Film review – Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard (2011)

7 November 2011
Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard

Rowland S. Howard

Singer/songwriter Rowland S. Howard hailed from the early Melbourne punk scene where at the age of 16 he wrote ‘Shivers’; a frequently misinterpreted cynical masterpiece about over-dramatised teenage heartbreak. Howard’s abrasive and revolutionary guitar playing drew acclaim from the likes of Kevin Shield (My Bloody Valentine), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) and Henry Rollins (Black Flag), however, his early career playing in Melbourne, London and Berlin saw him in the shadow of fellow Birthday Party member Nick Cave. A tragic romantic and frustrated artist, Howard found a new surge of professional and personal fulfilment, plus wider recognition, just prior to his death at the age of 50 in 2009.

Directed by Richard Lowenstein and Lynn-Maree Milburn, Autoluminescent contains extensive interviews with Howard, who speaks with eloquent and intelligent self-awareness. The documentary also includes revealing interviews with friends, family and colleagues, including Cave, Mick Harvey, Wim Wenders and Lydia Lunch. The resulting portrait of Howard is affectionate, complex and engaging. Most important is the amount of music included in the film, which weaves its way through the narrative to brilliantly encapsulate his legacy.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 392, 2011

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Wrap Up

9 August 2011
The Accordion

The Accordion

Spending yesterday catching up on the recently released Hollywood blockbusters Captain America: The First Avenger and Rise of the Planet of the Apes for the Plato’s Cave podcast, really rammed home just how much I appreciate and value the Melbourne International Film Festival. While the films I saw yesterday were OK, the stream of vacuous trailers that screened beforehand demonstrated how bland and dull so much wide-release cinema currently is. (The latest episode of Plato’s Cave with those reviews plus a rant about bad behaviour in the cinema is now online.)

We are truly blessed to have been exposed to so much diverse and challenging cinema at MIFF during the 17 days of the festival, making me come to the conclusion that one of the main purposes of attending such festivals is to experience stuff outside of your comfort zone and frame of reference. The challenging nature of so many of the films screened is essential to the vibrancy of such a festival and if I loved everything that I saw then I’d frankly be concerned. I hope to be mostly beyond the point of being offended or bored by cinema, but I do relish being troubled, perplexed, confused and annoyed as well as being delighted, moved and provoked. So MIFF this year certainly delivered what I think was a rich festival experience.

MIFF 2011 blog-a-thon team

MIFF 2011 blog-a-thon team: Simon Miraudo, Luke Buckmaster, Glenn Dunks, Thomas Caldwell and Jess Lomas. (Not pictured: Brad Nguyen)

I also love the social aspect of MIFF and while I wasn’t as socially active online or in the real world due to committing to the 60 film blog-a-thon challenge, I did love hearing from people who commented here, on Twitter, on Facebook and most especially in person. It was great having strangers, old friends and people I’d only previously encountered online come over to chat about what they’d seen and respond to what I had written. This year there was a real sense of mutual respect and interest in the different ways that people respond to cinema, not to mention a sense of camaraderie that we were taking part in the festival experience together regardless of whether we were seeing 60 films or 10. An extra big shout-out to everybody who allowed me to profile them in my Show us your MIFF spot and to all those who inadvertently provided me with material for my MIFFhaps spots, especially Joel.

So, what about the films themselves? I’ve worked out that I attended 61 sessions, which doesn’t including the two session that I fell asleep during but does include two short film packages. I saw a total of 59 feature films (63 if I include the four I saw in media screenings before the festival) and 16 short films.

