WHERE DID WE LEAVE THE STORY?

Where did we leave the story?
Oh, that’s right, you left me
Were we out of our minds
To ever think we’d be free?
What’s the name of that street?
No, wait, it’ll come to me
Did we throw away our good fortune
Whilst searching for destiny?

“I knew a man who went to sea
And left the shore behind him
I knew that man for he was me
And now I cannot find him”
You once sang me that song
On our way to the gym
I think it’s about a legless man
And how it was he could still swim

Where did we leave the glory
We’d fought so hard to win?
Perhaps God was insulted
And deemed it a sin
What is that condition
When we’re too scared to win?
But perhaps we can’t blame it on theories
The truth is we’re made of tin

Where did we leave those tablets
That got us through the night?
Who said we had a chance
And that we were in the right?
You know me so you know
When I glow in the light
I don’t give up till I’ve given my all
Although this time I just might

Why did you leave our story
Just when things had worked out?
Were you afraid to express
All of the things that you felt?
Well it snowed this Christmas
Alone I watched it melt
Then I toasted us with aged whiskey
Although our drink is stout

(C) Frank Howson 2019

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SPEECH DELIVERED AT LONDON FILM FESTIVAL OPENING

I am very honoured to be here.

“What The Moon Saw” was the second movie that my production company Boulevard Films produced. Since then we have made another five films, all of very different genres. Yet “What The Moon Saw” is the one that seems to have taken on a life of its own.

Earlier this year this film was selected and shown in competition at the Berlin Film Festival where it was such a hit it came to the attention of Miramax who acquired all rights for North America and the U.K. It is the first Australian film ever sold to Miramax.

One of the most exciting experiences, after watching the Berlin Wall come down, was watching the movie with an East Berlin audience comprising of mostly children. It was the first film from the Western world they had seen and none of us knew what to expect. And yet, the enthusiastic audience reacted to the very same things that a Western audience responded go. The same laughter and the same tears. Well, except for when Mrs. Melrose accuses the playwright of being a Communist. I think they thought she was praising him.

The film transcends normal language barriers because it speaks in that most universal language of all – the language of the heart.

Young Steven Wilson lives inside all of us. He’s that child we left behind somewhere in our race to bigger things. Occasionally he resurfaces only to be told (by a grown-up) not to be so “childish”, or “You’re having too much fun”; driven away, by those who’ve lost their sense of joy and the appreciation of simplicity, with slogans like “Time is money”, “Act your age” and, the cruelest jab of all, “Grow up!”

At the beginning of the film young Steven is farewelled by his mum and dad as he leaves his small country town to get on a bus to go to the big city for the first time and spend a week with his Grandma. It is a long winding journey along the coast road as he looks out the window at wonders he has not seen before. And for us, the audience, it is a look at the magic of innocence.

I miss Steven Wilson. I miss his unique point of view. The way the world is so simple to him. Things are either good or bad – black or white – sunny or cloudy – and a grown-up’s word is taken literally. He couldn’t survive in the confusing contradictory greys in which we adults have to exist – so we drive him away. Back home to that other country. That simpler slower world where people do the right thing regardless of the cost. And dreams, not regrets, get you to sleep at night.

Thank you for making me feel so welcome. And my work so appreciated.

You’ve given me some warm memories to take back with me on my long bus ride home.

London 1990.

(C) Frank Howson 2019

ALESSANDRA SMILES

I don’t know where to go
Don’t know where to turn
Every bridge I built
I lived to burn
Wouldn’t you think I’d learn?

But when I close my eyes
I forget the miles
There in my dreams
Alessandra smiles

I don’t know what to think
Don’t know where to start
We can touch the moon
But not each others’ hearts
We just tear them apart

In this deserted place
Filled with empty aisles
Here inside of me
Alessandra smiles

Tired of living scared
Sick of push and shove
Guess the only thing that can save me now
Is love
Sweet sweet love…

Because when I close my eyes
I forget the miles
Deep inside of me
Alessandra smiles

Alessandra smiles…

(C) Frank Howson 2019

ST. KILDA

The fun park is closed
The wind is streaked with ice
“Just for Fun” says the sign
“Cheap at Twice the Price!”
The night life is dead
I walk these streets alone
Just a kid when I left
Now a man’s come home

St. Kilda by the sea
St. Kilda at dawn
This is where I lived
Where I was born
I can still hear my father’s voice
Ringing through our back street home
Still see my mother’s tearful eyes
When I left to roam
Now I stand at this empty house
A prodigal alone

The beach shack is gone
The gang have moved away
“All for one” we had pledged
But it’s one for all today
The sea beats the rocks
My heart it beats too fast
They say some have no future
They just repeat the past

Oh why should I care?
To care you hurt too deep
“God is dead!” screams a broken man
All I want is sleep
The kid is back in town
The years can take their toll
I stand in the dim light of the morning
A ghost of a lost soul

Still see my mother’s tearful eyes
When I left to roam
Now I stand at this empty house
Where once there stood a home

(C) Frank Howson 2019

MR. WILLIAMS PASSED AWAY TODAY

A million flowers
A million cards
And an unfinished play
A lonely room
Filled with lonely dreams
Mr. Williams passed away today

A hotel lobby
Is under siege
For an expose
The daily press
Want a photograph
Mr. Williams passed away today

Mr. Brando’s unavailable for comment
And Blanche ain’t been seen for years
The streetcars dim their headlights
So a city can cry its tears

Two sailors argue
As theatres close
All around Broadway
They want some light
But they haven’t heard
Mr. Williams passed away today

(C) Frank Howson 2019

POTATO JACK

Potato Jack often left home without his jacket on. His mum warned him he’d catch his death, but she was wrong. Just like she was wrong when she told him he knew Jack Shit. He in fact had total recall of everyone he’d ever met and this person, to whom she often referred, he was positive he’d never crossed paths, or even swords, with. But he didn’t like to tell her she was wrong because she was known to carry chips on her shoulders.

