Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard

On the eve of the cinematic release of Autoluminescent, the new feature length documentary film about the life and music of Rowland S. Howard, FasterLouder chatted to directors Richard Lowenstein and Lynn-Maree Milburn about the global process of creating the visual document, their memories of Howard and the emotional journey in light of Howard’s passing in December 2009.

Autoluminescent rose out of the connection that Lowenstein and Milburn made with Howard while filming interview segments for their 2009 film We’re Livin’ On Dog Food which documented the eighties music scene in Melbourne. They realised that there was a story to be told about Howard, his outlook on life and of course the uncompromising musical history of one of this countries most enigmatic and original artists.

The dual direction of the film is an interesting and curious element but as Lowenstein explains it was essential to the type of documentary everyone wanted to make. “The Rowland story needed to have at least two perspectives, if not more because the story wasn’t just about a musician, his music and the history – it was also about his emotions and his relationships. We [Milburn] knew each other and had worked with each for a long time and we knew that the combination including Andrew de Groot our producer and cinematographer would bring out in the short space of time all the nuances we knew were inside the Rowland story including his relationship with woman, his friends and partners and his literature and everything. We needed that extra dimension rather than one person’s narrow minded view.”

Any apprehension about having to negotiate differing opinions about the direction of the film were quickly allayed when the project began and the two directors fell into their naturally comfortable roles. “It was more successful than we thought it would be. In a way we would collaborate but we are both editors and we would work on separate editing machines and sequencers and bang away. I’d be doing the musical history and journey and Lynne would do the more poetic and emotional sequences and then we’d combine them together. The parts then create this really interesting dimension. We physically put sequences together that deal with all the different aspects of Roland’s existence. He was definitely a different person to the male musicians he worked with compared to the women in his life and the female musicians and vocalists he worked with. We tended to divide up the subjects against who was most interested in what chapter of his life. It was a layered process with the three of us and also having Mick Harvey (Boys Next Door, Birthday Party, Bad Seeds), Genevieve McGuckin (co-producer and Howard’s long term friend/partner and band mate) and Rowland’s brother and sister who would sit and look at the overall thing and make comments and we’d go back to the chopping black and make any changes,” explains Lowenstein.

The personal connection that exists between both directors and their subject is what makes Autoluminescent such an absorbing film and that relationship stretches back to the late 70s when Miburn was fresh out of high school and Lowenstein was first learning his trade. “We’re both connected with the music. Lynne saw the Boys Next Door play for the first time at their local community centre when she was just out of high school and I was first introduced to their music when I was at film school. My friends would drag me along to the Tiger Room and also living in a shared house with punks and hippies helped. We knew them as acquaintances over the years but not so we could sit and have long conversations or anything.”

” I think me and Andrew de Groot were in our final year of Swinburne Film School when the second years kids like Paul Goldman (acclaimed music video director) were making the Shivers video so we were aware of and would bump into Rowland on Fitzroy St and nod at each other. It wasn’t until making this film that we got to know him and we would have like to get to know him a lot more but that wasn’t to be. There was a sense with the entire Boys Next Door that they were on a road to somewhere. To Lynne and I, Nick was always the one doing something outrageous but Rowland was the one we’d gravitated towards. We were at many parties and Rowland was one in particular that we’d find the most intriguing.” “Rowland had that special otherness. He was a little more mysterious as Nick was a natural frontman. Rowland countered that with a fierce intensity which was really intriguing,” adds Milburn.

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