Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Richard Lowenstein, Lynn-Maree Milburn.
Local filmmaker Richard Lowenstein has long had a fascination with Melbourne’s punk rock scene, through films like Dogs In Space, his collaborations with INXS, and the documentary We’re All Living On Dog Food, etc. Together with long time collaborator Lynn-Maree Milburn Lowenstein gives us this warts and all documentary about the late guitarist Rowland S Howard, who died in 2009, aged 50.
Although not a household name, Howard was a cult figure at the forefront of the underground punk rock movement in Australia through his involvement with seminal bands like The Birthday Party, The Boys Next Door and later The Immortal Souls. He was a virtuoso guitarist who could make his guitar sing, and he had an enormous impact on the post-punk music scene, both locally and internationally. He was also an underrated songwriter, known for his poetic lyrics.
Drawing upon rare grainy concert footage, archival footage, still photographs and recordings, and talking head interviews, Lowenstein traces Howard’s career from the early wild days of the Melbourne pub rock scene of the 1970’s through tours in London, Berlin and New York, to his later renaissance.
There is no voice over narration to provide insights into Howard’s life; rather the personal details come from an extensive interview with Howard himself. This interview was filmed before his death, and he looks gaunt and wasted as he talks candidly about his drug addiction, his battle with depression, his troubled relationships, and of course his music. And many colleagues, like Nick Cave and fellow Birthday Party member Mick Harvey, who talk about the internal politics and the dynamics of the band. Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie, and Henry Rollins talk about his influence as a musician and the significance of his songs. German filmmaker Wim Wenders, who cast Howard in his film Wings Of Desire, even contributes an anecdote.
Autoluminescent offers in-depth look at this significant era of the Australian rock music scene, and is a must see for fans. For those, like myself, who know little about Howard or the impact and musical legacy of this enigmatic guitarist/singer/songwriter, Autoluminescent serves as a suitable primer.