Margaret Pomeranz, along with her equally famous television co-host David Stratton, is as close to film reviewing royalty as one finds in Australia. Her jangling earrings, funky fashion sense, endearing laugh and opened-minded approach to film criticism have become synonymous with cinema discussion Down Under since herÂ impromptuÂ debut on SBSâ€™sÂ The Movie ShowÂ in 1986.
But despite occupying a revered chair in an industry overspilling with hopefuls and have-nots, Pomeranzâ€™s mantle as one of Australiaâ€™s preeminent film critics is not one she ever wanted, or even feels comfortable with.
â€śItâ€™s the unfairness of television,â€ť she says. â€śYou reach a lot of people and weâ€™ve been doing it for so long. I donâ€™t think Iâ€™m the best critic in the world and I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ve got the best insight into film. So Iâ€™m very uncomfortable with that preeminent position.â€ť
When we suggest to Pomeranz her humility only feeds into her celebrity, making her moreÂ likeable, she responds with â€śoh shit!â€ť and that distinctive laugh squeaks down the phone line.
Pomeranz is the first to participate inÂ Cinetologyâ€™s Meet the Critics series, which every week submits a set of questions toÂ a high-profile Australian film critic. Cherry-picking critics from aÂ varietyÂ of media outlets and platforms, the series will shine a light on how the countryâ€™s most widely-exposed cinephilies approachÂ film goingÂ and the craft of criticism â€” from who they read and respect to what they munch on in the cinema.
Do you read much film criticism? If so, what publications and writers do you recommend?
I subscribe toÂ Sight and SoundÂ and I go into paroxysms of anxiety when my subscription is about to run out because I think itâ€™s one of the best film magazines. For in-depth stuff I thinkSenses of CinemaÂ is wonderful as well. David swears byÂ American Film CommentÂ but I actually preferÂ Sight and Sound, the British take. I love reading others peopleâ€™s opinions and absorbing their take on a film. I like seeing what Iâ€™ve missed out on.
There have been some critics like Evan Williams who have been able to articulate â€” in a way I havenâ€™t been able to â€” thoughts about a film that Iâ€™ve been intensely grateful for. Adrian Martin has always got an interesting take on films, although I donâ€™t always agree with him. I also used to love Kenneth Turan in theÂ LA Times.
In your opinion what if anything is wrong with the current state of film criticism and/or attitudes towards film critics?
Itâ€™s sad that with all the pressure on newspapers at the moment and the subsequent rationalising of expenses, reviewers are becoming scarcer. Reviews from Melbourne are syndicated to Sydney; there are less voices in the press. There have never been many on television but at the same time, on the other side of the spectrum, there is a proliferation of voices on the net.
The internet has irrevocably altered the media landscape. What impact do you think the proliferation of writers on the internet has had on film criticism?Â
The trouble with the net is finding stuff you want to read because there is a lot there thatâ€™s not very interesting. Itâ€™s a matter of searching amongst the dross for engaging material. The volume of information on the internet is unbelievable.
How did you become a film critic and when did you know you wanted to be one?
I didnâ€™t ever know I wanted to be one and I was basically forced into taking on that role in 1986 whenÂ The Movie ShowÂ first went to air because I could not find anyone that David was prepared to appear with who was a woman. We both really wanted those different voices: male and female. I kept on saying â€śIâ€™ll just see this year outâ€ť (laughs).
I came back to Australia just when the film industry was taking off. I went to NIDA and took screenwriting and I started out as a writer. I went to all the AFI screenings in the â€™70s so that was sort of in my blood stream. When I was made Davidâ€™s producer we would talk about films and exchange different opinions over lunch, just as a shared interest thing. It only became sort of official when I was made to sit in that seat by both the head of programming and David.