As Ian Pryor writes on AudioCulture’s sister site NZ On Screen, “When Fane Flaws fills out an airport arrivals card, it must be hard to pick a profession. Artist probably summarises it best.” Musician, songwriter, performer, visual artist, film director, animator, video and TV commercial director, Flaws has brought all his talents to his work directing some unforgettable moments of New Zealand music television. This online exhibition of film and video work comes courtesy of NZ On Screen.
Spats – New Wave Goodbye (performer – 1978)
Wellington band Spats emerged in the late 70s, around the nucleus of Fane Flaws, Tony Backhouse and Peter Dasent. ‘New Wave Goodbye’ helped them successfully transition from slick mid-70s pop to sassy, sardonic post-punk pop band The Crocodiles, fronted by Jenny Morris. Flaws is the main male vocalist in the clip, which features dance troupe Limbs as energetic extras. It was directed by Flaws’ old BLERTA cohort, Geoff Murphy, who was about to break through with his hit film Goodbye Pork Pie. Recalled Flaws, “We recorded the music, made the video, but it was never a single, because we didn’t have a record company … We always got something wrong.”
The Crocodiles – Any Day of the Week (performer, director – 1979)
For his first director’s credit on a music video – in an early clip for his band The Crocodiles – Flaws referenced the final rooftop concert by The Beatles. The location is near Parliament in Wellington and, long before drone cameras, the overhead shots were achieved during an unauthorised visit to the top floor of a nearby government building.
The Crocodiles – Tears (performer, co-writer – 1980)
‘Tears’ was the breakthrough song for The Crocodiles, and the biggest hit for songwriting duo Fane Flaws and Arthur Baysting. The clip, by an uncredited director, shows all the hallmarks of being filmed at TVNZ’s Avalon studios: white background, miming band dressed in bubblegum-coloured costumes. It brought vocalist Jenny Morris into the nation’s living rooms, reminded the public that Bruno Lawrence was a drummer long before he acted in Goodbye Pork Pie, and went to No.17 in the New Zealand singles charts.
Radio With Pictures – opening titles (1987)
After 11 years on TVNZ, but firmly entrenched as Sunday night cult viewing, music show Radio With Pictures needed a revamp. So RWP producer Brent Hansen recruited Flaws to utilise his animation skills to create an opening sequence. Endlessly watchable, the clip won three awards. “It was really primitive animation because I didn’t really know what I was doing,” Flaws recalled. “I animated by instinct which is kind of nice but it’s definitely not sophisticated.” Underneath the surreal visuals is ‘The Calamity Music’ written by Peter Dasent, longtime Flaws collaborator, and former member of Spats and The Crocodiles.
Holidaymakers – Sweet Lovers (1988)
The video for Wellington band Holidaymakers was shot on a low budget, but exemplifies Flaws’ use of rich colours and lighting. According to NZ On Screen, the clip captures the song’s infectious brightness and warmth: “With a collection of lamps the only consideration to props and special effects, nothing detracts from the compelling performances by vocalists Peter Marshall and Mara Finau.” Holidaymakers’ version of the song by US musician Bill (‘Lean on Me’) Withers was the biggest New Zealand single of 1988, spending six weeks at No.1.
Tim Finn – Parihaka (1989)
This video of a gentle song that pays tribute to one of the most brutal episodes in Māori-Pākehā history was shot by Flaws, with cinematographer Alun Bollinger, after hours in Auckland Art Gallery, centred around Colin McCahon’s ‘Parihaka’ triptych.
The Mutton Birds – Dominion Road (1992)
With an energy that matches the fast-paced clip of The Mutton Birds’ first single, Flaws combines sped-up, filtered colour, location footage with the band performing in black and white. As a narrative link, we observe the man from the halfway house, halfway down Auckland’s arterial north/south route, Dominion Road.
The Mutton Birds – Nature (1992)
The Mutton Birds’ 1992 revival of The Fourmyula’s 1969 classic won another video award for Fane Flaws. According to NZ On Screen, it features a “battery of kaleidoscopic and psychelic digital effects … to evoke the joys of nature”, plus guest vocalist Jan Hellriegel. With two entires in the New Zealand charts, 23 years apart, the song by Wayne Mason was voted best New Zealand song of the last 25 years by songwriters’ agency APRA in 2001.
The Front Lawn – The Beautiful Things (1993)
The dark underbelly of New Zealand suburbia, seen through the eyes of The Front Lawn’s Don McGlashan and Harry Sinclair, using domestic symbolism, and interpreted by director Fane Flaws. NZ On Screen: “This award-winning video offers a retro ode to the thrill of consumerism. It becomes increasingly frenzied, with cheesy graphics and salesman Harry Sinclair’s passion for ‘beautiful things’ getting kinky.”
The Mutton Birds – Anchor Me (1994)
Full fathom five – Don McGlashan’s Silver Scroll-winning song for The Mutton Birds seems timeless, thanks to its use in films and radio play. Fane Flaws went back to the oil-based psychedelic slide shows of his youth, for multi-coloured, kinetic backdrops to McGlashan’s “plea for safe harbour”. The video was nominated for a NZ Film Award.
The Mutton Birds – The Heater (1994)
The Mutton Birds’ only No.1 hit – about a domestic appliance – was voted the favourite video of the year by Max TV viewers. Flaws’ fourth video for the group sees McGlashan in the lead role, and his fellow musicians in character as a seedy second-hand dealer (David Long) and Salvation Army brass section (Ross Burge and Alan Gregg). McGlashan’s mother is played by Elizabeth McRae, whose long theatrical career was eclipsed by her 1990s role as Marj in Shortland Street.
The Narcs – Diamonds on China (1985)
The video Flaws directed for The Narcs’ 1985 single captures the zeitgeist, matching its anxious electro-pop rhythms and brass stabs with a combination of techniques then fashionable: cutaways, split screens, busy editing, primary colours, shots of video games, and Flaws’ own distinctive illustrations. The ‘Diamonds on China’ clip won him video of the year at the 1985 NZ Music Awards.
The Underwatermelon Man short film (2006)
Flaws’ labour of love The Underwatermelon Man began life in 1999 as a children’s book of his illustrations, plus a CD, featuring 25 songs written with Arthur Baysting and Peter Dasent, and performed by an all-star cast of New Zealand musicians, including Chris Knox, Che Fu, Jenny Morris and Bic Runga. It then became a musical, and finally the “full psychedelic potential of the music was unleashed” (NZ On Screen). On his Elsewhere website in 2012, Graham Reid wrote: “Flaws’ delightful, dazzlingly colourful animation is a treat, and with short songs which don't patronise kids with moronically repetitive melodies and inane lyrics, this is one of those repeat-play items which is timeless in its humour and which doesn’t outstay its welcome at 40 minutes.”
From Len Lye to Gollum – New Zealand Animators (2004)
A fascinating history of New Zealand animation, placing Flaws alongside pioneers such as Len Lye, and later exponents such as Dick Frizzell (Ches & Dale of Chesdale Cheese fame), Weta Digital, and Animation Research.
Funny As interview (2019)
Flaws did this 95-minute interview for the Funny As series about the history of New Zealand comedy. He discusses almost every aspect of his multifarious, accidental career: performances with BLERTA, Spats, and The Crocodiles; the many TV commercials he directed; the rollercoaster experience of The Underwatermelon Man – and his collaborations with talents such as Bruno Lawrence, John Clarke, Arthur Baysting, and The Front Lawn.
Two TV commercials by Fane Flaws
Read more: Fane Flaws’ biography at NZ On Screen, written by Ian Pryor.
Watch more: Fane Flaws’ channel at YouTube.