Image: Buchanan Rides Alone (Budd Boetticher, 1958)

The following short piece should be read as an unreliable memoir. John Flaus (hereinafter referred to as JF) was not a capitalist or even a tyro businessman. But he was and is a cultural entrepreneur. He read the classics and some critical theory, but as one of the most important, if not the major, film critics in this country, he was always his own person and was not addicted to any major critical theory – especially the so-called “auteur theory”. The late Andrew Sarris (when he was film critic for The Village Voice in New York City) mistranslated Truffaut’s expression “la politique des auteurs” – the policy or the polemic of the authors; included in a seminal 1954 article published in Cahiers du Cinéma – as the “auteur theory”. JF never fell for the ruse that a polemic and a theory are one and the same thing. Nor did he, in his enthusiasms for the work of certain directors, pretend that there were not other influences such as the Hollywood studios, independent financiers, producers and stars that influenced how and what got made.

Two short points: In the late 1960s Hoyts suburban cinemas used to put on a double-bill of Westerns on Wednesday evenings. JF would shuttle between the cinemas having influenced the managers to swap programs around so that he could see the films that were of most relevance to him. JF programmed from time to time at the Sydney University Film Group (SUFG). He also wrote many short and long-form crits for the SUFG magazine (Sydney University Film Group Bulletin). This involved relating to the SUFG members as well as enlightening them. These two unrelated activities were part of the discipline that made JF Australia’s preeminent film critic.

Now all that has to happen is for some enlightened soul to collect and publish his vast repertoire of critiques.

About The Author

Michael Thornhill has been closely involved with both the creative and business aspects of the Australian film and television industries for almost 50 years. He started his career by making short films while working as a film critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian. He is the director and producer of such feature films as Between Wars, The F.J. Holden and The Everlasting Secret Family, and directed John Flaus in his first onscreen performance in The American Poet’s Visit (1969).

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