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

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.

A plain-clothed detective arrives. Perhaps he is in pursuit of the streetkid but doesn’t reveal his quest, as he attempts to interview each of the people present. But the more he strives to get to the bottom of things, the lower the foundation of his beliefs and view of the world descend.

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 four 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.

WEEKENDS & HOBBIES & ROAST DINNERS

I was asked a few questions recently by a new friend that really had me thinking. Scrambling for answers actually, and aware of the long silence the enquirer was experiencing. In radio they call it “dead air.”

One question was “What do you do on the weekends?”

Yeah. What do I do on the weekends? I guess the question reminded me yet again to my embarrassment that I’m not a normal person. For you see, the answer, truthfully, is I don’t know what I do on weekends. I guess normal people have plans or a regular arrangement. Or habit. Or get-together. Or ritual. Me? Nothing. I go with the flow. Maybe see a movie if there’s something showing for the over-fourteen market. Maybe see a band or a friend performing? Maybe walk along the familiar memory-laden streets of St. Kilda down to the foreshore and watch people having fun in the sun. Or the overcast winter waves crashing in where Brookes’ Jetty used to stand. Maybe meet up with a friend for something to eat and a beer or wine depending on the mood. Although I can always be tempted to have a sublime cheesecake and a coffee at Monarch Cakes in Acland Street.

Sometimes people call in to see me unannounced. Surprise visits are nice, mostly, unless it’s the police and they have the wrong house!

Other times the luxury of just doing nothing and thinking nothing is like a holiday in the French Riviera. That nice warm feeling that grows nicer with the years of just being home, safe, relaxed and alive. Sometimes like the character in the song “Waterloo Sunset” it just feels right to sit and watch the world by my window.

One thing I have enjoyed doing for many years is going to the South Melbourne Market and joining the throng as we file in homage past all the delectable meat, fish, poultry, deli exotics, fresh bread, pastries, fruit and vegetables on display.

In my opinion, the Chinese hole-in-the-wall takeaway at the Cecil Street entrance sells the best spring rolls in the world. When I lived in Los Angeles and would come back to visit my son I’d always make the taxi from the airport stop en route here so I could quickly grab a couple to go, such was the extent I had missed them in La La Land. I guess part of that addiction was that they reminded me of being home.

I remember my Sundays in L. A too when I’d walk from West Hollywood to Century City Plaza, a long but very pleasant leisurely stroll that would end at the cineplex there to watch a new movie and then an hour browsing in the beautiful bookstore (actually all bookstores are beautiful to me) at the bottom of the escalators. One time I chatted to Donald Trump there as he sat signing copies of his then latest book and I wished him well.

So much of my life has been solitary for one reason or another and some times I feel that it’s God’s way for a creative person. Walking, observing, taking mental notes of odd things, thinking, daydreaming, trying to make sense of nonsense, etc.

Would I have preferred to have walked these steps with the person I loved? No doubt. But I have come to grips with the resolution that it was not written to be a part of my story, this time around. Only fleeting years of romance here and there. And now the sweet inner longing has taken on a somewhat beautiful warm glow of loss. And that glow fills many songs and scripts and stories of mine and in them love is reborn and remembered fondly now the scars have healed and left one with the exquisite taste of what will not come again. Perhaps. But such longings can be walked away if you have the right shoes.

The second question I was asked was, “Do you have a hobby?”

Again, I was stuck for an answer. Any answer. But thinking back I remembered as a child buying at the corner toy shop those boxes that contained lots of plastic pieces with glue included in order to fit all the pieces together and make my own replica planes. Normally World War 2 bombers.

I’d also sit in my bedroom as my parents berated each other and read The Adventures of Biggles, Robin Hood, Treasure Island and Johnny Yuma The Rebel.

When I lived in Fawkner Street I’d grab my football each late afternoon after school and walk out into the street in front of my house bouncing my football. You’d only need to bounce it for a minute or two and presto! You’d have a fellow team of boys all eager to grab the football and in their imagination kick the winning goal. Looking back, so much of what we had to make do with was exercising our creative imaginations.

Anyway, back to the question, “What do I do now for a hobby?” It made me a little sad to think that I don’t really have a hobby in the traditional meaning. Everything I do is in some way work related. I write. And the writing is my therapy in that it’s my way of making sense of things.

I go to movies. But even that is in a way work related. Same as going to a play or a musical.

I paint and sketch but that is something I have been doing most of my life but have only recently at the urging of others taken it seriously and have been grateful for a couple of successful exhibitions. I must admit that painting does relax my restless mind and soothe me more than anything else I do. But a hobby? Like going fishing? Not really. Or playing golf? Nah. I like to chat to people. My mum was a chatter person. I like to engage in conversation with others as I like to laugh, to quiz, to swap opinions, to stimulate thought, etc. Maybe that’s my hobby?

When I lived at my previous apartment it had a nice oven and I did like to make a roast lunch or dinner every Sunday and have people drop in for something to eat. I guess it reminded me of my own family when my mother and father were alive and Sundays were a very special day. My dad would be sober and in a great mood and he’d take it upon himself to cook the roast and all the trimmings. It was a sense of family as it should be, as it could be, and it made me feel whole and even as a young boy strangely blessed, appreciating it even at those tender years because perhaps I had an instinctive premonition that these times would rarely come to me again.

