ME AND JOHN LENNON

I was thrown up into this world
Or born into it
Or cast down 
Some time ago
When everything was grey
Mostly
Although some things were black
Or white
And your skin colour
Could be wrong or right
Regardless of your heart
And actions
It made me nervous
That one could so easily
Cross the line 
And be punished
For who you were
So I locked myself away
In my room
My tomb
And listened to the radio
But mostly the music was grey too
Like Johnny Ray
And Doris Day
So I dreamed in Vistavision
And lived in the movies
Where the hero stood up to the mob
And did the right thing
Regardless of the cost 
Sometimes getting the girl
In the final reel
Sometimes not
For the hero was mostly a loner
A man who'd seen too much
And didn't want to see anymore
For he too 
Found that the world was grey
And was not above sacrificing his life
So that others may live
I continued on
Looking forward to Christmas
And my birthdays
When suddenly there was kindness
And laughter
And glimpses of the colours 
Of joy
And what the world could be
If only we tore the walls down
And embraced
And displayed our brokenness 
And vocalised our care for others
Imagine
I was about eleven years of age
With my mum in the Myer department store
In the city
When I heard a sound that changed my life
It was unlike anything I'd ever heard
I stopped 
Transfixed 
My mother asked me what was wrong 
I smiled because 
Suddenly 
Everything seemed somehow right
I wandered away
Toward the music 
Leaving my mother to follow me
The singer's voice 
Was the most exciting and dynamic sound
I'd ever heard
He sounded like a caged animal
That had just been set free
As I had 
The record was "Twist And Shout"
By a group called the Beatles
And on the front cover of their EP
They looked to this kid from St. Kilda
To be from another planet
Their hair, their clothes, their boots, their sound 
It seemed the planet they came from was called Liverpool
I needed to know what the singer's name was
And was told by the girl behind the record counter
That he was John Lennon
And he played rhythm guitar and co-wrote moat of their songs 
John Lennon saved my life that day
And he has had my staunch loyalty ever since
I grew to read much about him
In fact, everything
And have since met many people who knew him
He was a complex, fascinating, contradictory and flawed man
All of which made him even more interesting 
And still does to this day
Scarred by the early loss of his father, then his mother
And then his best friend
He put up a guard to protect himself
From any more hurt 
His singing tone sometimes snarled to hide his pain
But we heard it in his soul
And in the words of his songs
And knew that behind the tough guy facade he was the kindest 
And most caring of all 
My friend Phil Sloan told me that John's spirit was so huge 
That you actually felt his presence enter a room 
Before you'd even seen him 
Another friend of John's who'd known me for some time
Told me that he would've liked me
I hope so
Because I have spent a long time
Loving him 
He was my liberator, my hero, my friend
He made me laugh, he made me cry, he made me angry, he made me care
And sometimes when I am lost or despairing
I think about how Johnny Rhythm would handle things 
And it gives me the inspiration to go on
To try and find a way
I guess it was destiny
That he left us after such a short time
But perhaps his spirit was too big for this world
As his beautiful boy Sean said to his mother when she was grieving,
"Don't worry, Daddy's bigger now...Now he's part of everything."


(c) Frank Howson 2017
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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