My top ten MIFF 2011 feature films:
(not including the retrospective screenings)

Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard (Lynn-Maree Milburn and Richard Lowenstein, 2011)
Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011)
How to Die in Oregon(Peter Richardson, 2011)
The Kid with a Bike (Le gamin au vélo, Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, 2011)
Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, 2011)
Michael (Markus Schleinzer, 2011)
Polisse 
(Maïwenn Le Besco, 2011)
Surviving Life (Přežít svůj život, Jan Švankmajer, 2010)

Tomboy
 (Céline Sciamma, 2011)
The Turin Horse (A torinói ló, Béla Tarr, 2011)

My top five MIFF 2011 short films:

The Accordion (Jafar Panahi, 2010)
All Flowers in Time (Jonathan Caouette, 2010)
Las Palmas (Johannes Nyholm, 2011)
Sophie Lavoie (Anne Émond, 2010)
Stardust (Nicolas Provost, 2010)

And finally, here is the list of all the feature films that I saw. To give you a very general guide of what I thought about them all I have added star ratings, but please don’t take them too seriously! Each title clicks through to my thoughts of those films that I wrote during the festival.

13 Assassins (Jūsannin no Shikaku, Takashi Miike, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
3
(Tom Tyker, 2010) ✭✭✩
Another Earth (Mike Cahill, 2011) ✭✭✩
Armadillo (Janus Metz Pedersen, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard (Lynn-Maree Milburn and Richard Lowenstein, 2011)  ✭✭✭✭
Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest (Michael Rapaport, 2011)  ✭✭✭✩
Beauty and the Beast (La belle et la bête, Jean Cocteau, 1946) ✭✭✭✭✩
Beginners (Mike Mills, 2010) ✭✭✭
Being Elmo (Constance Marks, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Ben Lee: Catch my Disease (Amiel Courtin-Wilson, 2011)  ✭✭✭
Black Venus (Vénus noire, Abdellatif Kechiche, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Bobby Fischer Against the World (Liz Garbus, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Boxing Gym (Frederick Wiseman, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (Alex Gibney, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Cold Fish (Tsumetai nettaigyo, Sion Sono, 2010) ✭✭✭
Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
End of Animal (Jo Sung-hee, 2010) ✭✭✭
The Eye of the Storm (Fred Schepisi, 2011) reviews embargoed
Fire in Babylon (Stevan Riley, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Give Up Tomorrow (Michael Collins, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Good Bye (Bé omid é didar, Mohammad Rasoulof, 2011) ✭✭✭
The Guard (John Michael McDonagh, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Guilty of Romance (Koi no tsumi, Sion Sono, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Hobo with a Shotgun (Jason Eisener, 2011) ✭✭
How to Die in Oregon (Peter Richardson, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
I Am Eleven (Genevieve Bailey, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Jane Eyre (Cary Fukunaga, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Jess + Moss (Clay Jeter, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
The Kid with a Bike (Le gamin au vélo, Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1982) ✭✭✭✭
Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäki, 2011) ✭✭✭
Life in a Day (Kevin Macdonald, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Magic Trip (Alison Ellwood and Alex Gibney, 2011) ✭✭✭
Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, 2011)  ✭✭✭✭
Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Michael (Markus Schleinzer, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
The Mill and the Cross (Lech Majewski, 2011) ✭✭✭
Norwegian Wood (Noruwei no mori, Tran Anh Hung, 2010) ✭✭✭
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir zamanlar Anadolu’da, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Outside Satan (Hors Satan, Bruno Dumont, 2011) ✭✭✭
Polisse (Maïwenn Le Besco, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Project Nim (James Marsh, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
Route Irish (Ken Loach, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Senna (Asif Kapadia, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
The Silence of Joan (Jeanne captive, Philippe Ramos, 2011) ✭✭
Sing Your Song (Susanne Rostock, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
A Stoker (Kochegar, Alexei Balabanov, 2010) ✭✭
Submarine (Richard Ayoade, 2010) ✭✭✩
Super (James Gunn, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Surviving Life (Přežít svůj život, Jan Švankmajer, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
The Swell Season (Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins and Carlo Mirabella-Davis, 2011)  ✭✭✭✩
Tabloid (Errol Morris, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Tatsumi (Eric Khoo, 2011) ✭✭✭
Tomboy (Céline Sciamma, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Toomelah (Ivan Sen, 2011) ✭✭✭
Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren, André Øvredal, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Troubadours (Morgan Neville, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
The Turin Horse (A torinói ló, Béla Tarr, 2011) ✭✭✭✭
Under the Hawthorn Tree (Shan zha shu zhi lian, Zhang Yimou, 2010) ✭✭✭
The Unjust (Bu-dang-geo-rae, Ryoo Seung-wan, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Win Win (Thomas McCarthy, 2011) ✭✭✭✩
The Yellow Sea (Hwanghae, Na Hong-jin, 2010) ✭✭✭✭

Thanks again for reading my MIFF 2011 blog-a-thon entries and I hope you continue to check out the reviews and articles that I post here at least twice a week, once things go back to normal. In the meantime, I think I’ll take a few days off from seeing films and look for some paid work!

