Ah, the memories. I think back to first hearing of John in the early ’60s. He was a leading light in the Push, a vaguely lefty group of intellectuals who gathered around certain watering holes in Sydney, drinking and arguing politics and other things. Sometimes the debates may have risen to the realm of fisticuffs but there were also areas of genuine agreement. For instance, Senator McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee investigations were held in contempt by Push members for their attack on liberal causes and free speech. They led to many fine film professionals being blacklisted in the 1950s and beyond.
Years later, when he settled into Melbourne, we felt flattered that such an éminence gris had given us a significant acknowledgement with his presence. Mostly, heavyweights move north to enjoy the more substantial government munificence in Sydney.
When he became a regular with Paul Harris on Melbourne public radio station 3RRR we tuned in weekly to participate in his rambling discourses on film, politics and life in general. What a richly fertile mind, employing massive memory reserves to strengthen his point-of-view. At times Paul would attempt to curb the flow, or at least keep to the subject.
From those years there were a couple of stories which I will always remember with affection; or at least half remember as my memory fades, as has John’s with advancing years.
He was always a busy actor and got involved in numerous student films. One such was a remake of Sunset Blvd., to be filmed at a gloomy mansion in the Dandenongs. John, playing the William Holden role in this black comedy, was to be shot, then fall into a swimming pool and sink. John assured the crew he had bricks in his pockets and would allow the ripples to settle before re-surfacing. All went well until an element of panic set in. He’d been under water for some time. John was now old and being midwinter the water was icy. Fearing their lead actor was in trouble half the crew jumped in to save him. John was somewhat miffed by this doubting of his virility.
The other story involved learning of a film classic which he had so far missed seeing. It was showing at a cinema up a dark lane in Mexico City, so he set off to find this obscure “art house”. For a few pesos they gave him a candle, a fruit box and a big stick rather than an entry ticket. Puzzled but compliant he entered the cinema, realising immediately what the candle was for as there was no auditorium lighting. Similarly the fruit box, as there was no seating. Finally, when the screening started, he gathered what the stick was for when large rats scuttled around his feet. Let’s assume this story is apocryphal, but as John has said on numerous occasions, “never let the facts get in the way of a good story” (1).
Finally, mention must be made of a couple of bio pics which have been made in an attempt to capture the magic and significance of John’s remarkable life: Peter Tammer’s Flausfilm (2009) and Oscar Stangio’s Life on Tape (2014). Both admirable efforts deserving of further analysis, but both failing to pin down just what John Flaus espoused, his eloquently presented thoughts, his political beliefs. Maybe there is another film to be made that might just capture him. But even as I advocate this I realise it’s a mirage, that our opinions shift endlessly. What did Karl Marx really think, or Ghandi, or Orson Welles, or Woody Allen? A moveable feast.
1. Flaus spins another variation on this story in Adrian Martin, “Say it With Flaus”, XPress vol. 1, no. 5, August-October 1986, p. 14. In that version John doesn’t actually ever make it into the cinema.