DON’T TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER

In this business of show
The best advice I can give is
Don't take no for an answer
Your work will be judged by idiots
And by genius
And guess what?
Sometimes they all get it wrong
And if all these experts know everything
Then how come they make so many flops?
Your greatest guide 
And you must protect it
Is your instinct
For those of us who believe in a higher power
I believe our instinct is God talking to us
But guess what?
Most times we second guess ourselves
And go against it
Or allow ourselves to be talked into doing
Something that doesn't feel right
And the end result is always disaster
And recriminations
If everyone followed sound advice
And stuck to the tried and true formula
We'd have had no DaVinci
Or Glenn Gould
Nikola Tesla
Or Picasso
Marlon Brando
Beatles
Elvis
Hitchcock
Bob Dylan
David Lynch
Breaking Bad
And so on and so on...
The Beatles were told that "Guitar bands are out of fashion"
Tesla was told that "his ideas wouldn't fly"
Yet he lit up the world
And in return it broke his heart
Elvis was threatened with jail if he continued to rock the boat
And Dylan was laughed at as a freak
I'm not saying that sticking to your inner voice
Wont be a difficult road
It will be
But when was anything worth having easy?
All the people I have mentioned had only one thing in common
Persistence
Fuelled by a total self belief
Don't get me wrong
I'm not saying don't listen to good advice
Do
For only a fool turns their back on a good idea
But trust your own instinct as to what is right for you
And what isn't
My mother once told someone that if you want Frank to do
Something for you just ask him and he will
But order him to do it
And he'll do the opposite just to piss you off
So I guess I was born with a rebel soul
And all I know is this
Every time I was told 
"You'll never make a film because you haven't made one before.
So go home and forget about it, sonny, and leave it to the experts"
It somehow made me stronger and more determined to prove them wrong
Every time I was told "Don't bother trying to get that big name star 
For your movie, because it won't happen"
It did
Or "You can't make a film about that because it's too personal and no one 
will get it other than you"
That was the one the people responded to
In an era that I believe is the darkest age for movies
When they are only making films about comic books
Don't give up
Where some see a wasteland 
Others sees a golden opportunity
Never before has an original idea been such a valuable commodity
Be bold and mighty forces join you
The future belongs to you
If you are brave enough
And strong enough
And stubborn enough to grasp it
And to those who are
We at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival
Salute you

(SPEECH DELIVERED AT THE 2017 MELBOURNE UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL)
(c) Frank Howson 2017






HOME

The street was the same as I remembered it. And the birds swooped as if to herald my return. So it was true, I hadn’t dreamed it. For a moment I stood and took in the beautiful cacophony of noise that I’d never fully appreciated before in all its ugly glory. The sun came out to shine on cue and its warmth informed me that I had now entered a safety zone for lost boys.

How can you know a place so well and yet feel that you are seeing it for the first time? If this is a dream and I awaken now I will be angry all day. Maybe all days.

I continue moving on further into it until I reach the gate no one ever closes, and the narrow cement path  leading to the apartment block steps I once knew so well I could climb them in the dark, and under the influence of too much life. This time there seems to be a lesson learnt in each step and greater effort needed to conceal the weariness of the outsider.

Halfway up I enter the glow from the first storey window that conspires to shine God-like behind the statue of Buddha as if even the universe is welcoming my return.

More steps and more weary remembrances of lessons learned and I am at the front door, knocking in a drum pattern of whimsy and familiarity.

After an eternity of seconds the door is opened and I see your smiling face as I remembered it from a long ago carefree time. Bright, loving and kind. I can now die in my footsteps and not be lost to wander and wonder.

I enter and am surrounded by the comfort of the greatest books and music ever written. Each word and note a friend of mine. And I sit at the empty table. Alone no more. Everything and nothing has changed as I take my place amongst it.

You ask me how I am. But there are no words to convey the miracle of ordained destiny.

For in that sheltered moment, I am home.

 

(C) Frank Howson 2017

MY HOME

My home felt like a home to me. My mum and dad were there. And frequent visits from Uncle Arthur, Auntie Gladys, Uncle jack, Auntie Dagmar, Uncle Alf, Auntie Daf, Uncle Bill, Auntie Mary, Uncle Barney, Auntie Terri, and Uncle Charlie (who wasn’t really an uncle but was an honourary member of our family), who all added colour and laughter to our home at 51 Fawkner Street, St. Kilda.

From my child’s point of view our house was like Graceland and I was very proud of it. Today, I stand outside that same house and see a place so small and modest it resembles a doll’s house for grown-ups. Amazing that so small a space can house so many memories. To those who wander passed it would probably at best be considered “quaint.” To me it is a museum of my youth and I can still hear the distant echoes of laughter from my family, now all long gone.

My personality was formed in that house by those people. Life was simple and there was no need to be afraid of anything because my mum and dad held all the answers to Life.

It was a nicer world. People trusted each other. When we were having a poor week, Mr. and Mrs. Kilpatrick who owned the corner store would put the cost of groceries down on a piece of paper behind the counter and we’d pay them when we could. In those days to be able to wander up the street and buy an ice cream on the good of your name gave a small kid a lot of pride in who we were.

I learned the meaning of generosity and trust and the value of reputation in those bygone days. Your word was your word and your reward was the warm glow of pride when you were able to settle your meager debts.

