Film in Preview
Nick Cave called him â€œAustralia's most unique, gifted, uncompromising guitaristâ€. Yet when Rowland S. Howard, of '80s post-punk band The Birthday Party, died of liver cancer - the world didn't pause to reflect.
Why society didn't take notice truly is a question to ponder, and one that directors Lynn-Maree Milburn and Richard Lowenstein have explored exhaustively in their latest film. â€˜Autoluminescentâ€™ feels as though the audience is talking with a close friend, embarking on a journey infused with emotion, taking a calculated subjective approach to Rowland's life that echoes an attachment felt by its directors.
"We grew up with him. Boys Next Door played Lynn's school when she was 17 and I started seeing them when there were about three people in the audience. Weâ€™re personally involved in Rowlandâ€™s journey."
While Lynn and Richard's attachment to Rowland is very apparent, the film's approach feels very honest, avoiding the glorification of him as a musical 'hero'. "A 'guitar hero' brings up strange connotations ... â€˜Autoluminescentâ€™ is a celebration of a fatally flawed life, but itâ€™s a very extraordinary life. Even though it ended very tragically, Rowland packed an extraordinary amount in of quite unique experiences, unique behaviours."
â€˜Autoluminescentâ€™ is in many ways characterised by the note of incredible, aching sadness on which it ends. Rowland may have died of liver cancer, but Richard and Lynn agree that it was the burgeoning heroin scene in 1970s St Kilda that left a devastating impact on his life. "Back when the heroin scene started in Melbourne, everyone knew there was a risk of overdosing and becoming an addict. But there was very little known about diseases like Hepatitis C which you could catch. At the end of the day it was the Hep C that caused all his problems."
Just like Rowland's life, the making of â€˜Autoluminescentâ€™ didn't always go to plan. As well has sorting through countless hours of VHS footage, Richard explains that new, unseen footage of Rowland was still turning up days before the film's final cut. "Early versions of the film did have a lot more of other people telling the Rowland story. Three weeks before we finished, the main Rowland interview (from 1988) appeared and we had to reinvent the film ... because who better to tell the Rowland story than Rowland himself?"
â€˜Autoluminescentâ€™ will be released in cinemas on October 27.