It’s all of the above and then some.
However you define it, Australia has come to love Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton, first with their 18 year run on The Movie Show on SBS followed by another 10 years of At the Movies on ABC. Stratton also has a preceding 6 years as a movie presenter on SBS.
But tonight their on-screen partnership comes to an end, with a one hour farewell that has fans and the movie industry in despair.
For decades their stamp of approval has been implemented into trade advertisements by distributors. Getting a 5 star review from one or both critics could translate into Box Office sales.
“I must say I am overwhelmed at the response to us quitting. Who would have thought we would have touched so many people in that time? I’m really overcome by the reaction,” Pomeranz tells TV Tonight.
“But I think we’re a real comfort zone and it’s lovely. It is like people regard us as people they know and like. You can go around any city, any town in this country, and people greet you like you’re an old mate.
“So I must say there’s a worse way to go through life than that. It’s really lovely.”
The finale, chockful of reviews, interviews, highlights and tributes, was followed by a party with the likes of Geoffrey Rush, Bryan Brown and Claudia Karvan.
“It was all a bit surreal, almost like I couldn’t take in what was really happening. On top of everything I felt like my head was full of cotton wool. This was a really free-wheeling show. It wasn’t nearly as structured as our normal one,” she says.
“I thought ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get through all of this!’ Wouldn’t that be awful? At the last gate I nearly stumbled!
“But in fact it went incredibly smoothly.”
Pomeranz was originally a producer of Stratton’s TV reviewing, when he coaxed a reluctant colleague into joining him on camera. It was a match made in celluloid heaven, despite their frequent bickering (Pomeranz once gave Dancer in the Dark 5 stars, while Stratton awarded it 0).
While many thought their 25th anniversary would signal the end, Pomeranz says it was a weary Stratton who indicated his desire to step back this year.
“He said to me this year, ‘I’m really tired of standing in queues in Cannes.’ And I have never, ever heard him say that before. He gets there at least half an hour before the movie starts because he wants to be sure of getting the seat he likes. I get there 2 minutes before the movie starts and I know he’s got a seat saved for me!” she explains.
“So I thought that was a real sign he was over it. He loves Cannes and Venice but he’s sick of seeing mediocre films.”
While not merely reviewing films, both have become champions of the Australian industry. Pomeranz famously fronted a 2003 rally against the banning of Ken Park, even briefly being detained by police. It’s a cause that is still a sore point.
“The internet has made censorship redundant really,” she insists.
“The Film and Classification Board ought to just give advice. They shouldn’t be banning stuff that’s freely available in other countries.”
She also laments the changes impacting on the ABC and warns against losses at our peril.
“It’s one of the great sadnesses for me at this time because I’ve been associated with public broadcasters for nearly a quarter of a century. I’m a passionate believer in it.”
Nor does she rule out a replacement programme at the ABC with new presenters, albeit when the time is right and under a fresh format. The traditional duo of reviewers, whether as Pomeranz & Stratton, or America’s Siskel and Ebert, appears to be departing at the same time as Film’s mantle at the top of the screen hierarchy is challenged.
“I think it was really difficult for anyone to sit in those two chairs because of the response, ‘They’re not David and Margaret.’
“But you know me, I’m not backwards in expressing my opinion. I’ve said to the ABC ‘You could create another show that’s not At the Movies.‘ They could create a space so that it’s not that set and those chairs. Get rid of them! They’ve amortised that set and those titles for 10 years!
“They’ve had good use out of them but it’s time for them to go.”
Meanwhile, Stratton will continue as a critic for The Australian and Pomeranz for the Medical Observer, but she hints at new projects too.
“There are other things on the boil but I can’t say anything about them at the moment,” she nods.
“But I’m part of the film industry in a lot of ways and that’s not going to go away. I’m passionate about it.”
First she has to get through the final, sentimental screening as the credits roll on the ABC.
“We’re going to have a team party, bawling our eyes out watching the thing go to air!” she laughs.
At the Movies finale 9:30pm tonight ABC.