STANDARD GRAMMAR: CUT ON EYELINE
Two glances meet – he looks down, to see
Worlds emerging in a coffee cup.
See: Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle (1967) (1)
John Flaus introduced me to the word “discursive”, not just literally but also figuratively. He lived it out, especially when talking film to an audience, on and off-air. But his written criticism is another matter. It’s discursive in subject and often hard to find in its spread across an array of at least 17 different publications, some elusively obscure – over 80 pieces scattered across more than half a century ranging from many short notes for film societies to a 25,000 word essay (though this does not include the numerous short pieces published in The Age in the 1980s and mostly co-signed by Paul Harris). And it is unfortunately all too sparse. So many gaps if one has the time and commitment to seek out enough pieces to get the bigger picture. What has been most striking and rewarding is the evolution of his film criticism over time and, above all, the integrity of his writing, well-informed but free of any hint of CV filling and institutional conformity.
Flaus clearly has preference for writing about films that he feels are unjustifiably dismissed, underrated or off the radar with most of the rest of us, film buffs included. But even here there are surprising gaps. The provocateur in him can leave us with nothing but tantalisingly passing references to films, like Humphrey Jennings and Stewart McAllister’s Listen to Britain (1942) and Paul Winkler’s Brick Wall (1974), that he has placed in his reluctantly identified canon. While it is perhaps not surprising to find him including Jacques Demy’s Lola (1961) in such a list, it’s only in passing that Flaus nominates it as the best feature he has seen, while Jennings and McAllister’s short wartime morale booster is “the best film of any kind I’ve seen anywhere”.
Flaus has always described himself as an “anarchist by instinct long before I was an anarchist by conviction” (2). In his aspiration to write film criticism as a young adult for a magazine called Voice: The Australian Independent Monthly, Flaus almost immediately discovered the limits to free expression. Many years later his preference for leading freewheeling discussion in adult education classes (and opportunistically, it seems, in university tutorials) was matched by his almost wilful disregard for the strictures imposed by formal teaching. I don’t think John ever chose engagement in discourse on film, written or verbal, other than as an opportunity for, and implied defence of, well-grounded expression by free association.
Flaus has proposed two non-judgemental ways of distinguishing reviewing from criticism:
1) “If all film production ceased tomorrow, criticism would continue but reviewing would not.”
2) “Reviewing assumes that the reader hasn’t seen the film; criticism assumes that the reader has, will or should have seen the film.”
Reviewing refers to the film prospectively; criticism refers to the film retrospectively. Reviewing makes news, it helps to produce and regulate desire for new (and strictly speaking) unnecessary products. As such, reviewing as a practice is an integral component of the industry. Criticism may be caught up in these processes but it does not necessarily derive from them. In reviewing, a film is necessarily incomplete, partial and veiled. Criticism, on the other hand, may speak of a film as finished and, thanks perhaps to the very way criticism itself operates, is revealed “in all its inexhaustible fullness” (3).
In 1962, Flaus made a decision to try and break new ground with film criticism as he defined it, then all but absent in Australian film culture. There was only one local publication dedicated to serious writing on film, Film Journal, first published in Melbourne in 1954. John wrote three critiques in successive issues in 1962 and 1963: La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960), Rocco e I suoi fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers, Luchino Visconti, 1960) and Jules et Jim (François Truffaut, 1961).
Truffaut’s film was the most formally innovative of the first nouvelle vague films then to have made it onto Australian screens (Godard’s À bout de souffle was banned until 1965). “From time to time we are lucky enough to encounter a work which causes us to look afresh at the art to which it belongs”, was how Flaus began his piece in Film Journal (4). “In this film, the freshness is not so much in the presentation of the material – attractive though it is – as in the selection of material for presentation”. Truffaut challenged our conditioning to the story film governed by a dominant principle in which “the resolution of the action, although it comes later in [the] sequence, will somehow come to be seen as the cause of the action”. In so doing, Truffaut recaptured “the fundamental cinematic impression that we are spectators to a spontaneously occurring situation”. This presaged a key question that shaped his critical writing over the following decades: what, at core, distinguishes film from the other arts?
