WRITERS

Why would anyone become a writer? Especially in a world that doesn’t seem to read anymore. Or go to the theatre, or go to the movies to see anything other than comic book heroes. Good question.

All the great writers were mostly drunks. Coincidence? Or is there a cost for looking too long into the abyss and reporting back to the good folk what they’re too timid to experience for themselves? Springsteen once wrote that there is a darkness at the edge of town. No, that darkness lies within us all. Each one of us has the latent potential to be a Hitler or a Christ. God has cleverly given us free will to choose our own poison. And the highly sensitive among us reach for the bottle, or the harder stuff, in order to numb ourselves to the responsibilities of that choice.

When I was at school I just couldn’t concentrate on anything. I was hopeless. Sometimes I feel sorry for those who attempted to teach me anything. Not sure if my undisciplined mind was a result of the trauma I witnessed most nights in my abusive family home, or I had what is now diagnosed as ADD. One day the headmaster of the school phoned my mother for a meeting to question her as to why her son had the highest I.Q at the school and the lowest grades. She was at a loss for words. But not me. Words always came easy to me. In fact I could talk myself out of any beating I was about to receive from a Christian Brother. That was quite a feat considering the relish they got from handing out such brutal punishment. These guys would’ve been more at home as members of the Third Reich than Jesus’ band of 12. But talk my way out I did. So, words became my friend, my salvation. And humour protected me from the cruel slings of other peer group bullies. I could always hysterically put myself down before anyone else had the chance to. Timing was everything. Playing the court jester got me through my troubled youth and shielded me from revealing my true self. And what was that? I was scared of everything and everyone. I felt like an alien most of the time in a strange world that only threw contradictions at you.

My refuge again and again were words. The only subjects at school that I attained any respectable grades for were Art, English and Religious Knowledge. The latter because I loved hearing all the Biblical stories and for some reason remembered every detail. They were filled with such amazing imagery and drama. Oh, and miracles. I guess I was depending on a miracle to happen in my life that would save me. And this Jesus character sounded like he might’ve been the only person who would’ve taken the time to understand me. Whether he was the Messiah or not is up for debate, but he sure sounded like a nice man. And like me, and all the other loners and misfits in the world, grossly misunderstood. I never forgot those stories and if nothing else they were great morality word plays.

Due to my restless mind I found it too difficult to persevere and read a book through to the end. But I tried again and again to achieve this. Thank God I did because I now must own over a thousand books that I cherish and have taught me more than I ever learnt at school. I always tell people I was self educated and that’s the truth of it. All my education took place in a class of one. In many ways, books saved my life.

My introduction to books began when I was a small child and my Irish grandmother would sit me on her lap and read aloud the adventures of Noddy in Toyland. We bonded through the whole Noddy series until she was taken from me when I was two.

The first book that hooked me enough to finish was, ironically, “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. I guess it proved that I had a fascination with the mystery of women from an early age. This of course led to much heartache and my premature death but that’s a whole other story. Either that, or Ms. Alcott was one helluva writer that captured my imagination and kept me turning the pages. By the end of the book I felt I knew all the characters and cared enough about them to shed some tears. The mark of a great writer.

After that I read Enid Blyton’s book series “The Famous Five” followed by “The Secret Seven.” Then I graduated to “Biggles,” and then many books about the Wild West that introduced me to such colourful characters as Davy Crockett. Kit Carson, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, Billy The Kid etc., etc., etc. Yep, who needed to time travel or see the world when you had books?

Then in my late teen years I read “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and my life really did change. A book about the ultimate loner always surrounded by a party of people. I savoured every word in that book – it’s prose was exquisite and the story heartbreaking. It foretold me that following the wrong dreams can get you killed. Reading Fitzgerald was like finding a new best friend. I understood him. And from what I read I knew he understood me. After that I read all six of his novels and every short story he ever wrote. I couldn’t get enough of his words and the insight he gave into the human heart. It really was like he’d read my letters or thoughts and knew me intimately. Of course being part Irish, like me, virtually every story ended in death or heartbreak. He painted such a romantic but dangerous world where his characters always paid a high price for caring too much.

