John Flaus, Parallacts: Motley Saws and Modest Conceits (Mark Time Books 2012)
I was extremely lucky in the timing of my university studies. I started at Sydney Uni in 1967 when, because of an overhaul of the New South Wales school system, only a very small cohort had graduated from high school the year before. I was two years out of school myself, and for the next four years, I rubbed shoulders with a wonderful bunch of irregulars, especially the group doing Eng Lit Hons. Among them was a burly guy in his mid thirties who enlivened our seminars on pre-Shakespearean English drama with references to John Ford’s Westerns and wrote learned essays on film for the student newspaper, sometimes as Sean Borelich, borelich being Middle English for hairy, in honour of his impressive salt and pepper beard.
That was John Flaus. He could be relied on for an interesting opinion of any new film released downtown – memorably, Rosemary’s Baby was ‘a turd of a movie, a beautifully polished turd, but still a turd’. At SU Film Group screenings and occasional events at the Filmmakers’ Co-op, then in a space above a restaurant in Dixon Street, he educated us in the movies (which weren’t included in any university courses in that time and place). I learned from him that Hollywood produced art: it was OK to love the films of Roger Corman (which I already did) and Budd Boetticher (which he introduced me to). During one informal seminar–screening of Raoul Walsh’s Roaring Twenties, he rewound the film at one point so we could watch again Marlene Dietrich’s marvellous first, slow-blinking appearance. This was before the existence of VCRs or rewind buttons and just magical for the likes of me. John back then was a passionate advocate for film, autodidact, fanboy, nerd, polymath, teacher.
Since then, though he has generally flown under the mainstream media’s radar, his distinctive voice has been heard widely in the land as a critic and promoter of excellence in film. In the 1970s he embarked on an acting career. As far as I know his first reel outings were as himself in Dave Jones’s little-seen wonder Yackety Yack in 1974, and then a main role in John Ruane’s 1976 short film Queensland. My most recent sighting was as one of the chorus of codgers in the pub in Jack Irish on ABC TV.
All that is by way of explaining my delight when I stumbled this slim volume on the poetry shelves at Sappho’s bookshop, and for that matter my delight in reading it. It contains 120 couplets, each fitting the formal requirements announced in the first two:
THE PARALLACT (1)
Where differing perspectives contend;
Two lines, each of nine voiced syllables.
THE PARALLACT (2)
With the option of one ‘free syllable.
A discipline of my own devising.
Within this tight form, he fits all manner of things: philosophical, satirical or just plain smart-alecky observations, evocations of the turning points of movies and classic stories (Biblical, Greek, Norse, Japanese …), overheard snippets, jokes, paradoxes. The word ‘discipline’ is key. There is so much that could be said on the subject of each of these couplets, but the speaker – naturally discursive – ties himself down to just 18 or 19 syllables. You need background knowledge to appreciate quite a few of them, such as this:
He comes victorious, true to vow;
She goes to greet him, dancing, joyful.
But in these cases, including about 20 referring to movies, he generally adds a note so the reader can chase up the reference (in the case of ‘Jephthah’s Bargain’, the note says, ‘See: Judges 11′).
Here are a few more:
BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLUE SINGLET
Sunburned, sweaty and staunch, yet denied
Our rightful place in the nation’s pride.
‘Where yous goin’?’ – I’m not joining you;
‘Where yez goin’?’ – I’d like to come too.
They stole our land, laid waste our culture.
We occupied their literature.
I don’t suppose Flaus has considered starting up a blog where he posts regular parallactic film reviews and other observations. If he did, I’d subscribe. And one last thing:
Knowing no limits to questing thought,
he brings home the bacon, takes the pith.