About 50 per cent of the items listed in the bibliography also published in this tribute dossier are notes on films for film society publications, in the main the Sydney University Film Group Bulletin and CTEQ Annotations on Film for the Melbourne Cinémathèque (its forerunner being the Melbourne University Film Society). As such, they could not be considered “an integral component of the industry”, yet they fill a similar function to reviewing, prospective rather than retrospective, a major role being to encourage attendance to the film (something that press reviews are not uniformly committed to in the same way since there is most often an editorial requirement to provide a “consumer’s guide” to all new releases) and are thus “necessarily incomplete, partial or veiled”. Insofar as some of the films in a film society’s program are also likely to be classics of varying vintage, some historical context is usually supplied. So the average note is something of a hybrid as criticism. Often critiques are printed in part or in full from publications dedicated to writing about film “in all its inexhaustible fullness”. Such notes can also provide an opportunity for some to “first” engage in film criticism. John himself in his formative years in film criticism wrote more than 40 such pieces through the ’60s for the Sydney University Film Group and occasionally for the WEA Film Study Group and the Sydney Cinema Society.
Flaus’ written criticism, as a body of work, has no coherent public profile and so it cannot be written about as though it is all out there. Even when assessable as a whole there are many gaps because John wrote as he felt like it, completely free of any sense of institutional pressure. For long periods he ceased to write anything that could be called criticism as he defined it. His preferred activity was exercising his talent for freewheeling verbal discourse, most expansively on Melbourne public radio station 3RRR and when issuing his self-published weekly guide – also titled Film Buff’s Forecast – to once up film viewing in Melbourne. His writing, at best, is only remembered piecemeal – “Melville: Le Samourai” in Cinema Papers, “Thanks for your heart, Bart” in Continuum, in some of his CTEQ Annotations on Film notes and forays into Australian features for Senses of Cinema and Metro (Mullet, Innocence, Going Down, Silent Partner). If you look at his canon, as stated in 1986 (5), he only wrote more than passing references to six out of the 13 films and on the three greatest directors, “who really knew their movies”, only one or two paragraphs on Ozu and little more than one sentence on Godard (excepting the smaller pieces published in their hundreds in The Age). Von Sternberg has a short essay, more a note, which he had completely forgotten.
Flaus’ early selection of films for which he wrote notes, reveals a commitment to a conception of realism which had re-emerged with Italian neo-realism. He has acknowledged the difficulties in pinning down the concept of realism when applied to film narrative (“realistic”, he acknowledges, is not the same as “real”) but nevertheless has attempted a definition (6). In partial accord with the rather pale humanism that had been prevailing in English-language film criticism but in 1962 was on the cusp of being challenged, he saw Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves, Vittorio De Sica, 1948) as sharing basic attitudes:
Essentially there was a rejection of prevailing modes of “story-film” expression – literary standards of subject and structure, dramatic conventions of performance.
In the neo-realist films people, places and events are no longer products of the “dream factory”; they are located in the world common to us all. The issues and the characters may be simple, but they are no longer stereotypes; they are no longer produced, they are perceived to exist; they now have individual identity as well as universal application. (7)
La Notte (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1961) was “no less realistic… but the transformation of subject matter called for a revised form of expression (as) the enveloping world of economic hardship in Bicycle Thieves is replaced by more elliptical and complex problem of values in an affluent society” (8).
An essay by filmmaker turned critic Michael Roemer in Film Quarterly on realism seems to have mirrored Flaus’ thoughts. “Only film renders experience with enough immediacy and totality”, Roemer writes, “to call into play the perceptual processes we employ in life itself.” In his critique of Louis Malle’s Les Amants (1957), Flaus quotes Roemer’s conclusion that “[t]here is a great challenge in making the commonplaces of life, that have so long eluded art, yield up their meaning and take their rightful place in the larger patterns of existence” (9).
Flaus’ earliest statements on realism were inspired both by fictional realism (La Notte, Sanma no aji [An Autumn Afternoon], Bicycle Thieves) and documentary narrative in an early form of cinema vérité (The Exiles) coalescing in his critique (more like a celebration) of François Truffaut’s La Peau douce (Soft Skin, 1964). After The Exiles was received with a good deal of indifference at the 1964 Sydney Film Festival, Flaus prefaced his note for a discussion screening with a question: “Who wants ‘true’? Who wants ‘moving’?” The film is about a group of Native Americans who have left the tribal reservation to live in LA, that for Flaus, “makes a reality of [British documentarist] Grierson’s much abused ‘creative interpretation of reality’” (10). Flaus subsequently observed that “[t]he literary dimension is absent from [this] sort of factual film whereby the filmmaker, regardless of his orientation, cannot contrive or impose upon his material a pre-existing scheme, or direction, or developmental rhythm” (11). In the fictional film this transmutes into the aspiration to locate the story in the world, “the reverse of classical story telling which locates the world in the story” (12).These are positions he would be frequently obliged to rethink, if not abandon, in response to individual works.