Fitzgerald’s own life was cut short by too much booze and heartbreak topped off by rejection in Hollywood. But he remains my friend and I reread “Gatsby” every couple of years. It never fails to move me. Hollywood has never been able to pull off a wholly successful film treatment of it for the simple reason that most of the truly beautiful stuff in the book are the thoughts in the characters heads, and that’s impossible to shoot. Films are about action. Fitzgerald’s writing is about emotions. Unless you do endless voice-overs and that usually renders your movie as exciting as porridge. That’s why the great Fitzgerald had such a hard time of it in Hollywood trying to make it as a screenwriter in order to net enough money to keep his wife Zelda in a mental home and pay for his daughter’s schooling. He died a broken, despairing, weary man old before his time.

Like Gatsby, killed by the wrong dream.

I came to Charles Dickens late. Not sure why that was but come to him I did. The first book of his I chose to read was “Great Expectations” and was astounded. To me it remains one of the greatest novels of all time. And in my opinion he is right up there with Shakespeare.

I heard that Dickens original ending to “Great Expectations” was tragic and certainly all roads in the book are leading there. But his publisher leaned on him to come up with a more upbeat ending. Dickens listened, went away and rewrote it, and what he does is simply sublime. He gives it a happy ending that is so bitter sweet he moves us to tears as our damaged leading characters come together to try and seek a way forward, and into the sunlight. It is so beautiful my hands trembled as I read the final pages. This novel alone would’ve assured his place among the giants of literature, but he did it again and again, novel after novel – “Oliver Twist,” “David Copperfield,” “Nicholas Nickleby,” “Hard Times,” “A Christmas Carol,” and “A Tale of Two Cities” (another ending that is so exquisitely executed as our flawed hero rises to the most noble of acts, laying down his wasted life so that others may live and find the joy that had always eluded him. Death giving his meaningless life a meaning. If there’s a better speech than his final words, I would surely love to know about it.

After Dickens I discovered Hemingway, Steinbeck, Schulberg, Shakespeare, O’Hara, Maugham, Hammett, Greene, Wilde, Twain, Isherwood, Chandler, Huxley, Ephron and many others.

All complex people, flawed, contradictory, confused, and yet so much wiser in their work than in life. Perhaps the writing down of stories and emotions helped them understand themselves.

It’s interesting how great writing never dates. You may think that picking up something that was written a hundred years ago or, in some cases longer, couldn’t possibly be relevant to your life. But the surprising revelation is that the emotions felt are timeless. Just different scenery and choice of words. But at the heart of every great story is just another human being trying to solve the same problems, whilst dealing with the same heartaches, pressures and obstacles. The universal human emotion. If you write the truth in its naked honesty it will always connect – now, tomorrow, a thousand years from now.

It teaches us that we are not alone. We are all in this together, wandering around a desert seeking an answer to why we are here. And awaiting that opportunity to rise to the potential of who we could be.

John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.”

A person with books is never alone.

(C) Frank Howson 2018

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THE COST OF CARING

I was born with a terrible affliction. I care. Always have, always will. It’s in my DNA and I can’t wash it away. God knows at times I’ve tried. Looking back at my life in the rear view mirror, most of my downfalls and stumbles have been due to caring about the wrong people. But such is the cost of caring. And what do you do about it? Stop caring? It’s not a tap that you can turn on or off or leave at a steady flow. Those who get hurt and turn it off are doomed to wander the wastelands of bitterness and anger. Having stopped off momentarily at those stations I know from experience that they are soulless places in which to live. In fact you may as well be dead for all the good they will bring you. Perhaps you’re already dead if those places are your current address. It’s like those who love half-heartedly for fear of being hurt. It’s a contradiction in terms and a self-prophecy that you will endure a half-hearted hurt when your partner tires of living with half a person. Love requires a leap of faith. It’s an all in or all out situation. You get out of it what you give. Sometimes. But without that blind leap where are you? Suspended in animation for the rest of a predictable and hollow life. In the words of Sondheim, “…not going left, not going right.” And if you misjudge your leap and fall – well yes, you will endure great pain and scars that will hurt till the end of your days. But from great hurt comes great wisdom. Or should if you are brave enough to be objective and ask yourself the hard questions. You’ll know that you’ve become a grown up when you are able to take responsibility for your mistakes. And if you’ve chosen the wrong partner, wasn’t it indeed you who did the choosing? But you may respond that they fooled you by playing a role that wasn’t really them in order to woo you. Well, if that’s the case, and they took your money or your house, legally you may have a good case for fraud. But for breaking your heart, your dreams, and your faith in the goodness of people, you get zip. Monetarily. But if you’re strong enough to get to your feet and go on you will eventually obtain the ability to see into the soul of another.

