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 her impromptu debut on SBS’s The Movie Show in 1986.
But despite occupying a revered chair in an industry overspilling with hopefuls and have-nots, Pomeranz’s mantle as one of Australia’s preeminent film critics is not one she ever wanted, or even feels comfortable with.
“It’s the unfairness of television,” she says. “You reach a lot of people and we’ve been doing it for so long. I don’t think I’m the best critic in the world and I don’t think I’ve got the best insight into film. So I’m very uncomfortable with that preeminent position.”
When we suggest to Pomeranz her humility only feeds into her celebrity, making her more likeable, she responds with “oh shit!” and that distinctive laugh squeaks down the phone line.
Pomeranz is the first to participate in Cinetology’s Meet the Critics series, which every week submits a set of questions to a high-profile Australian film critic. Cherry-picking critics from a variety of media outlets and platforms, the series will shine a light on how the country’s most widely-exposed cinephilies approach film going and the craft of criticism — 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 to Sight and Sound and I go into paroxysms of anxiety when my subscription is about to run out because I think it’s one of the best film magazines. For in-depth stuff I thinkSenses of Cinema is wonderful as well. David swears by American Film Comment but I actually prefer Sight and Sound, the British take. I love reading others people’s opinions and absorbing their take on a film. I like seeing what I’ve missed out on.
There have been some critics like Evan Williams who have been able to articulate — in a way I haven’t been able to — thoughts about a film that I’ve been intensely grateful for. Adrian Martin has always got an interesting take on films, although I don’t always agree with him. I also used to love Kenneth Turan in the LA Times.
In your opinion what if anything is wrong with the current state of film criticism and/or attitudes towards film critics?
It’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?
The trouble with the net is finding stuff you want to read because there is a lot there that’s not very interesting. It’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 didn’t ever know I wanted to be one and I was basically forced into taking on that role in 1986 when The Movie Show 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 “I’ll just see this year out” (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 ’70s so that was sort of in my blood stream. When I was made David’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.