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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MIFF 2011 Plato’s Cave special 2

2 August 2011

During our second Melbourne International Film Festival special we discuss Surviving Life, The Unjust, Give Up Tomorrow, The Yellow Sea, Guilty of Romance, Outrage, Under the Hawthorn Tree, Oki’s Movie, Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard, Boxing Gym, Ruhr, Into Eternity, Fire in Babylon, How to Die in Oregon, She Monkey, The Kid with a Bike, Toomelah and Polisse.

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Plato’s Cave also has a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

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MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Part 9

31 July 2011
Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard

Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard

Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard was the film I was most looking forward to this year and the screening I went to was its world premiere, where director Richard Lowenstein revealed that it had only been completed at 5pm the previous day! I am aware that there is a danger with heaping praise on a documentary simply because you like its subject matter, but in the past I have enjoyed docos about subjects I’m not interested in and I have been critical of docos that have poorly presented things I am passionate about. So with as much objectivity as possible, I really do think that Lowenstein and his team have done a wonderful job conveying the life and times of Rowland S Howard. The interviews, music clips and archival footage are woven together beautifully to capture the type of person Howard was during key parts of his life and to also convey the power of his music. Both his song writing and guitar playing are celebrated to express the intensity of The Birthday Party in concert, the legacy of the song ‘Shivers’ and the power that Howard’s later work had on whole new generation of music fans. Autoluminescent is a highlight of the festival and a rare doco that I’d happily watch again, and hopefully soon.

[EDIT 7/11/2011: Read a full review of Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard]

Before the Howard doco I caught another Australian film: Ivan Sen’s Toomelah about a troubled 10-year-old boy who befriends the local drug dealers. Toomelah has a lot in common with Mad Bastards since it not only features actor Dean Daley-Jones in a supporting role, but it’s about absent fathers and disconnection from culture in an Indigenous Australian community. Sen captures the dynamics of the community by filming on location and predominantly using non-professional actors living in the former Mission in rural New South Wales. While overall not as compelling as Mad Bastards, Toomelah features a very strong performance by Daniel Conners as the boy searching for adult guidance in a situation where there doesn’t seem to be a lot on offer.

The Kid with a Bike

The Kid with a Bike

Similarly to Daniel in Toomelah, 11-year-old Cyril in The Kid with a Bike is full of rage and looking for a father figure after being abandoned by his own dad. Despite finding a woman who seems willing to care for him, Cyril is drawn to a local drug dealer. A few days ago when discussing Win Win, I mentioned the trend in films where a troubled youth is taken in by a kindly family. The Kid with a Bike is a pleasing antidote to the simplicity of some of these films as it presents Cyril as a really difficult boy, to the extent that you question why a virtual stranger puts up with him. The reason is because she’s a good person who can see past the horrible behaviour. A main theme in the film is the consequences of choosing whether or not to forgive and give a second chance to somebody who has done wrong. Directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, The Kid with a Bike typically contains their brilliant faux cinéma vérité look, where the cinematography is expertly crafted and controlled despite the film looking like it was shot on the run. There is also an incredible sensation of movement throughout the film with Cyril constantly running and cycling towards a promise of something that he’s always too late for.