(C) Frank Howson 2019

THE DEAD AND THE DYING

The heavy decrepit bodies of the great and not so, mingled with their offsprings, children too young to realise that this too would be their fate. Pathetic men way past their glory days paraded pretending that they still had it, while bored defeated women looked on knowing they didn’t.

It was another day at the enclosed perfectly temperatured salt baths. The warmth was comforting to the skin and the soul and made old bones and muscles feel rejuvenated. The inhabitants floated safe in this maternal womb away from the business deals that no longer mattered in a world that no longer cared and was on its last legs. Some old guys studied the racing form while younger middle-aged men preferred the stock market. Some gambled with their own money while others ventured with what they had married into, or had inherited. All in all there’d be few winners that day. There were no more lucky numbers to be had, or surprise gold and mineral funds in a world that had been looted, raped and gang banged so many times there was nothing left. Certainly not energy for outrage. Only resentment from natives who had been trampled under foot and squashed by the invaders who destroyed paradise without ever having taken the time to truly look around and realise the greatest wealth was above the ground. But like rats they burrowed lower and lower into darkness desperate for any shiny morsel of opportunity. Never thinking any further ahead than that.

We had destroyed the world without realising that such an abomination also destroyed ourselves. What we project outwards also implodes us. Given time.

I stood in the warm salt water as the floating bodies of the dead and the dying circled me.

(C) Frank Howson 2019

Sketch by Frank Howson.

A WALK IN THE RAIN

He aged within the silences of our stilted conversation. His eyes were those of a man who’d seen his kingdoms fall and the survival mechanisms of such pain had turned him into a statue. Although he was outwardly pleasant and patient there was no one there. He was a ghost haunted by himself but chained to a place that had been familiar in his real life. I wondered if like other theories of ghostlore he was doomed to act out his past mistakes over and over again until they revealed something he hadn’t known before. And replayed to the incessant drumbeat of “If only I’d done this. If only I’d done that. If only…If only…

The dark circles beneath his eyes told me he didn’t sleep much and that the night was rarely his friend. To him there was no morning, afternoon or evening only awake time and dozing time.

It was those eyes that still haunt me to this day. They told me they knew the secrets of this life and that the knowing of such things begats a penalty far beyond any pain most humans experience.

He said his best writing came to him at 3am which was God’s favourite time to speak through us, when the night is still and the silence is that of eternity. The world at momentary peace with itself and you feel you can hear God’s breath within the comforting embrace of darkness. Such were the fleetingly magic moments when inspiration struck him.

He felt he was no longer a person, but a vessel. He had worn himself out in his search for a lasting kind of love and knew now that it was not written as part of his destiny. Hence he no longer sought it for it only carried disappointment in its train. and such disappointment sometimes took years to wash away. A penalty for those who cared too deeply. Furthermore he now feared he no longer contained the capacity to feel the emotions of normal people, and wondered why God had spared him and taken so many others. Sometimes it crossed his mind that the lucky ones died young, still hopeful with dreams intact. He mused that perhaps that old saying was true, “God calls home first those he loves the most.”

These days he liked to walk in the rain. It made him feel something.

(C) Frank Howson 2019

Photo by Raija Reissenberger.

THAT’S HOW IT ENDS

She died in my arms
Not a word was said
In silence we rose
And got out of our bed
Her eyes would flash
I knew them too well
Every man in this town
Had a story to tell
But they weren’t her lovers
They were just friends
That’s what she told me, and
That’s how it ends

She cried for the boy
Who had dared to dream
His suitcase was packed
For the journey downstream
She’d lost her chance
To salvage herself
From the toys in the dark
That were left on the shelf
There were too many cracks there
For me to mend
That’s what I told her, and
That’s how it ends

We feared the many dangers
That stood in our way
Too many strangers
With something to say
We stood there grieving
At the death of our youth
The first thing to die
After the truth

She calls out my name
But the hunger’s gone
For some times we die
But still we go on
The game of love
Has been played and lost
Now old men sit alone
And fathom the cost
But there’s always tomorrow
And what fate intends
So the story goes on
But that’s how it ends…

(C) Frank Howson 2019

Photograph by Vanessa Allan

THIS PRISON HAS NO BARS

From the mansions of sadness
To the bums on the street
From the highways of loneliness
To the halls of defeat
I’ve watched your ascendance
The road I never took
Girl, you’ve come a long way
On a smile and a look

From the poolside of stardom
To the kids on the run
From the mountains of compassion
To the things never done
I’ve watched your progression
With an assassin’s eye
I could have been there too
But my heart doesn’t lie

There are stars in cars on every corner of this town
You’re gonna need a lot of help
When you finally come down
You’re slept with the Caesars
And you’ve dined with the Czars
But none of them told you why
This prison has no bars

From the towers of power
To a broken man’s plea
From the face on the magazine
To the girl you used to be
I’m waiting for some answers
Beneath the falling stars
Wish I could’ve warned you
This prison has no bars

(C) Frank Howson 2019