In keeping with Flaus’ ongoing concern with a cinema free of the straitjacket of “literary” storytelling, La Peau douce in 1967 inspired Flaus’ longest critique of a single film. It occupies, I think, a seminal place in his criticism. Flaus’ initial response was that La Peau douce “defied critical judgement” but attempting to substantiate his personal enthusiasm required an inductive “appeal to some general condition… the beauty of life being lived, for what that may be worth to each of us” (13). He saw Truffaut’s film as another step in the cinema of fiction’s disengagement “from the literary mode of infusing the imagination, through more by stealth than manifesto… ever closer to the point of no definition, where the division between responses to life and responses to artistic representation of life no longer exists”. However, such a division does continue to exist, Flaus acknowledged, even in La Peau douce, and the sense of resolution was still expected and found in comparable films like À bout de souffle, Bicycle Thieves and An Autumn Afternoon;the fictional film is overwhelmingly dominated by the concept of the story, a formal whole whose conventions condition receptivity of the parts.
Flaus distinguishes “narrative in abstraction” from the concept of story and plot: the “what happens next” tension of narrative can be subsumed into the dynamics of the moment. In the second part of his critique of La Peau douce he replaces a plot synopsis with “sympathetic participation” in a personal reading of the persons (no longer “characters”) in the narrative, in which “the events depicted can become so complete that there is no sense of story” (14).
In “Dilemmas of a Filmnik” published in 1966 in the anarchist journal Red and Black, Flaus defended his addiction to “certain art forms” by explaining this addiction as a preoccupation with the way the “little understood art form” of film “can place the artist (and, in turn, the viewer) in a special relationship to the world, and to the exploration of its emotional content” (15). Flaus controversially (at least for the politically engaged) suggested that the propositional arguments that might be contained in a fictional narrative are best put in a forum “unencumbered by representational forms”, since the emotional content contained in a presentation in such a form cannot improve the validity of the reasoning central to the proposition. He prefaces this by saying that “art is distinguished by its primary concern, not with analysis and judgement of situations, but with their emotional content”.But the release of strong feelings in aesthetic experience is not the same as Aristotelean purgation (catharsis) (16). A fiction film is not a shaper but a reinforcer of values: “a source of feelings only, not principles…. If the emotional content incorporates views of which I approve, then this is by way of a bonus”. Flaus concludes:
When the art work is experienced through a range of sensitivity similar to that which we bring to our everyday lives, the resultant emotional content is likely to develop along lines of inference and replication similar to those which operate in the flux of living. Our judgements and attitudes are “lived out” without the mediation of aesthetic conventions.
The release of emotions linked to the role of cinema in inducing “the special contemplation which art affords, the emotion presented free from a social context and the need to act”, that Flaus refers to in “Dilemmas of a Filmnik”, stands opposed to what Noël Carroll pejoratively calls the psycho-semiotic Marxist-based film theory (17), which took hold in academia in the ’70s. Many contemporary film theorists reject realist theory while conceding that cinema imparts “an impression of reality”, claiming for the photographically represented image – “that’s the way it is” – the illusion (naturalising) of the film image which is then deployed in the service of ideological persuasion. Flaus’ concern with the question of “what at core is cinematic?” was shared with what Carroll calls Creationist theory (Rudolph Arnheim, Bela Balazs, the Soviet montage filmmakers, Ernest Lindgren) but sought through opposite means. They sought the answer in the manipulation and reconstitution of photographic reality through montage, while Flaus sought a freeing of the fiction film from literary based storytelling conventions by recording and reproducing reality in accordance with photographic origins rather than in the service of theatrical and literary antecedents – Bazinian realist theory with a different (secular) emphasis.
What is important to realise is where Flaus’ criticism is grounded. As he makes clear in “Dilemmas of a Filmnik” and the much later “Thanks for your heart, Bart”, it is in the reading of theorists of aesthetics like Otto Baensch, Eliseo Vivas and Susanne Langer. At the time of his critical intervention in 1962, André Bazin had not been translated into English. The Creationist film theory then available in English was montage based, with which he had little affinity. A well read grounding in literature led Flaus to ask “what is cinema?” and, for himself, “why cinema?” He was, above all, concerned with asking questions rather than constructing answers as to what might be cinema’s supposed essence.
Flaus’ 1974 critique of Le Samouraï (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967) in Cinema Papers is a masterpiece of “mimetic analysis”, to borrow Adrian Martin’s phrase (18). His “unfolding” of the first eight minutes is a fine example of interpretive description in which he invents a working distinction between narrative and plot, with thematic impressions, without dialogue or narration, preceding thematic structure. It is left open to the viewer to make individual inferences from observed behaviour.