Everything learnt in this life comes at a cost. I know that. I have made every mistake in the book so in the wisdom stakes I am right up there now with Merlin. It can be a lonely place but from such a vantage point springs abundant creativity. And if you write about it with honesty you will move others as they recognise the inherent truth at the heart of what you say. It’s foundation not built on phoney emotions (like most Hollywood films these days) and sensing the blood, sweat and tears people will respond, even if it’s on a subconscious level.

It’s very difficult for some of us to turn off the very thing that is our essence. How many gamblers can cash out their chips and walk away while they’re ahead? No. We were given life (whether it be from God or the universe or whatever power force you can wrap your brain around) to live. And part of living is hurt. It sometimes wakes us up and reminds us that we are alive. Other parts of living are joy, caring, kindness, hope, love, sexuality, inspiration, learning, and giving.

One must always remain open in order to receive. I remember having a conservation with Waddy Wachtel when I lived in L. A. At that time I’d known Waddy for about 4 years and had never mentioned what I’d done in Australia – the films I’d made, songs I’d written, etc. anyway, on this night, Waddy asked me why I’d never mentioned any of that stuff and why he’d had to hear it from someone else? I simply replied it’d never come up in any of out conversations. And that I was pleased our friendship was based on who I was not what I was. Then he said, “Having heard your story you should be the angriest guy in the world, but you’re not.” To which I replied, “I was for a long time. But anger squeezes out everything else in your life. Especially joy. So I had to learn to look for the upside in what had happened. And just think, if it hadn’t happened I wouldn’t be here now talking to you. In fact, we wouldn’t have met at all. So that’s how I live now. Every morning I wake up is a relief that the storm is over, and a new opportunity to get things right.”

To quote that modern day wise man in the wilderness, Bob Dylan, “…Love is all there is, it makes the world go ’round. Love and only love it can’t be denied. No matter what you think about it, you just can’t do without it, take a tip from one who’s tried.”

There are many kinds of love – Love for a lover, a brother, a sister, friend, a child, a cause, a dream, a hero, etc. Caring stems from love. So does understanding. So does compassion. Trust me, if you have a transfusion of any of those emotions your life will be enriched and more than likely lengthened. We have to have a purpose to keep getting up in the morning. How many times have we witnessed people we know give up on life? And, like another self-fulfilling prophecy, death soon follows.

So, to care about life is, in itself, it’s own reward. But no one gets rewarded without effort.

(C) Frank Howson 2018

 

(C) Painting by Frank Howson 2018

TWIN PEAKS

Without doubt the most anticipated television series of all time has been David Lynch’s latest instalment of Twin Peaks. And therein lies the problem. That obsessive anticipation and expectation blinkered many to what they were actually seeing. Myself included. I had hoped that the series would go in a certain direction and it went the complete opposite route. But hasn’t Lynch always done this to us? He is obviously not creatively inspired unless he is taking risks and going where no one has dared ventured before.

Watching the new series I got to episode four before cashing my chips in. To me the main problem was that Special Agent Dale Cooper, the story’s protagonist, the character that is supposed to be propelling the action, was catatonic for those episodes and would remain so almost all of the series. I was brought up to believe that if your main character sat down too long, so did your show. Of course I was aware that Lynch doesn’t follow conventional story development, and I, most times, find that very exciting. But this was really testing the viewer. Almost in a cruel way. Many, like me, simply tuned out.

