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.”
We told each other we had a good life full of ginger biscuits and roast dinners. I suppose it reminded me of my youth waking up Sunday mornings to the smell of something cooking and the excited anticipation of a family gathering.
I’m all that exists of that family now. So, in my defence, I will plead guilty to attempting to bring this ritual into our lives in the hope of a shared familiarity or perhaps the conjuring up of ghosts from the past. Futile dreams were our dessert. Big serves to disguise the cold reality that the best in us was gone. All that remains are the broken pieces of empty dishes. And the broken after dinner stories of broken lives that harbour in my memory and things I dream at night.
There were glimpses of great love in my family but thinly wedged between slabs of anger, recriminations, abuse, guilt and tears. Perhaps that’s what makes those glimpses glow so warmly in my heart.
You wanted a feeling of family and so did I but we were loveless refugees on the run and our pantomime of make-believe was a farce that didn’t hold up to intelligent scrutiny. But the first thing to die in such a delusion is intelligence. We played our roles with conviction but were hopelessly miscast, or perhaps just too old for believability.
We had a life of ginger biscuits and roast dinners but that was all. There we were, unarmed, falling where we stood in the small talk and repressed resentment that neither of us got what we had wanted. The past can’t be repeated, excluding the bad bits, by acting out the good. There is no cutting room floor anymore. Gone. All gone. My youth. My dreams of love. My good will to others. My mistakes of the heart. My misplaced loyalty to all the wrong people. Gone. And soon I will be gone, and all that will remain will be words. And people’s rushed and conflicting judgement of who they thought I was.
Fortunately there will be no one to play act the glimpses of my failed Quixotic quests to harness some joy in myself, and in others.
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.
Out of the darkness
And into light
We face a blank canvas
And call it a life
Our hand tracing lines
Adding colour here and there
Some of us choose to be bold
While some of us never dare
So how much am I bid
For this crazy life I've lived?
Do you find it too frivolous or too bleak?
Does it move you to tears?
Or does it look like wasted years?
This painting has cost me more than I dare speak
Lost in a city
Lost in a crowd
I don't speak till I get drunk
And then I get too loud
Your beautiful face
I have captured it by hand
But you denied me your heart
And cut me down where I stand
I have painted sorrow
And sometimes joy
But cocktails in a gallery
Won't bring back my boy
So I'll paint him from memory
From the time he called me dad
Some of us paint our mistakes
While some of us just go mad
(c) Frank Howson 2018
Painting by Frank Howson.
The living are always under attack from the dead. As night follows day so do those of darkness target those of light and stalk them with words of hero worship when, the truth is, the mere existence of those with a spark irritates them and they consciously or, in some cases, subconsciously, work toward the extinguishment of that flame. Wilhelm Reich writes about this condition in detail in his book The Murder of Christ.
The people of darkness use many tools to bring down the envied. Negative rumours, stories that are unfounded in fact, and a whole range of politically acceptable words to discredit their target i.e., Narcissist (this applies to anyone who is successful in showbiz who uses social media to promote their latest ventures) because the fact that someone may actually be getting off their fat ass and doing something reminds the person of darkness how meaningless and unfocused their own life is; Nazi (it is acceptable in today’s politically correct world to call anyone with an opposing opinion this and get away with it. This is disgustingly outrageous and unfair to their target whose only crime may be to have an original thought, as well as, obviously, making light of what the real Nazis did). But let me not bring logic into this lest I be called names. Anti-Semitic is a good one too in some cases. I have even witnessed Jewish people being called anti-Semitic because they dared to have an opinion that didn’t sit comfortably with the party line. Such is the out of control world we live in where the militant wheel gets oiled first and the logical debate is not only not considered it is condemned. Here we have a perfect storm for the people of darkness to not only hide within, but thrive.
Bob Dylan has predicted for some time now that we have entered the end game. Anyone who has studied theology and the predictions of the old prophets would have to concur. In my opinion we are currently engaged in the final war between good and evil, darkness and light, and the shadow people are only going to get more and more hysterical as things don’t go their way. They are currently very confused as to why things aren’t going the way of the Polls. Could it be divine intervention?
It is difficult to untangle yourself from a person of darkness because they are cling ons – spiritual vampires sucking your energy. And the more you give them the more resentful they will become towards you. For even your kindness is an irritation. A reminder of what they are not. They will insult you by praising strangers and even abusing and opportunistic ex-partners above your efforts to help, give and support. This is to make you crazy and so confused you will cease to be able to function and end up zombie like staring out a window into the light that was once your source. Do not under any circumstances feed them. Let well enough alone. Danger and madness this way comes.
EXT. STREET. NIGHT.
JUDAS catches up to JESUS wandering down a narrow dark street. Before JUDAS can say anything, a ROMAN OFFICER appears in front of them. JESUS and JUDAS come to a halt, fearing the worst. It is the same ROMAN OFFICER we saw in the CROWD as JESUS entered Jerusalem.
Are you the Rabbi Jesus?
The ROMAN OFFICER walks to him and stops.
I’ve heard you have the power to heal people.
What is it?
My son. He is very sick. He’s all I have in this world.
We don’t help Romans! After everything you’ve done, you dare come to us with an outstretched hand? Murderers! That’s what you are!!
JESUS glares at JUDAS. A CROWD begins to gather. Some of the other DISCIPLES arrive.
(To Roman Officer) Forgive my friend.
I am an officer. There are many men under my command who accept my orders without question. This is how I come to you.
With that, the ROMAN OFFICER kneels in front of JESUS.
ROMAN OFFICER (cont’d)
I will do whatever you command, Rabbi.
JESUS is touched. He looks to JUDAS.
Do you hear that? How can you say this man is not deserving? He has shown me greater devotion and faith than my own!
The DISCIPLES and the CROWD are shocked.
You insult us!
The CROWD begin to boo JESUS.
And you insult me with your doubts and hatred!
JESUS helps the ROMAN OFFICER to his feet.
Go home to your son. He is well.
The ROMAN OFFICER is moved.
Thank you. I will never forget.
The ROMAN OFFICER turns and hurries off.
How could you do such a thing?
How could you not?
The two men glare at each other. JESUS walks away. This is the final straw as far as JUDAS is concerned.
(c) Frank Howson 2014 (c) Writers Guild of America West.