The severe form, the precise detail, the delicate effect are part of a style which shows rather than refers to its subject….
Images do not state propositions, nor do thematic structures. Le Samourai is an amalgam of the starkly plotted and elaborately visualised… an amalgam [that] carries many temptations for us to explicate it by simile, the imaginative process of “as if”. (19)
The creator of fiction on film is in control of both the pro-filmic and the filmic; the documentary filmmaker “finds” the pro-filmic and then mediates with the filmic. Melville, says Flaus, “does not seek to simulate the world but to create anew the materials of the world”. The unity of means (aesthetic affect) and ends (the feeling – not just of emotion but engagement with the entire range of subjectivity) invites inferences by the viewer in a form that “can place the artist (and, in turn, the viewer) in a special relationship to the world, and to the exploration of its emotional content” (“Dilemmas of a Filmnik”). When aesthetic factors (say extrinsically beautiful images or intrusive expressionistic effects) mediate between the work and the viewer, encumbering the narrative, the potential of the filmic is impoverished by what Flaus refers to, in his critique of La Peau douce, as “an aesthetic factor mediating between the work and the viewer” (20). To stretch Baensch’s notion of aesthetic experience (21), the feeling may be “had” but it is not “known”. Free from such encumbrance, “the aesthetic experience is not properly an emotion, but it certainly is attached to emotions, in a special kind of bonding”, which, in “Thanks for your heart, Bart”, Flaus terms “paramotion” (22). In Le Samouraï the reward for the viewer’s “severe, unremitting attention”, Flaus suggests, may be “a fearful joy…. Melville’s achievement is to create within us, despite the studied mid-shot detachment of his style and the ambivalence of our feelings, an absorption [free of moralising] in the figure of Jeff Costello analogous to Jeff’s self-absorption”.
Flaus comments on Melville’s attraction to the structure and ethos of the Hollywood noir crime thriller (This Gun for Hire, Murder by Contract) but not to the tone (the manner of its telling). It is the latter, more akin to the abstraction of Bresson’s Pickpocket, that is the central inspiration for Flaus’ most finely wrought piece of criticism. The existentialism in the concept of the lone assassin, Alain Delon’s Jeff Costello, has an affinity with the westerners played by Randolph Scott in the so-called Ranown westerns directed by Budd Boetticher and scripted by Burt Kennedy. They inspired Flaus’ most eloquent writing on the Western, a genre to which he returned a dozen times to write about after programming a range of chosen titles in screenings through the ’60s (23). This critical involvement began with an “involuntary” viewing of The Last of the Fast Guns (George Sherman, 1956), as the result of an unscheduled switch of films at a suburban cinema. While writing of the role of myth underpinning the Western and gangster genres, it is the Western hero (the converse of the “alienated man” – the gangster) exemplified by characters played John Wayne with John Ford, James Stewart with Anthony Mann, and Scott with Boetticher, “figures of legend… nearer to men than gods, their limitations as plain to see as their virtues”, that is his central focus. Flaus suggests that
The proper way to approach these films is through the context of tradition. They are fully engaging and satisfying at the realistic level, but it needs to be recognised that, in order to arrive there, they have had to travel through the cycle of myth and romance and return again to the normal plane or action. (24)
It was Randolph Scott, however, who fully engaged Flaus’ attention as “an aesthetic object” comparable in this respect to Delon in Le Samouraï, but unlike the lone hit man, Scott plays out the role of the romantic wanderer in a series of metaphoric “floating poker games” (25) with a group of delinquents, both assured and inadequate, in an existential de-mythifying, tragicomic immersion in the male rituals and codes that mark the genre (26).
In his last sustained critical writing for CTEQ Annotations on Film and Senses of Cinema between 1990 and 2002, Flaus constructs, piecemeal, a clear and coherent series of propositions about classical film narrative and genre in the course of discussing classical Hollywood films (There’s Always Tomorrow, The Big Heat, Hell’s Highway/Blood Money, Under Capricorn, Peter Ibbetson, Pete Kelly’s Blues, Manpower, Back Street). This is complemented by his critiques of the Australian features Mullet (David Caesar, 2001), a film in what Flaus calls an impressionist style “that makes the commonplaces of life yield up their meaning” (27), and Innocence (Paul Cox, 2001), a work “grounded in realism but freely [using] expressionist techniques which command different ways of responding… [availing] himself of the postmodernist licence to admit different strategies of interpretation, but [Cox] hasn’t matched as well as he’s mixed” (28).