From my mother I learned the meaning of kindness and never turning anyone in need away. I would sometimes wake in the morning and toddle down the corridor to find a stranger sleeping on our couch in the living room. When I’d ask my mum who this person was, she’d reply, “Oh that’s Tom, he’s from Hobart and didn’t have anywhere to stay so he’ll be here for a few days until he finds some place of his own.” People did what they could for each other.

From my father I learned that we all battle our own internal demons and that alcohol can sometimes make you say things you don’t mean. Hurt people hurt people. Sometimes in that house a kid got to hear and see things that ruined the dream world of Disneyland and Father Knows Best forever. But I learned forgiveness – knowing that at the heart of it my father didn’t mean what he said. He was not lashing out at us, but at the world. He’d had a much harder childhood than I could imagine and who knows what innermost regrets and sorrows his poor heart held and had to deal with every day. All I know is that he was the nicest man in the world up to 10 drinks. And that’s the man I choose to remember.

From my elder sisters I learned that envy can drive people to be cruel and mean-hearted and after many attempts over the years to forgive their actions towards me I had to cut them out of my life for good.

We were the last house in our street to get a television set and in the end we only got one by an Act of God. One day a delivery man from Steele’s dropped one off to us by mistake. Steele’s department store only realized their mistake two years later and dispatched another delivery man to pick it up. But by then we were seriously addicted to the weekly TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Richard Greene, and there was no way my dad was giving it back. When the delivery man sensed that my dad was willing to fight to the death to protect his family’s entertainment, the man from Steele’s swiftly departed and our ownership of the small mahogany television set was never contested again. My dad was a hero that day.

Before God granted us a television set, a boy had to invent his own entertainment. So each day after school, I’d rush home, change out of my school clothes, get dressed, grab a football and stroll out onto Fawkner Street and start bouncing it up and down on the pavement. It didn’t take long before boys from other houses would hear the familiar sound and start piling out onto the street for a kick to kick football match until night fell and we were all called home for dinner.

I used to try and take skyscraper marks, sometimes climbing up onto the backs of my opponents, like my football idol Big Bill Stephenson of St.Kilda. My mum and dad had taken me to every St.Kilda match from the time I was a baby in their arms, and as a young boy I had marveled at Big Bill’s genius at full forward. Then, one day when the Saints played Essendon, Big Bill had climbed into the stratosphere for a mark and came down landing badly and ruptured his knee. When he collapsed to the ground, he uttered the words, “I’m buggered” to which his opponent Don McKenzie replied, “Thank Christ for that!” So far that year Bill Stephenson had kicked 20 goals in just three and a half games and at that rate would’ve scored 102 goals for the year at a time when the leading full forwards averaged 54. He never played again. To me, it was a tragedy on the scale of the JFK assassination.

It’s funny the things that mean so much to us along the way and shape us as human beings. I still sometimes get teary eyed when I recall the long forgotten football hero Big Bill Stephenson. He passed away in 2010 with hardly a mention in the newspapers. But it meant something deep and profound to me. From Big Bill Stephenson I learned that no matter how high you soar, there is a still a price to be paid.

When I was born my mother wanted to name me Peter. My sisters wanted to name me Michael. And my Irish grandmother demanded I be called Frank. Guess who won out. A short time later we got a dog and he became Peter. Oh my, how I loved that dog. My first best friend. My confidante who never snitched on me if I did something wrong; who continued to smile at me even when I disappointed him and proved I was only human. From Peter, my rock, I learned loyalty.

One day I came home from school to be told the tragic news that Peter had run away from home. What? My best friend had run out on me? Had abandoned me for greener pastures? How could this be? It didn’t make sense. I grieved for many years over this and never got another dog. Perhaps deep down I still grieve in my schoolboy heart. Not that long before my mum passed away she told me the true story. Peter had not run away. The neighbor across the road had thrown chicken bones over our fence thinking the dog would like them. But Peter got one caught in his throat and choked to death. My mum invented the story that the rest of the family stuck by thinking it would be less traumatic for me if I thought he’d run away. I wonder if they still felt that when every evening after school I’d stand at the front gate looking up and down each end of the street for my best friend to come home. To me. It has probably instilled in me abandonment issues I carry to this day. If you love something too much, God takes it away.

Anyway, that was my first home. Sometimes I stand outside it today and fantasize that one day I’ll knock on the door and offer the people who live there a huge sum of money to give it back to me. I need somewhere to house these memories and am weary of carrying them for so long from one place to another.

