Tuesday, 9 August 2011


Just under two years after the crown prince of the crying jag's untimely death, this much expected documentary named after one of his songs was shown at Melbourne International Film Festival.

A collaborative work by Richard Lowenstein, Lynn Maree Milburn and Andrew de Groot, the film depicts the Australian musician's career and life in a very honest, unbiased, clever and even humorous way, gathering lots of rare footage and many interviews of Rowland himself and people he was involved with in his musical and private lives.

One does not have to be a die-hard fan of Howard to enjoy the documentary, which is informative and beyond the life and times of a visionary, also puts into perspective the status of an uncompromising artist from down under, given the outcome of The Birthday Party once they settled down in Europe, in Berlin especially, and his trail when he returned to his native land.

Autoluminescent also emphasizes the difficulty of fitting in a band when one wants to write very personal tunes and when someone else gets to sing them, as in the legacy of the song "Shivers", written when Rowland S. Howard was 16.

His contribution to Crime & The City Solution and their appearance in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire substantiate his massive influence (and real screen presence), an influence also prominent in his work with Nikki Sudden, Lydia Lunch and his band These Immortal Souls, making his mark in each project.

The interviews include a rather magnanimous Nick Cave and portray a man praised by eminent souls from different genres and generations, grand critical appreciation is indeed bestowed on him despite commercial overlook.

This rich documentary will hopefully turn the younger generations on to him.

In the light of the flick, one gets a better grasp of who this character truly was day in, day out, behind closed doors, without glorifying him, his entourage acknowledging his darker side. Some excerpts from his book ETCETERACIDE, read by JP Shilo, take you deeper into the mindset of a creative genius, into his obsessions and vulnerabilities, as a sort of de profundis journal mixed with fiction.

An impressive collection of pictures which you may find yourself marvelling at also adorn the movie.

Long time friends and bandmates Mick Harvey and Genevieve Mc Guckin co-produced Autoluminescent. Harvey recently dedicated Rowland the song "October Boy" off his new album Sketches From The Book Of The Dead, a beautiful, heartfelt and thus utterly moving homage.

The film is worth seeing again and again and anyone who watches it once can somewhat appreciate what a truly unique and innovative guitarist Rowland was, an infinitely inspiring sonic architect gifted beyond belief, with the meanest tone ever, a sound that blows your head off, gets to your inner self and takes you to another world. He played his gutts out and was also a wonderous lyricist, a poet in his own right, who penned quintessential songs of longing. He also comes across as a howling mind with much humor, wit and honesty, a man whose demons (drug abuse) were unfortunately and eventually his undoing.

His death from liver cancer has deprived us of a landmark of contemporary music and of underground culture, beyond music even. A rock dandy, a masterclass of style, a meteor of sound and fury, one of those few artists whose impact is life-changing.

Howard has an indelible grip on his fans' perception of music, which is all one would expect from an artist: blazing one's own radical and unflinching path, propelling you into another dimension, leaving this world different than one found it and leaving a lasting imprint. Henry James once said " We work in the dark, we do what we can, the rest is the madness of art".

Rowland is its living proof, the essence of art incarnated and his spirit lives on with Autoluminescent.

A must-see documentary, "tattooed in a ring round your heart"...

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