In the range, clarity, economy and depth contained in its 1600 words, Flaus’ The Big Heat (Fritz Lang, 1953) essay, for example, seems to me to perfectly meet the requirements of a both prospective and retrospective criticism to accompany the screening of the film. Following a short synopsis in two paragraphs, it deals, in turn, with Lang’s distinctive thematic; the screenplay’s relation to the noir and style; Lang’s direction in the context of classical narrative cinema; a breakdown of the mise en scène; the contribution of the cinematographer; performance and casting; and its relation to genre and social and political context, touching on both feminist and psychoanalytic concerns (29).
Flaus also wrote short critiques of several non-classical/modernist films (Journal d’un cure de campagne [Diary of a Country Priest], Gelegenheitsarbeit einer Sklavin [Occasional Work of a Female Slave], Stromboli, Two-Lane Blacktop) for CTEQ Annotations on Film which oppose the conventions of classical narrative that deploy cinematic techniques which still derive from theatre “especially in the process of building layer upon layer of dramatic information” (30). The lucidity of Flaus’ discussion of the way Rossellini directed Stromboli and other films of the period, “as though theatrical drama had never existed”, is a model of its kind. Again, his critiques of these films are complemented by his notes on Australian features Going Down (Haydn Keenan, 1983) and Palm Beach (Albie Thoms, 1980). In his “Memoir to Albie” Flaus writes of how Palm Beach, in which John played a lead role, was, as Thoms planned it, “going to be unique in the history of world cinema” (31). As Flaus points out, Thoms came close to realising his plan.
The uncertainty of those lengthy early critical “interventions” in Film Journal, in their awkwardly structured discursiveness, is summed up by the abrupt disconnect (“the shortest three hours I’ve sat through”) at the end of his forensic dismantling of Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers. His engaged grounding of his criticism in the defence of his addiction in “Dilemmas of a Filmnik”, which he has never abandoned while reflecting upon the radicalisation and institutionalisation of the way film is theorised and analysed. For John, theory will always be inductively grounded in our engagement with the individual work; theory is naturalised by the productive inclusiveness of his writing and encapsulated in the inventive deployment of terminology. In the marshalling of an argument for a core proposition, in the role of the provocateur perhaps too infrequently assumed in Flaus’ written critical discourse, his 5000 words inspired by La Peau douce is a watershed in his criticism. His article on La Samouraï is a shift in critical mode which has been celebrated by Adrian Martin as Flaus takes us into his confidence as “companion-readers” (32), a high-point in Flaus’ film criticism matched by his appreciation of the work Paul Winkler (33).
The Melbourne Cinémathèque provided the motivation and opportunity for John to return to writing with what are much more than prospective notes, in the clarity and economy of their insights, anchored in an ongoing inductive critique of classical narrative (a number of which are available online, including as part of the accompanying dossier). There is an apparent paradox here: Flaus, the institutional maverick, is being celebrated as an institution. But the resolution of the paradox, if any is required, lies in what is likely to be John’s testament, the singular “Thanks for your heart, Bart”, a primer for film actors, aspiring and experienced alike. It’s a unique synthesis; shared knowledge from his twin addiction to acting and film but a good deal is also on offer for all actual and aspiring filmniks. What he wrestled with back then, as “this distinct and little understood art form”, is, to our gain, a match still in progress. In 1995, Flaus wrote about a way of seeing, in praise of the art of the creator of Brick Wall: “For me the enormous, exceptional, meditatively inexhaustible value of the best of Paul Winkler’s motion picture art lies in its perceptions of the everyday, all-around-us world – the commonplace, whose familiarity guards its mystery, denying the existence of mystery.” (34)
1. One of a series of unpublished “parallacts” or couplets composed by Flaus. See, also, John Flaus, Parallacts: Motley Saws and Modest Conceits, Mark Time Books, 2012. Most of the film-related “parallacts” are published or republished elsewhere in this tribute dossier.
2. This and the previous quotation from Flaus are taken from Adrian Martin, “Say it With Flaus”, XPress vol. 1, no. 5, August-October 1986, pp. 14-15.
3. Quoted with additional comments paraphrased and adapted from Meaghan Morris, “In-Digestion (Part One): A Rhetoric of Reviewing”, Filmnews vol. 12, no. 6, June 1983, p. 15. The distinction between reviewing and criticism is also quoted from this source.
4. All quotations in this paragraph are taken from John Flaus, “Films of the Quarter: Jules and Jim”, Film Journal no. 22, October 1963, pp. 19-26.
