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12 incredible true facts about David Stratton

Nick Dent
Written by
Nick Dent

David Stratton: A Cinematic Life – Stratton’s autobiographical traipse through the history of Australian cinema – opens on March 9 (you can read our review here). While we love the documentary as a critical appraisal of Australian movies, most of our favourite obscure facts about Margaret Pomeranz’s erstwhile sparring partner are left on the cutting room floor.

It’s hardly surprising: Stratton and director Sally Aitken have the entire history of Australian film to get through in one movie – but we’re imagining a different version of the great critic’s life story. One with altogether more sex, celebrities, intrigue and big bangs. One that draws more upon his 2008 autobiography, which we’ve scoured for these top 12 super-cool facts...

1 He urinated on Federico Fellini’s shoes at the Venice Film Festival.

It was Stratton’s first international film festival in 1966. He was 26, drank too much Champagne at the Opening Night Party, saw the La Dolce Vita director standing next to him at the urinal, and unthinkingly turned to greet his idol. In the fallout, Stratton obtained the title of his autobiography, I Peed on Fellini.

2 He became director of the Sydney Film Festival at age 26 in what could be described as an accidental coup...

Incensed by the butchering of movies by government censors, Stratton drafted a motion that the Sydney Film Festival should start fighting for exemption from censorship. The motion passed, the festival director (Ian Klava) resigned in panic, and Stratton was in. He’d gone from festival usher to festival director in just two years.  

3 ...and basically spearheaded the abolition of film censorship in Australia.

In the ’60s, censors used to simply snip out anything they deemed controversial from any movie imported into Australia. By refusing to screen any film in the SFF that had been cut in any way, Strats opened the discussion on a much-needed classification system for films, which finally came in under Customs Minister Don Chipp in 1971.

4 He once visited Andy Warhol at the Factory in New York.

In 1978 Stratton was trying to negotiate a retrospective of Warhol/Paul Morrissey films to screen in conjunction with the Art Gallery of NSW. Andy “didn’t seem to grasp” what Stratton was talking about. Nothing came of it.

5 Gene Kelly once drove him to Los Angeles Airport.

Stratton’s favourite film is Singin’ in the Rain and in 1970 he visited its star and co-director at Kelly’s home in Los Angeles, on the last day of an overseas trip. When Kelly learned Stratton could not afford a taxi and planned to catch a bus to the airport, he got behind the wheel and dropped him there. What a glorious feeling...  

6 He’s pretty sure that Hungarian woman he had an affair with in Paris was a spy.

On the Champs Elysées in 1971, Stratton bumped into a receptionist he’d flirted with in Budapest the previous year, and shacked up with her. He never shook the feeling she was playing a part, however, and suspects his two Hungarian-born Australian travelling companions were her real interest. Ironically, one of the films they went and saw together was a James Bond flick (Thunderball).

7 ASIO had him under surveillance.

Stratton was considered a person of interest by ASIO because of his trips behind the Iron Curtain and screening of Soviet films in the Sydney Film Festival. He was covertly photographed doing things such as visiting the USSR embassy in Canberra to get a visa in 1969.

8 He smuggled sensitive photos out of Czechoslovakia for Time magazine.

He was in the country scouting for films on the first anniversary of the Soviet invasion in 1969 and witnessed mass protests in Wenceslas Square. He took a couple of photos that were confiscated by furious Russian soldiers. Two days later a photographer approached him at the airport and asked him to take rolls of film with him to the Time office in Vienna. The photos appeared in print a week later.

9 Romper Stomper director Geoffrey Wright threw wine over him at the 1994 Venice Film Festival.

Stratton had given Wright’s Romper Stomper zero stars on The Movie Show because he believed the film would incite racist violence. Wright, still seething two years later, was in Venice with his film Metal Skin and accosted Stratton at a cocktail party screaming, “Stay away from my film you fucker!”

10 He once flew to Hawaii to see a film Roadshow refused to screen for him ahead of its release.

With money left in the Movie Show annual budget and no critics’ screening of Interview with the Vampire (1994) forthcoming in time for the last show of the year, Stratton jumped on a flight for Honolulu, bought a ticket, watched the movie, and came back in time to pronounce his verdict on TV.  

11 He’s the recipient of the Croix de Commandeur of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the government of France.

This 2001 award put him in the company of Meryl Streep, TS Eliot, Clint Eastwood, David Bowie and Bob Dylan. He’s also a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), and has many other honours besides.

12 He and Margaret Pomeranz never had a thing.

Despite her considerable charms, in Time Out’s opinion (during the 1980s she closely resembled a perky Meg Ryan), Stratton and she apparently never hooked up. Except in fan fiction, of course.

David Stratton: A Cinematic Life opens nationally on Thu Mar 9.

Pomeranz and Stratton hosting The Movie Show, back in the day.


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