cut. I remember, because we were trying to get it for the Sydney Film Festival and the ending in the rough cut we saw was different from the final ending.
I love Newsfront because it’s a terrific script by Bob Ellis, a great writer; it’s beautifully directed by Phillip Noyce; it has a wonderful cast (with) Bill Hunter, Chris Haywood, Wendy Hughes, Lorna Lesley, Bryan Brown and Drew Forsythe; and it managed to tell me so much about Australia during that post-war period – those 10 years between 1946 and 1956 – while at the same time being so entertaining, so funny, so sad and in some ways so brilliant. I think it’s a brilliant piece of work.”
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“I have to say Picnic at Hanging Rock because it just was a revolutionary film.
“In 1971… the early Australian films – The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, Alvin Purple – were raunchy comedies that were made to take advantage of the new censorship laws. They could never have been made two years or a year earlier. And some of us, while being excited that there was a film industry, were a little bit disappointed. That’s why Picnic at Hanging Rock was such an extraordinary revelation because that film was not only world’s away from the Alvin Purple–Barry McKenzie films but it was a huge success (not only) critically, but commercially. Because of course in those days a film opened in one cinema only and would run in that one cinema for as long as people were going and then it would go out into the suburbs. That would be it until maybe it went on television. So it was a very different thing. But I think Picnic ran for nearly a year in the cinema. And everywhere you would go people were talking about Picnic at Hanging Rock. Then of course that was followed very closely by so many other films over the next five years, so you had Breaker Morant, My Brilliant Career and all these others.
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“I gave a list to (a) magazine the other day and it was a disaster, because first of all they said make it (your top) 10, and I said ‘make it 15’. And then even when I finished the 15 I realised I hadn’t put in Charlie’s Country, which is just a wonderful film by Rolf de Heer. So I’ll put in Charlie’s Country as number 3. It’s kind of the culmination of the films that Rolf de Heer made with David Gulpilil and that culmination has been so rewarding.
“I think Charlie’s Country makes me cry every time I see it. The scene where Gulpilil’s hair is cut, is the most moving scene in any Australian film. I think it’s so sad. And it’s so important that film.”
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“I love, Love Serenade. When that film won the Camera d’Or in Cannes it was such a surprise (because) you don’t expect a local Australian film necessarily to win and it was just greeted with such warmth. It’s such a strange and lovely film made by Shirley Barrett about these two women in this Outback town and it’s so weird and yet so funny and again so sad. I love films that have a culmination of sadness and happiness and quirkiness.”
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“And so I have to say Samson & Delilah, another Camera d’Or winner, because that has all those elements too (of having a culmination of sadness, happiness and quirkiness).” Stratton also says sitting around a campfire with director Warwick Thornton and talking about Samson & Delilah was one of the stand-out moments of making the documentary.
Available on Ozflix, Dendy Direct, iTunes, Google Play and more.
“I’ve done it again because I’ve missed out Lantana which is… see, I could go on for a long time.”
Read more about David Stratton: A Cinematic Life here.