I met John some time in 1960. He was a cinephile and an anarchist who had some sort of job on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I was a first year Arts student. Both of us were members of the Sydney University Film Group (SUFG). I had no idea then of the range of his talents and the generosity with which he would share them in the coming years.
SUFG found some money to produce a short film and John volunteered to adapt Stephen Crane’s “The Upturned Face”, producing a script that in John’s characteristic fashion was exceptionally precise in its mapping of camera movements (“tilted up 30 degrees while describing a semi circle around a complementary line of vision to the corpse”).
John and I were both part of the Sydney Push along with fellow cineastes Mike Thornhill and Ken Quinnell. In fact we next worked together on an adaptation by Quinnell of Frank Moorhouse’s short story “The American Poet’s Visit”, which Thornhill directed. This film marks the start of John’s long career as an actor. He must have appeared in more than 100 films since then and they encompass a wide range of Australiana.
Later, when I moved into film production, John appeared in several films for me: Love Letters From Teralba Road, Newsfront, Grievous Bodily Harm, Spotswood and The Last of the Ryans. He has left his individual mark on so many films over 45 years including Yackety Yack, Queensland, Traps, Palm Beach, the Jack Irish TV movies and Tracks.
When I came to work in Melbourne in the 1980s I heard John and Paul Harris recommending a screening of Olmi’s Camminacammina at the Carlton Bughouse the next night. Having no idea of the reach of the programme I was surprised to join a long queue in which many of the filmgoers were talking about Film Buff’s Forecast. For as long as I have known him John has tirelessly proselytised for films that might otherwise remain little known. Film Buff’s Forecast gave John a platform that worked for him and his audience
John has planned to retire many times. Some years ago I attended what was to be his last appearance on stage in The Cherry Orchard. While I was talking with him afterwards he was confirming the details for his next audition. He still had much to contribute.
John is a person of great integrity – terrific company, extremely erudite and a good friend. I have attended conferences with him, parties, demonstrations and screenings. We have heard the chimes at midnight many times.