Cinema classics

The ABC's Margaret Pomeranz talks to TV Tonight about At the Movies and whether Aussie filmmakers are making the kind of films Australians want to see.

atm“We usually agree pretty much on a lot of films, except any by Lars Von Triers!” insists Margaret Pomeranz.

Yes, disagreement in the reviews on At The Movies is one of the reasons we love the show. But Margaret Pomeranz told TV Tonight they agree a lot more than when they cross swords.

“We may have different reason for liking something, but everybody has a different take on a film and I think we are just representative of that. It’s just very extreme when you get films like Antichrist and I know those extremes most probably represent what the general population would think about it. I don’t think it’s a film for everyone. I’m sure it’s not actually,” she said.

“Very rarely do I get irritated with David but I do get irritated about Lars, so my irritation shows! But mostly it’s done with great affection. I don’t know if we would have survived that long if we didn’t have a very great friendship as a basis.”

Since they first began life on television on SBS the duo of film critiquing have notched up 23 years on screen. A five star review is now worth something on a film’s poster or ad campaign, evidence of their longevity and audience trust.

“It’s unbelievable really, nearly a quarter of a century. And when you say it like that, oh my goodness. I’ve just written something for Australia Day and it’s been amazing to be around for the growth of the Australian film industry over the past 40 years. I was around it in the 70s as well, so just being witness to the changes and talent over the years. It’s been a real privilege.”

But putting together a show with its high turnover is taxing.

“It would be horrible to go in there week after week not liking the person you’re close to working with,” she says.

“We do 43 weeks a year, so it’s quite restricting on your life. You can’t ever go to Europe in summer. But at the same time it’s been a great ride and we both thoroughly enjoy it.

“So while we’re still enjoying it, and the ABC still wants us, we’ll keep going.”

Entertainment aside, the show is not without its causes. As well as championing Australian films, Pomeranz has spoken up on community dissent over censorship issues during the Howard years. One of the more recent issues in the industry is whether Aussie filmmakers are making films Australians want to see.

“Who knows why Beautiful Kate didn’t work as well as it could have? It shows such a talent in Rachel Ward as a Director,” she says. “It’s an incredibly moving story and more people should have gone to see it. It doesn’t mean that it’s not a good film.

“Who would have thought people would go to Samson and Delilah in droves? It got a good start with critical support. But critical support isn’t going to create that sort of success for a film –that’s people coming out saying ‘This is a wonderful film, you’ve got to go and see it.’

“I do think Australian filmmakers have got to think of the audience that they’re filming for. Maybe that’s the elephant in the room. That consideration of ‘Who is going to want to go and see this story?’ I tend to agree that some of these kitchen sink family doom and gloom dramas are not actually what people rush out and see in the cinema.”

Pomeranz says even America makes dud films, but Australia just gets to see just the cream of the American films.

“We’re very judgemental about us and our successes, I think. It’s very hard going up against that juggernaut of publicity that comes with an American film. Look at what happened to Twilight.”

When Twilight’s sequel New Moon was released, Australian reviewers were placed under an embargo by the distributor until 12:00am the day of its release. It missed an At the Movies episode for being kept under wraps for so long (which in turn may have been a ploy to avoid a bad review).

“We agreed to the embargo and decided to put a review on the web and then not to review the following week because it would have been too late by then,” says Pomeranz.

“But other papers broke the embargo… these things happen. All you can do is be honourable to yourself and if you make an agreement you stick to it.”

This weekend the AFI Awards take place following a strong year of local releases. But Pomeranz says not all the deserving films have been recognised.

“The one that is a really good film that was totally neglected is Disgrace, the adaptation of JM Coetzee’s novel, filmed in South Africa with a fabulous performance by John Malkovich, Steve Jacobs directing, Anna Maria Monticelli producing and writing… it’s an Australian film. We got the rights to that marvellous book. It’s a terrific film totally ignored by the AFI and I don’t understand that either.”

For now Pomeranz and Stratton do what they can to heap due praise on our best. While single reviews continue to emerge in other media, it is the rapport between these two armchair experts that lifts them to the top.

“All I hope is the ABC or someone continues a programme like ours when we stop. Because it’s going to be something I want to see on television.”


“We’re going to have to stop sooner or later or they’re going to have to cart us out in a coffin,” she laughs.

“David’s had this wish to make it to 25 years. I just follow in his wake!”

8 Responses

  1. Margaret and David are a staple in Australian Cinema Critique.

    When the show ends it will be a sad day indeed; the raport between the two is like no other on TV or in Media; they are Australia’s Roger and Ebert.

    I will take what the two of them say over the closest friends of mine.

    I also love the fact that the two never seem to ‘pick’ on a certain genre; they seem to go in with a relatively clear head for films which are obviously outside of their demographic.

    Brilliant team, keep up the good work.

  2. Both David and Margaret seem to be very passionated about film and Australian films in particular which is the main ingrediant you need to be a fantastic reviewer.

    Hopefully they’ll continue for a little longer, we need more film opinion on TV that’s for sure.

  3. The problem I have with movie reviewers, the world over, is that they see hundreds of movies a year, and so unavoidably have a huge history to compare each one with, and their ratings reflect that comparison rather than what they felt in the moment.

    I see about four new movies a year in cinemas, and then maybe twenty five more per year on DVD, and my tastes are fairly pedestrian (action, comedy, animation, but not many significant dramas), so I can’t really relate to reviewers’ finely honed and widely varied experience.

  4. Putting aside their ridiculous overpraising of a really disappointing film (Samson & Delilah), with respect to Aus films, they don’t help much by how they regularly over rate them. Like they might discuss a new Aus film as though it’s worthy of them both giving it 2 stars each, but then give it 3 stars each. It’s unfortunate SBS cancelled its film review show, as its younger hosts on that, were more perceptive in their reviews and more fairly balanced in their Aus film reviews, when the show was on.

  5. That photo really sums it all up I think! Good interview and interesting that Margaret still has Antichrist on her mind – don’t think I’ve seen them disagree as much on a movie before. Margaret loved it while David loathed it with a passion and it wasn’t even filmed with a hand held camera 🙂

  6. These guys are great – an institution almost. You can feel their passion for film come through strongly. If I’m 50/50 on a movie, I always turn to these guys and listen to what they’ve said.

Leave a Reply