No matter the filmic talent behind them, biographical documentaries are largely defined as intriguing or banal by the character they explore. Autoluminescent, directed by Richard Lowenstein and Lynn-Maree Milburn, documents the life of Australian guitar legend Rowland S. Howard, who passed away in 2009. Howard was the guitarist of iconic bands such as post-punks The Boys Next Door and The Birthday Party, teaming up in his teens with the iconic Nick Cave.
The film chronicles Howard's life journey and utilises footage of interviews with Howard and friends/band-mates/musicians from the late '70s to the present day. Famous musicians such as Mick Harvey, Kevin Shields [My Bloody Valentine], Thurston Moore [Sonic Youth], Nick Zinner [Yeah Yeah Yeahs], Nick Cave and Henry Rollins to name a few discuss their experiences with Howard and his musical influence on them. However, the most interesting interviews come from the women whom Howard loved, as they offered less of a musical insight into Howard but rather explored him as a person: tormented by the seduction of drugs and combating the firm strangle of depression.
Fans of his music will be enthralled to engage with so many of his classic interviews and footage of his concerts throughout the years. The audience is granted a pass into the mind of the maestro, filled with memories of mania and melancholy amongst musical brilliance. Autoluminescent works because it does not aim to merely present Howard as a guitar genius, but rather it incorporates all the depressive elements that shadow a life of heroin use and personal trauma.
Another strength of Autoluminescent is that it does not demand the audience know anything about Rowland S. Howard or his music to enjoy it. I knew little and discovered a new favourite album whilst watching it.
Perhaps its only flaw is its pacing. The first third of the film, before I felt an emotional connection to Howard and was charmed by the fascinating tales and his stimulating ideas, was somewhat dull and slowly paced contrasted to the rest of the movie. However, once this hurdle is overcome, the film is enjoyable largely courtesy of the complex and captivating character that Rowland S. Howard was, and Autoluminescent is worthwhile for the dreamy soundtrack alone. If you're not a fan of him beforehand, you probably will be afterwards.
Autoluminescent will be released in cinemas around the nation on Thursday October 27.