It has been rumoured that this was Lynch’s last project as director, so perhaps he didn’t really care about ratings and was experimenting with Showtime’s money.

This would’ve remained my opinion only for Richard Wolstencroft loaning me his blu-ray boxed set edition of the new season. Reluctantly, I put it on and started again at the very beginning. This time no anticipation. No expectations. And guess what? The slow burning magic revealed itself.

The famous first season of Twin Peaks changed television forever. But at the heart of the small town weirdness there was the narrative coat hanger of “Who killed Laura Palmer?” Lynch has admitted that the big mistake he and co-writer Mark Frost made was revealing at the end of the first season who the killer was. Once it was known, viewers lost interest in a second season. Lynch has said that “the mystery and investigation should’ve gone on forever revealing other smaller mysteries.”

Which brings us to the latest instalment. It is my opinion that Lynch has progressed far beyond a murder mystery in a small town. He is exploring the ultimate mystery – Who are we? Why are we here? Why do we do the things we do? And, do we sometimes stumble blindly into another dimension in a parallel universe?

Like the world, Twin Peaks is scary, frustrating, absurd, baffling, funny, provocative and harsh.

The darkness at the edge of town has moved into us. We are the mystery that defies reason and clarification. Each of us carrying our own hell and heaven within us. The more we delve the deeper the confusion driving many into the shelter of ignorance and small talk, sounding all the more bizarre and comical amidst the backdrop of impending evil.

Mention must be made of Laura Dern’s performance. She and Lynch have collaborated many times now and the ease and understanding of their relationship shines through. She is riviting in every scene she is in and her talent and instinct makes her one of the most versatile actors working in present day film. She is grossly underrated.

When Special Agent Dale Cooper finally wakes and re-enters this dimension in one of the final episodes it is almost a religious experience. Suddenly energised and coherent he is eager to continue his investigation. But what does Lynch do? Just as the pace is moving like a runaway train, he ends the series on what is possibly the biggest cliff hanger of them all. Will there be another season? Will we have an explanation? Possibly not. There are no happy endings in Twin Peaks. Only mysteries. And, true to life, many of them have no comfortable resolution. And so they go on. And so do we, fumbling around in the dark, drinking coffee, and looking for answers where there are none.

 

(C) Frank Howson 2018

ANNOUNCING THE OZ INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

In November of last year Richard Wolstencroft felt it necessary to resign as Director of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival. At that time he asked me to take the reins and chart M.U.F.F’s overhaul and new direction. I accepted because I felt that the festival is an important outlet for emerging film makers to find their feet and their audience.

My acceptance of the top position was on the basis that I would have total autonomy to make changes and lead the festival into a brave new future.

Unfortunately after prolonged negotiations it has become apparent that the severing of the past and what is needed to create a totally free new system proved more complex and time consuming than either Richard nor I could have possibly envisaged.

So, it is my decision to not continue as my feeling is that M.U.F.F should be handed back to Richard, its creator, who will run it as a free speech absolutist event.

But, on the other hand, having put a lot of time and energy into a new look festival, as well as commencing negotiations with several legendary international film identities to visit our shores to as festival guests and share their experience and wisdom with us, I have decided to go ahead with a totally new film festival that will be clear to create its own identity and reputation as well as serve as another much needed outlet for young local and international film-makers. This I hope is not seen to be in any way competition with M.U.F.F but quite the opposite, another important spotlight that will include some categories not covered by M.U.F.F. It will also be run at a later date, in our summer months, at some very prestigious venues already locked in.

The Oz International Film Festival can assure you of a very exciting premiere season.

We welcome film-makers here and abroad to visit our website and submit their latest works for consideration of inclusion in our inaugural festival.  Your films will not be judged on any bias to politics, race, gender, sexual preference or content, but purely on the execution of your film-making abilities, and a diverse and experienced jury of industry veterans will be announced within the next few weeks.

The festival will honour the bold, brave and adventurous new voices in the world of cinema and hopefully help some go on to be the new vanguard of the next generation of important film-makers.

