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Film review: AUTOLUMINESCENT: ROWLAND S. HOWARD, from Built for Speed

Autoluminescent documents the musical career of Rowland S. Howard best known as the enigmatic guitarist and songwriter for the Australian alternative rock pioneers The Birthday Party.  The film takes us from his early punk band the New Charlatans, through The Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party, Crime and the City Solution, These immortal souls and various solo projects.
 
Interviews with former girlfriends and indie rock legends such as Nick Cave, Thurston Moore, Bobby Gillespie and Henry Rollins as well as thrilling performance footage paint a portrait of a physically frail but robustly talented artist.
 
Howard’s electrical storm feedback-driven guitar sound was hugely influential on generations of indie-rock acts including Sonic Youth and Magic Dirt.
 
Howard is famous for writing the song Shivers at age 16 and the film details how his original vision for the song was radically altered when Nick Cave insisted on singing it with the band The Boys Next Door. The film suggests that during this time and later with The Birthday Party, Howard was a kind of sickly brilliant George Harrison denied full expression of his musical vision. 

The film talks about his drug use and cancer that eventually took his life but doesn’t wallow in this too much.  Recollections, however, from those who knew him and witnessed his sad decline are often quite moving.
 
Howard’s music was emotive and abrasive so it’s not to everyone’s taste. Non-fans may not be immediately converted to his music watching this doco but few will fail to be intrigued by the man himself.  For those fascinated by that dark chaotic period of Australian indie music in the 80’s and 90’s this is a must see.

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