I have been a huge fan of David Stratton since I first watched At the Movies when it aired on the ABC in 2004. It immediately ignited both my interest and love for films. In fact, along with the queen of eccentric earrings, Margaret Pomeranz, David Stratton was one of first people who inspired me to become a film critic.
Although they are clear polar opposites – with Stratton representing the traditional critic who’s knowledge on cinema is expansive and Pomeranz representing the modern critic who doesn’t judge a film by its cover – Margaret and David’s chemistry was electric and invigorating, and their shared passion for film was hugely inspirational and aspirational to me as a young film lover.
David Stratton grew up in England where his love for cinema began in his teenage years. After devouring all he could of American and British cinema, he saw one of his first foreign language films when he was 16. That film was Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, a comedy inspired by Oscar Wilde. The film, he says, ‘changed my life,’ and his passion for cinema of all forms only grew after that point.
Long considered Australia’s most trusted film critic, Stratton has worked in conjunction with the Sydney Film Festival and ACMI to put together a retrospective on the director who made him fall in love with film, the Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman. Bergman is one of the most influential masters of cinema. He wrote and directed over 45 films for both theatrical release and television. Many of his films explored similar themes, his work often concerned with the evils of religion, the complexities of relationships, the indignity of madness, and the inevitability of death.
Although I consider myself to be an avid film fan with a diverse range of favourite films – from Sunrise (1927) to Roman Holiday (1953) to Blue Velvet (1986) to Kill Bill (2003) – I have never seen or even considered seeing a Bergman film. Therefore, listening Stratton’s talk on Bergman at ACMI on the 18th of June, I went into the discussion as a complete novice.
Most film fans would have at least heard of Bergman and perhaps even some of his most beloved films like The Seventh Seal (1957), Wild Strawberries (1958), Persona (1966) or Fanny and Alexander (1982). The latter won four Academy Awards including Best Foreign Language film, one of three of Bergman’s films to do so. Seven of his films won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language film, often in consecutive years. Bergman himself received an honorary Oscar in 1971.
With all these accolades, it’s not surprising that virtually every filmmaker from Francis Ford Coppola to Steven Spielberg to Guillermo del Toro has cited Bergman as an influence. Martin Scorsese has said, ‘If you were alive in the ’50s and the ’60s and you wanted to make films, I don’t see how you couldn’t be influenced by Bergman.’ It’s easy to see why critics like Stratton could be mesmerised by Bergman too.
Many of Bergman’s films featured an array of female characters and often explored women’s issues. Persona and Cries & Whispers (1972) dealt exclusively with female characters and relationships between women. Persona explicitly explores the importance of women finding their voice as Liv Ullmann plays a famous actress who, suddenly unable to speak, seeks solace in her nurse (Bibi Andersson). Cries and Whispers revolves around four female characters, three sisters and their maid, who come into conflict with one another as one sister lies on her deathbed.
For two weeks, Stratton’s Bergman retrospective at AMCI is showing 10 of Bergman’s most influential and beloved films, ranging from his earliest works in the 1950s, to his final 2003 film Saraband. In his talk, Stratton on Bergman, Stratton gave the audience a quick overview of Bergman’s early life and career, briefly detailed and analysed each film in the retrospective and discussed his own gratitude to Bergman.
Hearing Stratton talk about Bergman was invigorating and inspiring, and it is clear that he greatly appreciative and indebted to him. He choked up when he recalled the his first viewing of Smiles of a Summer Night – and when he revealed that he’d never had the chance to meet Bergman before his death in 2007 at the age of 89.
That terribly sad notion made me think. What if I never get to meet my film heroes who inspired me to love cinema? If I never meet David Lynch or Michael Haneke? What if I never get to tell Jane Campion how much The Piano influenced my feminism? And God forbid if I never meet Wes Anderson, and never get to tell him that the reason why I love pastels so much is because of him.
We all have heroes whom we admire, whom we place on pedestals. These people don’t know you even exist, yet they often impact and influence your life in monumental ways. This is especially true for cinephiles like myself who can connect over any miniscule thing that has to do with our heroes. Stratton’s love for Bergman has inspired me to seek out Bergman’s best films. I hope that Essential Bergman can do the same for you.
You can purchase tickets for Essential Bergman: Selected by David Stratton (11 – 28 June) here