[EDIT 12/3/2012: Read a full review of The Kid with a Bike]

MIFFhaps
MIFF fatigue conquered me yesterday as I slept through my alarm and missed the International Shorts – O Canada! program, which I was really looking forward to. I had previously seen the excellent Sophie Lavoie and the Spike Jonze/Arcade Fire film Scenes from the Suburbs won’t exactly be difficult to track down, but I had wanted to get the big screen experience. On the other hand, I got my first proper nights sleep since the festival began and ate a meal that was hot and home-cooked. Just when I thought my MIFF fatigue had lifted my wife asked me why I was sitting at my computer miaowing like a cat. Trying to communicate with cats is a thing I do sometimes, except I’m usually aware that I’m doing it.

One fun thing to note in screenings now is who still loudly laughs at the advertisements that play before every film. It’s a good way of spotting who in the cinema is seeing their first film at the festival, as the regular attendees are pretty familiar with the gags in the ads by now. Having said that, the MIFF ads this year are so good that I’m still enjoying them and I’m enjoying hearing other people respond to them for the first time. I still find the VicRoads ad quite cute too, but I’m hearing voices of dissent about that from elsewhere. Somebody even described it as this year’s Yalumba Wine ad, which I thought was harsh.

Show us your MIFF
Those of you on Twitter probably already know Paul Anthony Nelson, who has a remarkable ability to ever so concisely sum up his responses to films in 140 characters or less on his account @mrpaulnelson. An ill-timed work assignment prohibits him from seeing the 60-odd films he’d hoped to see this year, but he’s still aiming for the low 50s. He’s been coming to MIFF since 1998, where he saw four films from a Blaxploitation retrospective and fell in love. This year his highlights have been MelancholiaMartha Marcy May Marlene and Super. Attending the Australian premiere of Inglourious Basterds in 2009 and sitting within ten feet of director Quentin Tarantino, one of his heroes, has been his biggest MIFF highlight to date. Paul jokes that  Tarantino has since taken a restraining order out against him. I’m not sure if that really is a joke. To get through the festival Paul recommends plenty of Vitamin C wherever possible, always having muesli bars on hand and taking a break between films every so often, if only to check out the wonderous Festival Lounge at the Forum. Paul’s all-time favourite film is The Godfather, which he describes as ‘cinematic perfection if that is possible’. Outside of MIFF you can hear Paul talking about films on the Hell is for Hyphenates podcast, encouraging others to write about films at Why I Adore and making his own films through his production company Cinema Viscera.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Feature and short film picks

8 July 2011

Melbourne International Film FestivalIt’s almost Melbourne International Film Festival time, so I’m starting up the MIFF diary yet again. This year I’ll be seeing and reporting on a lot more films than in previous years as I’m taking part in the 60th anniversary MIFF blog-a-thon. The deal is that I need to see and report back on 60 films during the seventeen days of the festival. That’s on average 3½ films per day. It’s a bit daunting to be honest and I’m apprehensive about how much I’ll be able to appreciate all those films let alone write anything intelligible about them! However, I’ve willingly signed on so will give it my best shot.

The good news is that as well as covering the festival here I’ll also be covering it on the Plato’s Cave podcast with my fellow hosts Josh Nelson and Tara Judah. We won’t be doing our usual Monday night/Tuesday morning show during the week beginning 25 July because on Thursday 28 July from 7pm-8pm we’ll be broadcasting a live Max Headroom MIFF special on Triple R. We’ll then upload that show Friday morning, in case you can’t tune on Thursday night, and record a new podcast-only MIFF show the following week at the usual time. We’ll also be discussing our picks of the festival in the next episode (week starting 11 July) so subscribe now if you haven’t done so already.

Speaking of festival picks, I thought I’d share the ten films and three short film packages that have most caught my attention. I’ve tried to pick films that to the best of my knowledge aren’t getting released in the near future, although some do have Australian distributors already. (Cerise Howard has put together a very useful list on her blog along side her intriguing recommendations for what to see.) I’ve actually seen a number of the films already scheduled for a theatrical release this year including Senna and Jane Eyre, which are both excellent films and would certainly be rewarding to see in the festival environment.

Feature films

Autoluminesscent: Rowland S. Howard

Autoluminesscent: Rowland S. Howard

Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard
I can’t think of any filmmaker more qualified to make a documentary about the great Rowland S. Howard than Dogs in Space director Richard Lowenstein. It’s a perfect combination of director and subject matter. Also, my wife introduced me to Howard’s solo work so this is a bit of a personal pick for me!

