|Colin Bennett at the Melbourne office of the NFSA, 2017|
As I am part of the generation which first engaged with the cinema in the early 1950s during primary and secondary school years, my first experience of Colin Bennett's writings on the cinema was in opening the Literary Supplement of The Age newspaper each Saturday to find Colin's column, imagining beforehand what the topic might be. Would we learn something about a contemporary film or filmmaker that would be more expansive than the regular weekday reviews? If it were around Easter time, there was the anticipation of discovery of what the next Melbourne Film Festival might offer in June.
I was too young to participate in the film festival for several more years, not until 1964 in fact. Sometimes Colin might provide news on new activities of special films for children and the specific bodies set up to make, distribute and exhibit them. There might be a tirade against censorship. Underlying each week's article was the understanding that the writer was a special kind of wordsmith who had thought deeply about the topic of the day before committing it to a final form. He had carefully developed an aesthetic of what mattered to him in cinematic expression, influenced, as others have written already, by his own formative years in London in the early part of the 1950s. For him there was a need for the cinema to open new windows and investigations of the complex lives and hopes of those who might be oppressed.
The best contemporary cinema stories for him would have concerns for the betterment of the characters portrayed. Some have linked his concerns with the ideals of the British Film Institute and the journal Sight and Sound at the time. This is not to imply that only dark and serious subjects might interest him. He might be equally engaged by a western directed unusually by George Cukor. Moreover I remember how fondly he greeted the hilarity of a Buster Keaton film during a screening one night when Colin visited my home with his family in the 1970s.