Filmmaker, Musician, Artist
When Fane Flaws is filling out his airport arrivals card, it must be difficult to know what to put under ‘profession’. Artist probably summarises it best. Adept in many mediums, this longtime musician and filmmaker has turned his lyrics into paintings, his paintings into music videos, and even created portraits from old pieces of timber.
Mike Flaws graduated from Wellington Polytechnic with a Diploma in Graphic Design in 1971. It was perfect timing for one of his many abrupt turns in a new direction; musician Bruno Lawrence was in the process of forming travelling band Blerta. The bearded, long-haired Flaws talked his way on board, after convincing Bruno that he had a wizard act, and could play guitar.
Having rechristened himself as Fane Flaws, he spent much of the next five years with Blerta. Like Flaws they were difficult to pigeonhole: live performances mixed music, theatre, explosions and projected images of classic paintings. Flaws found himself writing many songs, designing posters, and hanging around with budding film enthusiasts Geoff Murphy, Alun Bollinger and Bruno. Though his involvement in their screen projects was slight, some of their enthusiasm for film rubbed off on him. Flaws was “fascinated by it”.
After five years of trans-Tasman touring with Blerta, Flaws formed new band Spats. The line-up included Bruno, Fane’s longtime accomplice Tony Backhouse and future film composer Peter Dasent. Spats were soon touring the provinces in the aging Blerta-bus, and selling out a Gluepot gig alongside Ian Watkin and Limbs Dance Company.
It was with Spats that Flaws’ design talents began to tentatively expand into music video: he storyboarded the images for early independently-made clip 'New Wave Goodbye' (1978), an infectious piece directed by Blerta’s Geoff Murphy.
Won over by their sound, visiting American music legend Kim Fowley hung around long enough to mentor a name change and give the band much-needed confidence: Spats became The Crocodiles. Single ‘Tears’ (1980), written by Flaws and the multi-talented Arthur Baysting, reached number 17, on its way to Kiwi classic status. The band’s 1980 Sweetwaters performance was a festival highlight.
The Crocodiles soon dissolved thanks partly to overwork, after some gnashing of teeth. Fane joined former Spats members Arthur Baysting and Peter Dasent in Australia. Flaws has often taken a certain pride in claiming that resulting album I Am Joe’s Music, was the lowest-selling in the history of Mushroom Records.
Thankfully creativity — and even cash — can emerge from failure. Three I Am Joe’s Music music videos which Flaws had directed were better received than the album; he decided it might be time to take a break from music, and use music videos as a chance to bone up on different aspects of filmmaking. Used to a musician’s undercapitalised lifestyle, he now found himself at “the clips end, where you not only get to play with film and video, but they pay you to do it! It was totally unheard of, having been a musician for 13 years.”
The first clip Flaws made for others was 'Proud', for expat Kiwi band Drop Bears. Flaws followed it with videos on both sides of the Tasman, including single 'Get Some Humour' for ex Crocodile Jenny Morris, and award-winner 'Diamonds on China', for local band The Narcs. Many more followed: including videos for Dave Dobbyn ('Naked Flame'), The Holidaymakers’ colourful chart-topper Sweet Lovers, Tim Finn hit 'Parihaka' and six clips for The Mutton Birds (including Max TV audience fave 'The Heater,' and Flaws’ memorably psychedelic take on 'Nature').
By 1985, Flaws had moved back to New Zealand. His first solo exhibition of paintings had been in Sydney the previous year; Flaws argued “it’s all connected in a way — music, painting, film.” And animation connected all three. Flaws had dabbled in animation with early poetry film Like You I’m Trapped; in 1987, still feeling his way into the new medium, he won three awards for his distinctive title animation for cult music show Radio With Pictures.
Fuelled by his RWP success, Flaws set up design and animation company No Straight Lines. The company would go on to win awards for everything from uni orientation posters to animated anti-smoking commercials.
Flaws had plans for a feature film that was heavy on live music, and his quirky brand of humour. So far the closest his busy career has managed is 1990 short film Rodney and Juliet, perhaps the only film in Kiwi history to feature singers in all the main roles (though Grahame Maclean thriller Should I Be Good? comes close). Rodney's madcap tale of obsession and threatened suicide won the award for ‘Best First Film’ at the highly regarded Clermont-Ferrand festival in France, and screened at Sundance.
Around the same time, Flaws formed Black Stump Film Company, to make commercials. Over the following eight years he collected more than 40 directing awards for his ads and music videos, before merging Black Stump with his companies Jam and No Straight Lines in 1998, to form FAT Ltd.
Then he branched out into yet another new field: singing book The Underwatermelon Man and Other Unreasonable Rhymes. The accompanying CD includes contributions by many Kiwi music legends. Underwatermelon Man has also been turned into a theatre piece, and a half-hour animated film.
In August 2002, Flaws relocated to Hawkes Bay to concentrate on his artwork; two years later he had his first major solo exhibition in 12 years. Since then Flaws has done screen-printing, still lifes, paintings inspired by songs, and abstracts and portraits using found objects and the ruins of an old shed.
In 2004, The Christchurch Press named Flaws’ solo show Where’s the Big Idea one of its two exhibitions of the year: “provocative, in your face, sharp contemporary painting that stapled assorted cultural sacred cows firmly to the canvas”. In 2009 Flaws co-designed bestselling book Dick Frizzell — The Painter, with Frizzell. The following year Flaws was inducted into The Massey University Design Hall Of Fame. Flaws continues to exhibit his work in both solo and group shows.
Profile written by Ian Pryor
Fane Flaws website. Accessed 17 June 2018
John Dix, Stranded in Paradise (Auckland: Penguin Books, 2005)
Louis Edwards, ‘Paid to Play’ (Interview) - Onfilm, April 1986, Volume 3 No 3, Page 50
Roger Booth, Bruno - The Bruno Lawrence Story (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 1999)