Beauty and the Beast
I’ve wanted to see Jean Cocteau’s 1946 avant-garde fairytale film for a long time so having the opportunity to see it on the big screen is an incredible opportunity.

Armadillo
It was a shame that I, like most Australians, didn’t get to see the war documentary Restrepo in the cinema so I’m making sure I see this one, which has been a sensation in Denmark and from all accounts is extraordinary documentary filmmaking.

The Unjust
I really enjoy contemporary South Korean cinema and the promised mix of social critique, complex narrative (I’m expecting not to be able to follow it), dark comedy, tragedy and action sounds so much like my sort of thing.

Melancholia
It’s the latest film by Lars von Trier and that’s enough for me. I haven’t always liked his work, but he is so unpredictable that I always make a point of seeing what he’s done next. Plus, his previous film Antichrist was one of my highlights during MIFF 2009.

Cold Fish

Cold Fish

Cold Fish
Sion Sono is another director that I now always seek out. Love Exposure was another film I saw during MIFF in 2009 and I’ll never forget seeing Suicide Club at MIFF many, many years ago. Sono’s Guilty of Romance is also screening this year and I’ll be at that too.

The Turin Horse
I’ve never seen a film by Béla Tarr, not even his widely acclaimed Werckmeister Harmonies. The Turin Horse is supposedly his final film so I guess better late than never to get on board. It’s reportedly a very meditatively and observational film about peasant life – in other words, the kind of film some people find absorbing while others find dull. I usually fall into the former camp when it comes to such films so I’m really keen to see this.

A Stoker
I like to see a handful of disturbing, bleak and soul destroying films each year and this Russian parable about the collapse of the Soviet Union sounds suitably gruesome, brutal and darkly humorous.

I Am Eleven
This is another very personal choice as I’ve been aware of Genevieve Bailey’s work since the days when I used to be involved in the 15/15 Film Festival. Her films have always possessed a sincerely humanist quality and this documentary (her first feature) sounds no different.

Surviving Life
My paranoia with MIFF is that I’ll miss a gem that I can’t see elsewhere and that paranoia was exemplified when I almost didn’t notice this film in the program (thank you again Cerise Howard for pointing it out!) This is the latest by filmmaker/animator Jan Švankmajer who is one of the few contemporary filmmakers that can be accurately described as a surrealist. One of my first ever MIFF experiences was seeing his version of Faust and I’ve loved everything he’s done since.

Short films

Stardust

Stardust

I’m also going to explore the short film packages this year. Until I was asked to be a judge for last year’s MIFF Shorts Awards, I didn’t really give short films the attention they deserved. I’ve since seen the error of my ways, plus I’ve had a sneak peak on what’s on offer this year, as a result of writing for the program, and there’s some great stuff. All the packages contain films that are worth seeing, but I’ve narrowed it down to the following three:

International Shorts – O Canada!
I’m mainly going to this because it includes Scenes from the Suburbs, the Spike Jonze/Arcade Fire collaboration. From this program I have already seen the very simple single-shot film Sophie Lavoie and was extremely impressed.

International Shorts – Misfits
I’ve seen most of the films in this program but am more than happy to see them again, especially Jonathan Caouette’s All Flowers in TimeHowever, the two films I haven’t seen are the ones that do sound the most interesting: the South Korean psychological thriller Ghost and the Swedish zombie film The Unliving, which sounds like it may deliver a fun, refreshing spin on the genre.

Experimental Shorts 2
Slave Ship
and Another Occupation sound fascinating plus I really want to see Endeavour and Stardust again, but this time on the big screen. Stardust is directed by Nicholas Provost who won the Best Experimental Short Film award last year for Long Live The New Flesh. I think Stardust is even more impressive.

OK, that’s it for now. I can’t make opening night due to a prior engagement and I’m seeing films back-to-back over the first few days, but hopefully diary entries will start appearing soon after the first weekend.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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