I will be the Festival Director and ably assisted by Executive Producer Barry Robinson.  Other appointments will be announced shortly.

Good luck and welcome aboard what we feel will be an exciting new chapter. We look forward to your submissions and you can trust that they will be very carefully considered, each and every one.

Kindest,

Frank Howson
Festival Director.

I WENT TO TOWN

I went to town
And had some fun
I'd spent all my money
Before day was done
The buildings were tall
And they blocked the sun
I went to town
And had some fun
I returned home
Before night fell
I kissed all the women
But I won't tell
They said they loved me
Must've thought I was dumb
I went to town
And had some fun






(C) Frank Howson 2018

 

THE SEQUEL

Our children
We let down
And gave away
In tonight’s performance
All my best scenes have been cut
This is where I get off
I’ve been held against my will
We’ll get our happy ending
In the sequel
Or so I’ve been told

(C) Frank Howon 2018

Sketch by Frank Howson (c) 2018

 

ACCEPTANCE SPEECH BY NEW MELBOURNE UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL DIRECTOR, FRANK HOWSON.

Becoming the Director of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival is something I had not lobbied for or ever desired.  But given Richard Wolstencroft’s recent sudden departure and his request to take over the helm, it is something I couldn’t refuse as the Festival is now bigger than any one person and for it to cease to exist would be, in my opinion, a tragedy for the industry.  It fills a very important role in shining a light on the next generation of Australian filmmakers and in its 18 years of existence it has discovered a number of people who have gone onto receive international success.

Years ago when I was a young creative person trying to break into the film business it was almost impossible. It seemed, at that time, to be a closed shop with the same ol’ same ol’ people getting the grants and making the movies. And of course, those who were benefitting from the system were certainly very reluctant to let new blood in. Many of those people never encouraged the next generation of talent and we have been paying for that for some time now. Who knows how many brilliant young creatives got frustrated by the red tape and closed doors, gave up and walked away. It made me all the more determined that if I broke through then the least I could do would be to help others achieve the same. And so I did.  Even though at the height of my success I was making 5 films a year (in some cases shooting a movie whilst I was in post-production of the last one and pre-production of the next), yet, I still made time to meet and give advice to any young filmmaker who phoned asking for help.  I am proud that my company gave several directors their first chance to direct a movie, along with giving breaks to young editors, music composers, actors, costume designers, etc., etc.

In fact I remember giving the young Richard Wolstencroft his first chance to direct a 35mm movie, which starred the very young Lachy Hulme. Although in my long and varied career I have won quite a few awards, I can say in all honesty that nothing gives me more joy than the knowledge that I helped several people into the industry who went onto achieve international recognition.

It saddens me that Richard has had to relinquish his directorship of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival so suddenly and in such circumstances. It was his creation and for 18 years his baby and I have some understanding of the pain involved in having to walk away from that. Hopefully with the passing of time people will choose to remember his contribution and achievements rather than some ill-conceived and ill-timed remarks that I know he is extremely and sincerely sorry for having made. In the words of the great director Billy Wilder, “A man is as good as the best thing he did, not the worst.”

In my opinion the mark of how far we have spiritually evolved in this life is measured by our capacity to humble ourselves by owning up and apologizing for our wrongs and, in other cases, to forgive. The latter takes an awful lot of evolving to reach.

Under my directorship at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, I will continue to spotlight new and exciting local talent, and select movies that take risks, that inspire and inform us, confront us, thrill us, and celebrate our humanity towards people of diversity.  I do not undertake this leadership for ego reasons, or financial gain, but see it as a service to the industry and the community that original voices are discovered and given the forum to be heard, and debated, as well as the opportunity to go on.

I look forward to steering a new look Melbourne Underground Film Festival to an exciting future for filmmakers and cinema goers alike, and I hope you will support my efforts by submitting your work and attending our screenings. Let’s defeat apathy and build a healthy and diverse film industry one brick at a time.

Submissions will be open in January for our 19th Festival.

Yours sincerely,

Frank Howson