5. Martin, p. 15. In addition to Lola and Listen to Britain, the films nominated were Two-Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman, 1971), Le Samouraï (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967), Vredens dag (Day of Wrath, Carl Dreyer, 1943), The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942), Ride Lonesome (Budd Boetticher, 1959), His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940), Manpower (Raoul Walsh, 1941), Young Mr. Lincoln (John Ford, 1939), War Comes to America (Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak, 1945), and the short films Hapax Legomena III: Critical Mass (Hollis Frampton, 1971) and Brick Wall. Refer to Flaus’ 2012 international poll in Sight and Sound for a revised “canon”: http://explore.bfi.org.uk/sightandsoundpolls/2012/voter/479.
6. Realism allows us to relate to the characters with the breadth of response of our everyday experience by closing the psychic gap between the illusion and the viewer who gains a strong sense of sharing, not merely witnessing, the emotional force field of the characters. The probability of dramatised events and speech is co-extensive with the world they represent. Characterisation is restricted to behavioural observation without privileged camera placement or editing and accords with probability in our own lives. Thoroughgoing realism is restricted in providing us with full information about the characters’ inner lives; we have to infer their emotions and values along the same lines of inference we use in our everyday dealings with people. This contrasts with stylised representation which may be concentrated in its effect but leaves some part – possibly major parts – of the viewer’s emotional life untouched, unchallenged. (Adapted from Flaus’ critiques of Mullet and Innocence published in Senses of Cinema and Metro in 2001 and rendered in a more complete form in “Notes on Going Down” published in 2009 in Senses of Cinema.)
7. Flaus, “Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di Biciclette)”, Sydney University Film Group Bulletin vol. 3, no. 12, Second Term 1965, pp. 297.
8. Flaus, “La Notte”, Sydney University Film Group Bulletin vol. 3, no. 8, Lent Term 1964, pp. 193-94.
9. Michael Roemer, “The Surfaces of Reality”, Film Quarterly, Fall 1964, p. 22, quoted in Flaus, “Les Amants”, Sydney University Film Group Bulletin vol. 4, no. 2, First Term 1966, p. 40.
10. Flaus, “The Exiles”, Sydney University Film Group Bulletin vol. 3, no. 12, Second Term 1965, p. 295.
11. Flaus, “Dilemmas of a Filmnik”, Red and Black no. 2, Winter 1966: http://www.takver.com/history/sydney/flaus_j.htm#writings.
12. Flaus, “Occasional Work of a Female Slave”, CTEQ Annotationsno. 4, 1996, p. 7.
13. All quotations on La Peau douce are taken from Flaus, “More Than Skin Deep: La Peau douce”, Film Digest no. 28 (December 1967): 11-22. Republished in this tribute dossier.
14. Flaus is now more reserved in his assessment of La Peau douce.
15. Flaus, “Dilemmas of a Filmnik”. The citations in the following two paragraphs are also from this source unless otherwise noted.
16. Otto Baensch quoted in “Thanks for your heart, Bart” Continuum vol. 5, no. 2, 1991, p. 191 (section: “Emotion, Paramotion, Epimotion”). Also available at: http://wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/ReadingRoom/5.2/Flaus.html.
17. See Noël Carroll, Mystifying Movies: Fads and Fallacies in Contemporary Film Theory, Columbia University Press, New York and Oxford, 1988, p. 107.
18. Adrian Martin, “Incursions”, The Language and Style of Film Criticism, ed. Alex Clayton and Andrew Klevan, Routledge, New York, 2011, p. 58.
19. “Melville: Le Samourai”, Cinema Papers no. 1, January 1974, pp. 56-57. All further quotations relating to Melville are taken from this source. Republished in this tribute dossier.
20. Flaus, “More Than Skin Deep: La Peau douce”, p. 11.
21. Reference to Baensch in Flaus, “Thanks for your heart, Bart”, p. 191.
22. Flaus, “Thanks for your heart, Bart”, p. 191.
23. Other Westerns programmed by Flaus but not listed in the appendix are Along Came Jones, 3:10 to Yuma, Rough Company and The Wonderful Country. He also programmed the following gangster films not listed in Appendix B: Murder by Contract, The Lineup, Underworld U.S.A.
24. Flaus, “The Western Myth: Ride Lonesome and Guns in the Afternoon”, Sydney University Film Group Bulletin, First Term 1970, p. 45.
25. Andrew Sarris described the Ranown westerns as “constructed partly as allegorical odysseys and partly as floating poker games where every character took turns at bluffing about his hand until the final showdown”. See The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-68, E. P. Dutton, New York, 1968, p. 124.