And when I have it back, there’ll always be the kettle on for a visitor, a spare couch for someone in need, and if you have a dog with you, a big hug as I close my eyes and imagine Peter has come home.

 

(c) Frank Howson 2017

 

RAY’S LAST STAND

Ray Macky sat at a table for one. He was used to it by now. It wasn’t like the old days. In those days it had been tables for two, or four or twenty-four. He’d been wildly popular in his younger days. In those times he thought it’d been due to his personal charm but now looking back from the cruel vantage point of having lived too long he saw it for what it was – he’d had success and that’d brought truck loads of money in its wake. He must’ve wined and dined every opportunist in town and even married some of them. He’d enjoyed the crème de la crème of the beautiful and sexy who were, at their hearts, the very worst of humanity. Had he learned anything from all this? No. Zip. He still melted inside when a pretty one smiled at him. These days they smiled at him out of pity – he seemed like a kindly old harmless fool instead of a wealthy one. It seems the last faculty to die is one’s stupidity. Each marriage had grown shorter and the settlements larger until there was nothing left. Ray, in his few honest discussions with himself, lamented the small deaths that led up to the big one. The death of his trust; the death of his respect; the death of his generousity; the death of his health; the death of his longing; the death of his libido; the death of his caring.

Sometimes on a summer’s night at an outside table for one, surrounded by young couples in love, he held on momentarily to the conceit that on one such night a beautiful, kind, understanding woman would notice him and walk into what was left of his life and everything leading up to this would suddenly make sense. But he was also smart enough by now to know that this was only the dream of an old man who needed something to clasp onto to bring sleep each night.

Ray liked to walk home from his favourite restaurants on such nights although friends had warned him it was no longer safe to do so at his age. It was a different time and now young boys roamed the streets filled with enough anger to pleasure themselves by bringing down the vulnerable. As if life hadn’t hurt them all enough.

On these late night walks home Ray would try and remember the sound of his parents’ voices and it’d comfort him. Step by step back into the past until he was a young lad again. Back to a time when he was loved…no…treasured, and the future was so filled with options and adventure that he couldn’t wait to be older. Where did it all go, he wondered. Was he so busy running to and from things that he forgot to savour the pleasure of each moment? Or did he enjoy them so much that time accelerated? Whichever scenario, the result was the same – he was now weary. Not just in body, but in spirit. And sad. Sad that he had had so much love to give and dissipated it on all the wrong people. The worst of them had damaged him for the best of them. In recent years he’d had the opportunity to have relationships with certain women but had always declined the offers or let them die on the vine from his lack of interest or follow through. All he knew was it felt good to finally have all the power. He could now no longer be seduced by a pretty face, a sexy body or a woman with a wicked mind. It gave him some satisfaction to see their surprised expressions when their games and charms no longer worked on him. Alas, they were too late. He had no more chips to bet.

His nightly walks also made him think of those that had gotten away. The ones he should’ve stayed with and the ones who broke his heart by leaving each time the money ran out. He’d had such rotten luck in love, although he wasn’t quite sure that some of the horrific scenes he’d endured should be classified under that sacred four letter word.

He wished he could go back in time and give his last wife the things that she’d needed that now seemed so clear but back then were unfathomable. What an idiot he was not to see. And now he was being punished for it. A life sentence. A dead man walking.

He wondered where his son was and what lies he must’ve been told to have distanced himself so much from a father that loved him more than life itself. But such things were too painful to think about if one was to keep going forward. He preferred to think of him as the young man who had worshipped his father. A dad who could do no wrong.

On his last nightly walk home, Ray Macky heard his son’s voice yell out to him from behind and he turned, smiling, his eyes suddenly filled with hope of a new beginning, or a miraculous renewal of what had once been the most loving of relationships. For a few moments Ray was taken aback at how much his son had changed. His face had grown hard and cruel in ways that he couldn’t quite grasp. And he was older than his years. Had he caused this damage to the one he had so loved?

Then he heard the suddenly unfamiliar voice demand money, “Give me your money, old man, or you’ll get this!”

Ray looked down to see a knife in the boy’s hand. Surely his son wouldn’t pull a knife on his own father? If he wanted money all his son had to do was ask and Ray would’ve given him anything. Ah, but then again, Ray no longer had anything. He was back in the here and now, and the cold realisation that he was of no longer any use to anyone.