Potato Jack loved nothing more than getting baked. He could take the heat for hours, feeling all mashed and gooey and light. But sometimes he’d die for a pea.

Once, he’d fallen for a sweet potato but she left him for an Au Gratin, and Jack conceded that he just couldn’t compete with such illustrious gems.

So, he lost himself watching endless repeats as he sat on the couch eating wedges.

His dad liked to call him Silly Sausage but that didn’t sit well with his over-sensitive son and gave the youngster a pain in the bun. His father admonished him at times for being thin-skinned and told Jack if he didn’t harden up he’d end his daze in a salad.

Dad had been a big wheel in Idaho and spent much time on the gravy train until it all turned to sour cream. Yes, he’d been skinned by several unsavoury types. A lot of hams still chived him about it, but the wise old potato knew that one potato two potato three potato four.

And that kind of humour a-peeled to him.

(C) Frank Howson 2019

For Raija.

THE FINAL STAGE – Adrian Rawlins review of what he called “My lost masterpiece”.

It started out like a normal day for the man of the house. He had breakfast with his wife. She was no warmer or cooler towards him than she had been for a long time. He read the morning paper, donned coat, picked up his briefcase and left for the office.

She reminded him that there was no office anymore. He had to acknowledge that all that is now part of “the past”. Putting aside momentary chagrin at the loss of anticipated freedom he feels safe. There will be no more journeys into the outside world.

He and his wife relapse into a conversational sortie we know they have ventured into often before, their discourse, though completely Australian, throws up the cliches and truisms of everybody wisdom and in almost Pinteresque way introduces echoes of Oscar Wilde’s sublime parable “The Happy Prince”.

A telephone rings but nobody answers. It has no dial – like the clock face in Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries.”

There is an unexpected knock at the door and a man with failure written all over him seeks admission. He has about him the air of a failed vaudevillian/cabaret performer. Like T. S. Eliot’s narrator he has seen the moment of his greatness flicker…but…”I am not Prince Hamlet…”

The dialogue is cryptic, enigmatic, redolent with oblique references to poems, books and cultural assumptions, skirting banality while continuing the Pinteresque reference to the daily metaphors which have been the cliches while still retaining their nugget of “the truth” and providing many moments of genuine “comedie noir”.

Another visitor bursts in, this time no stranger. Stinky Radford is an actor, lover, a forceful extrovert character, beloved by both Man and Wife. Asked about his life, he bravely lies while we see that he too is not Prince Hamlet, nor was he meant to be.

While the husband muses upon the remembrance of the past, Stinky makes love to his wife, who was once his wife too. Then, girding up his loins, he leaves to…try again?…to solve the riddle?…face the music?

By the time the audience have accepted the essentially metaphoric nature of this work of cinema: the room is none other than the stage on which Sophocles presented his vast and mighty tragedies, or Aristophanes his satires: the same stage which Shakespeare saw as emblematic of the world, “on which stars in secret influence comment”.

Another visitor – a youth, streetfighter, violent, working-class poet and thug – shades of Jean Cocteau here – bursts in and now we are given our first inkling of the exact nature of the metaphor we have been watching. Despite his bravado and overt displays of machismo, he is terrified by the wife’s advances. We are justified at this point feeling that perhaps all of the male characters are aspects of the husband’s psyche and that we are witnessing a revelation of Everyman/Everywoman in a decidedly contemporary encapsulation.

The wife reminisces volubly about a lover, a lawyer with an earring in one ear.

Stinky Radford returns, having failed to discover anything. The streetkid wants to go back but Stinky assured him “there’s nothing out there”.

The husband has already asserted “we are kindred spirits,” and “this is the room of the lost”.

Finally, Music and Light and mysterious opening of a door heralds the moment when Man and Wife must Face the Music in an upper room (the Upper Room?). He is the Happy Prince, denuded now of all his finery, and she, the Swallow who will not leave him. They are translated into Light.

Immediately they are gone, another figure bursts through the front door, demanding explication. He is obviously the Lawyer who has been the wife’s lover, and in the manner of lawyers he threatens to sue everyone until “you’ll wish you were dead!”.

As his three auditors laugh and laugh we now know exactly where we are and the form of the film, which has been hovering at the corner of our consciousness now snaps into place – and everything makes sense.

“The Final Stage” is, at its deepest level a work of art covering in an original and ground-breaking way the same philosophic and metaphorical terrain covered by Jean Paul Sartre in “No Exit”. It is also a funny, sad, poignant, piquant, witty and disturbing story which amuses us while it reminds us of the – dare we say? – eternal verities of Life and Death.

Because of the way “the story” unfolds – similarly to the creative method employed by Peter Carey in his best short stories – the film is decidedly out of the ordinary – its unusualness and the charm and variety of the performances, induce us willingly to suspend our disbelief. Those viewers familiar with poetry, the theatre, and great literature will find echoes of those other forms and discovery of such connections gives the film’s delightful tension. Theatre-goers, one hopes, will appreciate more fully the slightly theatrical edge to the dialogue. But everyone should be able to see that “The Final Stage” makes a significant, even historical contribution to our understanding of film form in the deepest sense.

– Adrian Rawlins
Critic &. Poet
1994

Review written for Farrago.

Produced, Written & Directed by Frank Howson starring Adrian Wright, Abigail, Tommy Dysart, Michael Lake, Zachary McKay & Tiriel Mora.

photograph by Luzio Grossi.