26. See Flaus, “Budd Boetticher”, Senses of Cinema no. 16 September 2001: http://sensesofcinema.com/2001/festival-reports/boetticher-2/; and Bruce Hodsdon, “Budd Boetticher and the Westerns of Ranown”, Senses of Cinema no. 15, July 2001: http://sensesofcinema.com/2001/festival-reports/biff_boetticher/.
27. Flaus, “An Impressionist Work: Mullet”, Senses of Cinema no. 14, June 2001: http://sensesofcinema.com/2001/14/mullet/.
28. Flaus, “Innocence: Haunted by the Past”, Metro no. 126, Summer 2001, pp. 78-85.
29. See Flaus, “The Big Heat”, CTEQ Annotations on Film no. 2, 1996, pp. 7-9. Republished in this tribute dossier.
30. Flaus, “Stromboli”, Senses of Cinema no. 8, July 2000: http://sensesofcinema.com/2000/cteq/stromboli/.
31. Flaus, “Memoir of Albie”, Senses of Cinema no. 66, March 2013: http://sensesofcinema.com/2013/66/memoir-of-albie/.
32. Martin, pp. 58-61.
33. See the two pieces by Flaus in Paul Winkler: Films 1964-94, Museum of Contemporary Art and Paul Winkler, Sydney, 1995, pp. 9-11, 24. These are republished in this tribute dossier.
34. Flaus, “In the Mind’s Eye”, Paul Winkler: Films 1964-94, p. 9.
Appendix A: “Thanks for your heart, Bart”
While it is actor and performance centred, Flaus’ seminal essay provides many insights into the collaborative art of filmmaking especially between actor and director. This appendix is designed to offer an entry point to Flaus’ essay, not a substitute for it or a summing up. As the main access to “Thanks for your heart, Bart” is now online, references to where more information can be found in the essay are given by subheadings rather than the page numbers included when first published by Continuum in 1992.
Note that bracketed terms in the schema – metteur en scene and auteur – are not singled out for discussion in the essay except by implication and example. A number of other terms are employed and briefly defined in the course of Flaus’ essay including catachronicity, profilmic, diegesis (the fictional world), agonic, rhetorical space, paramotion and epimotion, wit and humour, lamprotetic, the pistol shot and the Janus shot.
Parameters of Film Production
Directing: directing actors and assigning dramatic priorities to pictorial factors.
|(metteur en scène)||mise en scène||(auteur)|
See (section headings): “Art and Beauty”; “Rhetorical Space and Area”; “Pride and Precedence”; “Pictorial Ascendancy”
See (section heading): “Pulse”
See (section headings): especially, “Emotion, Paramotion, Epimotion”; “Bad, Good, Great”; “Shift, Depth, Range”; “Expressionism and Impressionism”
See (section headings): “Phasis, Emphasis, Enclisis”
See section headings): “Phasis, Emphasis, Enclisis”
Ancillaries: cinematography, music, effects, décor, location, etc.
The key parameters on the film set – direction, acting and dialogue –each form a continuum, the range defined between two poles as represented above. In addition, a fourth parameter of editing has been added, insofar as editing decisions can be predetermined by directorial decisions in the course of filming (e.g. “in camera” editing versus multiple camera coverage).
Flaus’ insights rest on the notion of interplay on the film set between the key parameters, as can be inferred from viewing the completed work. This places the film, as we experience/perceive it, on the inside, rather than the reductive placement of it in a systemof signification from the outside according to material preconditions.
Within each parameter is a continuum of potential choices, decisions made in calling the shots, setting the camera and directing the actors. These are not so much confined as discrete “givens”, but choices arrived at on the set, as for example in the degrees of impressionist merging into expressionist performance that deploys specific modes of dialogue delivery.
The continuum in dialogue is from the phatic (conveying general sociability rather than specific meaning) to the emphatic(expression with forcible significance). Enclisisworks less perceptibly, transferring stress from “normal” to a less obvious but still conventional place in the text. An emphatic performance, Flaus suggests, is generally given favoured coverage in the mise en scène, thus attracting admiration and remembrance; a phatic performance is most often placed on the outer, not given its own space. An actor of skill can shift from one mode to the other within the same scene.