“I only have twenty dollars in cash I’m afraid. But it’s yours, Tommy, take it, my boy. I can get you some more on Friday when my pension is in my account..”

“Tommy?…Who the fuck is Tommy you stupid old bastard?!”

“Tommy, don’t you recognise me? I’m your dad. I’ve never stopped loving you…”

Ray didn’t get to finish his sentence before the boy grabbed his wallet, thrust the knife into his stomach and ran from the stranger.

Ray fell to the footpath as a warm pool of blood formed around him. Lying there he wondered what he had done to make his son hate him so. Didn’t he know that life just got in the way sometimes and people had no control over where it led them?

Ray attempted a laugh that a monetary figure had finally been placed on his life and closed his eyes in peace that all debts were now paid.

Ray’s last thought was that he hoped the twenty dollars would be of some help to the boy.

 

(c) Frank Howson 2016

ALL I KNOW IS THIS.

All I know is this. Politicians, mostly, stand for one thing, and one thing only – being elected.  Those who genuinely dare to make a difference and can’t be bought – are in danger of their lives. And will either be killed by a bullet or a smear campaign.

 

All I know is this. Jesus, whether he was the Messiah, the Son of God, a gifted rabbi, or just another madman in the wilderness, preached a message of love and forgiveness – regardless of the translations, the interpretations or the Chinese whispers – his message, and the price he paid for it, are worthy of my respect, and love.

 

All I know is this. Shakespeare has the perfect quote to describe any condition of human nature. So does Bob Dylan.

 

All I know is this. They no longer make films for mature audiences.

 

All I know is this. It is alright to love something – but you are damned if you love that thing too much.

 

All I know is this. Today we have at our fingertips on the internet more easily accessed information than any previous generation that inhabited this planet. And yet the ignorance level has never been higher.  Who the hell is Paul McCartney?  Go fuck yourself.

 

All I know is this. Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t shoot J.F.K and the men who did got away with it.

 

All I know is this. None of us have any real idea what’s happening in the world at the moment. We have been purposely misinformed for many years now because the only way to keep the public in line is to have them in a constant state of confusion and chaos. Oh, and hopefully, on drugs.

 

All I know is this. The War on Terrorism is as calculatingly and cynically futile and convenient as the War on Drugs.

 

All I know is this. Two of Hollywood’s greatest geniuses, or genii, Charles Chaplin and Orson Welles, were both run out of town. Does that tell you something?

 

All I know is this. Children’s theatre and pantomimes were the first introduction of many kids like me to the magical world of theatre. And once hooked on it we continued to go back in search of other magical nights. It built a whole future audience for stage shows. Sadly, what we knew as children’s theatre is now as dead as the Wicked Witch. Ding dong.

 

All I know is this. We owe more than we know to The Beatles. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

All I know is this. The more you see of Life, the less you think you know.

 

All I know is this. Humility is the open road to God.

 

All I know is this. More lives had been lost or damaged through manmade religions than all the wars since the beginning of time. God is great. But his organized fan clubs are run by the ignorant and the flawed.

 

All I know is this. You can’t judge somebody by the colour of their skin, their gender, the size of their wallet, or their religion.  We can only truly be judged on the fabric of our spirit.

 

All I know is this. You can’t make somebody love you.

 

All I know is this. Success comes to those who persist. If you lean against a closed door long enough eventually it flies open.

 

All I know is this.  Some of the old clichés have become clichés because they hold the truth. Everything in moderation. If you eat, drink, do, or take too much of anything it will harm you.

 

All I know is this. Anthony Newley was a genius that the world has largely forgotten now.

 

All I know is this. Everything you learn you learn in the first five years of your life. Then it may take a lifetime to overcome that.

 

All I know is this. Any battle is hard won.

 

All I know is this. Much more is achieved by a smile than a threat.

 

All I know is this. Every mistake we make is an opportunity to learn something. Those of us who don’t learn are destined to repeat it over and over again. Some, sadly, are stuck in Groundhog Day all their lives.

 

All I know is this. You never lose a friend. They live on in your heart forever.

 

All I know is this. We’re not here for long, so be kind to each other.

 

 

 

(c) Frank Howson 2016