Five stars
Farewell to Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton

Photo by Jason Ilagan (Flickr)

It felt entirely apropos that, during the final episode of At The Movies, David Stratton tried to give Margaret Pomeranz a compliment, and Margaret slapped him down for being patronising. At The Movies aired for a decade on the ABC and, for 18 years prior, as The Movie Show on SBS. Disagreements between the two hosts were legendary. It’s a wonder that, in all those years, we never saw either of them walk off set, though sometimes it felt as if Margaret, in particular, would have liked nothing better.

Ah, Margaret. She has been patronised, you see, by those who have insisted on seeing her, for all these years, as a mere “reviewer” rather than a “critic”; a populist to David’s connoisseur. What rubbish, as she might have put it herself. Margaret’s knowledge, passion and trenchant feminist perspective on cinema has been a shining light — for me, at least, and I suspect not only for me. From my dimmest childhood memories of The Movie Show on SBS, right through until this final episode, the presence of Margaret Pomeranz on the telly has demonstrated to me that women can and should be critics, even when — or especially when — we’re still outnumbered in the field. If At The Movies had been a football match, then I would have been Team Margaret all the way.

But let’s not leave David out of his own farewell. I’ll miss the way he sat in his armchair, week after week, with his left leg neatly crossed over his right, and both hands folded in his lap. I’ll miss his soft spot for romantic comedies and his casual way of dropping movie history into his reviews — last night, discussing Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, he told us that Cecil B DeMille directed The Ten Commandments in 1923 and 1956. Thank you, David. Trivia duly noted. I’ll miss the fact that, without David, Margaret wouldn’t have had anyone to say, “Oh, David” to, in that special tone of long-term exasperation.

Most of all, though, I’ll miss the fact that Margaret and David never learnt not to talk over the top of one another. The show was scripted, to a certain extent — we were treated to a quality blooper reel last night — but its defining spirit was one of thoughtful chaos, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. Our two hosts reflected back to us the kind of conversations we have when we exit the cinema: the partisan advocacies, the unyielding prejudices, the happy concords and the unhappy discords. It really was that simple, but making great television out of it? That’s bloody hard.

And they did it, nearly every week, for 28 years, until now. At the end of the episode they walked off together, hand in hand, into their broadcasting sunset. Like the best of cinema finales, it made me cry. 

Anwen Crawford

Anwen Crawford is The Monthly’s music critic.

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