The designated poles in the directing continuum are not polar opposites comparable to those of impressionism and expressionism in performance, or phatic and emphatic in dialogue. The term metteur en scène–literally the “setter of the scene” – is designated at one end of the continuum for the journeyman who competently but anonymously directs pretty much according to the set rules and conventions (as in much TV drama). The auteur (author) shapes meaning through mise en scène, the what and the how unified through visual style – the “orchestration” of meaning through the actors and assignment of dramatic priorities to pictorial factors – in other words, to quote Flaus, “the movie director’s province of creativity” (p. 195). Thus Antonioni’s direction in La Notte is an unconventional alternation of expressionist and impressionist methods; in their use of averted eyelines in Gertrud (Carl Dreyer, 1964) and There’s Always Tomorrow (Douglas Sirk, 1956), Sirk’s pictorial expressionism is subtler than Dreyer’s. All three “take delicately judged risks of breaking the cinematic illusion, and depend upon their actors’ skills and respect for a medium where the theatrical canon is irrelevant” (p. 202).
For most movies in classical narrative the story unfolds with dramatic emphasis on only one of the three parameters of dialogue, performance and directing. If dialogue is “up”, performance might be “steady” and directing might be self effacing, “down”. One draws attention, another holds it and the third transfers it to either or both of the other two…. Of course there are degrees of “up” and “down”, and there may be frequent regravitations of emphasis among the three. A scene which has too many “ups” will usually betray strain, and usually because the director has lost [his/her] nerve and is pushing the audience into responses which exhaust the meaning of the story. (p. 204)
Flaus suggests that this is a risk “[e]xpressionist directors have to take”, and that “[p]erhaps the only director who consistently succeeded in keeping all three ‘up’ was Josef von Sternberg. He managed to do so by sustaining a massive counterbalance of irony – much of it in the stylization of the acting” (p. 204). Aki Kaurismäki would seem to be a rare example of a director of “mainstream” feature films who works frequently with all three parameters depressed.
Classical Narrative and After
This is a classification system of my own devising drawing on the content of many of Flaus’ critiques. Titles available online (including in the accompanying dossier) are bolded. I have also added titles lacking on or offline critiques (bracketed) that Flaus nominated in his canon, or in two cases (Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle, Jeanne Dielman…) referred to as key films.
Classical (genre): Blood Money, Hell’s Highway, Back Street, Peter Ibbetson, Manpower, Under Capricorn, The Big Heat, There’s Always Tomorrow, Ride Lonesome, The Tall T, The Searchers, The Far Country, Buchanan Rides Alone, The Last of the Fast Guns, Guns in the Afternoon (Ride the High Country), Pete Kelly’s Blues, The Killers (Don Siegel, 1964), Yojimbo, (His Girl Friday), (Young Mr. Lincoln)
High-end Classicism (testing the boundaries): Morocco, Le Samouraï, An Autumn Afternoon, (Day of Wrath), (Lola), Les Amants, (The Magnificent Ambersons)
Post-Classical: Jules et Jim, La Peau douce, Journal d’un cure de campagne (Diary of a Country Priest), Two-Lane Blacktop, Stromboli, Mullet, Palm Beach (in “Memoir of Albie”), Bicycle Thieves, La Notte, Miller’s Crossing
Anti-Classical: Gelegenheitsarbeit einer Sklavin (Occasional Work of a Female Slave), Going Down, (Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle), (Jeanne Dielman…)
The Faces of Cinephilia
In 1968, Flaus defined a film buff, quoted by Michael Thornhill in Entertainment Arts in Australia (ed. John Allen, Paul Hamlyn, London et. al., p. 102), as a “compulsive aesthete of the cinema… often a secret romantic caught in one of our cultural traps”. Filmnik was proposed by Thornhill to distinguish how their anarchism informed the way he, Flaus and others associated with the Sydney Push, talked and wrote about film. “We were interested in looking at film in a cultural and political context, both the aesthetics and the ideology”, Flaus has been quoted as saying. “We’d look at the operation of American production companies, at distribution issues.” See Anne Coombs, Sex and Anarchy: The Life and Death of the Sydney Push,Viking, Ringwood, Vic., 1996, p. 193. Film lush, coined but not explicitly defined by Flaus (see his essay on von Sternberg), might be described as a film buff whose obsession with cinema transmutes into fetishistic desire – or, in plain language, a film addict whose actual existence may be more metaphoric than actual. Cinephilia is a form of cinematic encounter, a love of cinema largely freed of any of the pejorative connotations of buffism (which is nevertheless cinephilia) that found expression in the pages of Cahiers du Cinéma in the 1950s. It was subsequently internationalised, as an alternative to Hollywood’s domination of the world cinema market, in the burgeoning of art house exhibition and the international film festival network from the 1960s, and, from circa 2000, by the growth of a worldwide blogging and broader online community. It has already been the subject of at least three book-length studies.