Vale Lesley Stern

'An incomparable deflator of male egos and fantasies', Lesley Stern's vivid intellect made a big mark on the Australian film scene of the 80s and 90s. Remembering his own bumpy encounter, Adrian Martin expresses enduring admiration.

Dateline: Melbourne, December 1982. An academic conference held at La Trobe University by the Australian Screen Studies Association. Up the front, seated at a table and grimly reading out a paper that took a full 90 minutes to plough through, is me – dressed in my best dandy attire of bow tie and two-tone periwinkle shoes. I am 22 years old, and I am there to stir up some trouble, questioning some of the tenets of hardline ‘screen theory’ as it held sway in Australian universities of the time.

Trouble is what I got, alright. At question time, international guest Robin Wood dismissed me as ‘a reactionary’. Laleen Jayamanne, Sam Rohdie and Meaghan Morris all weighed in with their critique. But the most striking presence of all in that packed room was the woman sitting in the front row – furiously knitting. This was a coping mechanism she had adopted (as I later learned) after giving up smoking. When she finally paused the needles to speak her mind, she held nothing back: I was a ‘stupid little boy’, she announced in her clear, hard voice, and everything I had proposed amounted to an ‘offensive intellectual joke’. How did I survive that day?

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Adrian Martin
About the Author
Adrian Martin is a freelance film critic. Born in Australia, he created a unique role as an academic and public intellectual and is a key international figure in his field. His latest book is Mysteries of Cinema (Amsterdam University Press, 2018) and his website is