This issue is dedicated to one of the true legends of Australian screen culture, John Flaus, who turned 80 in April this year. The extensive “tribute” dossier that dominates this edition of Senses of Cinema marks a little over 60 years since the start of John’s involvement in “cinema” in Australia, and tracks his extraordinary contribution to the field as a scholar, teacher, poet, cinephile, actor, broadcaster, tireless board member, mentor, script advisor, much in-demand voiceover artist, archivist collector, writer and, always, anarchist. John has been integral to all kinds of cinema and the various places it has been screened, discussed and made across half of film history, and has also been a significant influence on several generations of academics, film scholars, film buffs, cinephiles and filmmakers. Although John’s reputation in Australia is assured, he is not as well-known internationally as he should be and this tribute aims to affectionately demonstrate his contribution beyond the handful of articles that are already available online, predominantly at Senses of Cinema.
This issue brings back into circulation a range of John’s most significant writings on the movies stretching from his first pieces on Nunnally Johnson’s Night People and Laslo Benedek’s The Wild One for Voice: The Australian Independent Monthly in 1954 to evocatively descriptive and brilliantly argued pieces on such varied films as Truffaut’s Le Peau douce, Melville’s Le Samouraï, Siegel’s The Killers, Satyajit Ray, the Coen brothers’ Miller’s Crossing, Paul Winkler and von Sternberg’s Morocco. John’s writing has appeared in an extraordinary range of publications, many of which have long since passed into the annals of screen legend and this issue also provides something of a piecemeal history of some significant aspects of Australian screen culture since the 1950s. John has moved restlessly across this terrain since being fired from his position at Voice in early 1955 for suggesting that On the Waterfront was right-wing propaganda. As is demonstrated by the range of critical articles and tributes included in this 39-piece dossier, John has beaten his own mercurial path through screen culture (a “wanderer between the winds”, if you like). The shift between the sometimes dense 6000 or so word piece from 1967 on Le Peau douce and the evocative selection of film-related couplets published under the title Parallacts included in this issue, provide a sense of the variety of John’s critical work and the way it vacillates between an appreciation for the pithy or economical and messier and more voluminous realms. From these various and never systematic pieces you will also get a sense of some of John’s great cinematic passions: the Hollywood B-movie, the “Ranown Cycle” of Budd Boetticher, Le Samouraï, Satyajit Ray, Two-Lane Blacktop, von Sternberg, but no Ozu, Listen to Britain or so many others.
But John’s peripatetic career across the Australian film and television industries is very difficult to document and describe. For many people in Melbourne he is most fondly remembered as the host of Film Buffs’ Forecast with Paul Harris throughout the 1980s, and it is certainly John and Paul’s erudite and sometimes maddening discussion of the week’s upcoming screenings over two hours on a Saturday afternoon that is probably the most significant influence on the way that I look at film. John has also been a constant presence on television and cinema screens in Australia, a significant mentor to actors and filmmakers, and quite simply one of the great talkers about the movies. These mercurial qualities and ephemeral proclamations are also difficult to demonstrate.
As a way of giving a true sense of John’s importance to a range of people across screen culture, as well as his significance to various cultural movements and moments in Melbourne and Sydney since the 1950s, we have invited a range of figures to reflect upon their relationship to John and his significance to them at particular points in time. These contributors include a number of important filmmakers who have worked with John as an actor, John Ruane, Michael Thornhill, Dave Jones and Chris Fitchett, others directors whose work John has championed, Paul Winkler and Nigel Buesst, a range of critics and cultural commentators including Phillip Adams, David Stratton, Jake Wilson, John Baxter, Tom Ryan (who shared a house with John when Flaus first moved to Melbourne in 1972), Sylvia Lawson and Tina Kaufman, academics who straddle the borders between the university and a broader screen culture, Lorraine Mortimer, Neil McDonald, Lisa French and myself, and such singular figures as Barry Jones, Richard Brennan, Patricia Edgar (who paints a wonderfully evocative portrait of her times with John across a range of cultural projects, with photos!), David Donaldson, Bruce Hodsdon, and actor Bryan Brown. We’d like to thank them all for their generous contributions to this issue. Bruce Hodsdon has been particularly important in providing guidance through the sometimes murky waters of screen culture in the 1960s and 1970s, and has been an important collaborator in getting together and assessing the range of John’s writing across the fickle byways of a sometimes ephemeral and even apocryphal cultural history – and Bruce’s extensive essay on John’s critical writing is a close-to-definitive account of its key frameworks, preoccupations and shifting modes of attack (though John’s work is profoundly consistent). We would also like to thank the AFI Research Collection at RMIT (particularly Cathie Gilliam and Alex Gionfriddo) for its assistance in locating some of the materials included in this tribute.
Finally, we’d like to thank John for both his extraordinary contribution to screen culture in Australia and his generosity in allowing us to put this tribute together and follow our own path in our selections and commentaries. John is still a very active and much in-demand actor, speaker and raconteur, we hope he continues to be a shining light in screen culture for some time to come. We also hope that this tribute, to quote Warren Oates’ GTO in Two-Lane Blacktop,will “give you a set of emotions you can live with… those satisfactions are permanent”. Indeed they are – let’s “put an amen to it”.
We hope you enjoy the issue.
Adrian Danks (for the editors)