Richard Lowenstein: INXS videos like ‘film soundtracks’
Richard Lowenstein is an Australian film maker whose most notable work includes directing and producing music videos such as U2’s Angel of Harlem and Never Tear Us Apart by INXS. Still currently directing movies, he discusses how he approaches his work and upcoming production, Ecco Homo.
Was writing, producing and directing something you have always wanted to break out into?
Richard Lowenstein: No, I was wanting to be a TV cameraman or a Vet. I was keen on 2 girls at high school: one was going into a Film & TV course, the other a Vet course. I was keener on the Film & TV girl so I put that option first on the list – and got in!
In 1979, the same year as graduating from the Swinburne Institute of Technology in the Television and Film Department, how did it feel to win the Erwin Rado Prize for ‘Best Short Film’ with ‘Evictions’ at the Melbourne International Film Festival?
RL: I was drunk, so I didn’t feel much and said something bratty on stage about the trophy which was a little boomerang. It was the first time the prize was awarded so being the “inaugural” winner felt okay. I liked the attention that the content/theme of the film was getting which was “there is strength in numbers”. I have always been more about getting the themes noticed rather than personal career or stroking. Although sometimes both can be nice.. especially when drunk..
You are widely recognised for the music videos (including INXS and U2), films and commercials you have directed. Can you describe the process of putting a music video together? Is it exciting?
RL: I close my eyes and listen to the song and see what images come to mind. Then the band usually wants a “treatment” so something ridiculous gets written. But honestly, sometimes I make it up on the day. I let the music tell me what to film and I try to make sure that what is being filmed, and how it works with the music is going to make the viewer sit up and take notice.
What are your memories of filming ‘Dogs in Space’ (1986)? Is something new learned on each production?
RL: It was like being on a great big school camp with an extended family and a sense of camaraderie. It is usually quite sad when the shoot is over. Why can’t life always be like that? Everything is a lesson on the school of life and you hope every filming experience teaches you how to be a better film-maker/artist.
A vast amount of your past projects have been working with INXS on their classic music videos such as ‘Need You Tonight’/’Mediate’ (1987), ‘Never Tear Us Apart’(1988), ‘Suicide Blonde’(1990), ‘Listen Like Thieves’(1986) and ‘Burn for You’(1984) to name but a few. What is it that worked about your relationship and would you want to work as heavily with another band again?
RL: It was my connection with Michael and the filmic qualities in some of the songs. The best videos we did had qualities of film soundtracks in them and I was able to bring out the visuals that lay in the music and put them on film.
As mentioned, you shot numerous videos for INXS. Which was your favourite to film, why?
RL: ‘Never Tear Us Apart’/’New Sensation’/’Guns In The Sky’ – because of the strange beauty of Prague and it being behind the iron curtain at the time. Giving Michael and the others that experience, way beyond what he was getting on tour at the time and vice versa – us having that never-to-be repeated experience ourselves.
If you could have made the video to another of their songs, which would you pick, and why?
RL: ‘Mystify’ from the ‘Kick’ album because of its atmospheric filmic jazz qualities. It inspired visuals and could’ve been another US #1 if released 2nd after ‘Need You Tonight’ instead of the 5th.
Did anything happen while filming that didn’t go to plan, but still went along with anyway?
RL: Nothing went to plan. ‘Guns In The Sky’ was filmed on the spur of the moment in a lunch break.
What was the funniest thing you remember from directing with the INXS guys?
RL: I remember waking up in the middle of the night in Prague and exiting my hotel room to find Jon Farriss dead drunk on cheap vodka with his head in between two lift doors that opened and closed repeatedly on his head. I found that very funny.
With hindsight, is there anything you would like to have done differently when planning some of INXS’ videos?
RL: Some of the later ones I should’ve tried some more original ideas, but I got a bit lazy – as the songs were getting lazy as well. Until ‘The Gift’, then we pulled out all stops. And I regret some not using a bit more flattering light on Michael, especially the Max Q ‘Way Of The World’.
‘Australian Made: The Movie’, your live concert film, was very well received when it was originally released in 1987 on VHS the following year and an edited DVD version in 2003. Is the footage still with you? Do you think it will ever be released on Blu-ray?
RL: No. It was funded by a private producer who went bankrupt. No one seems to know where the original 35mm negative is. It was brilliantly edited by Jill Bilcock as well.
There has been a lot of talk regarding a movie about Michael Hutchence. What can you tell us about it? Are there specific time periods you are covering, or Michael’s entire life? Would this project prove difficult if you do not have access to INXS’ music catalogue?
RL: Any film about Michael should always be about the real person that only those close to him got to see. The making of such a unique film project would be dependent on quite a degree of financing. Financing a film these days is like winning the lottery; you could spend your life hoping it is going to happen. Access to the INXS music catalogue is dependent on INXS, and that’s just the way it should be.
Have you found any actors to cast yet? Anybody particularly in mind?
RL: No, casting Michael would be difficult. They are big and unique shoes to fill.
November 22nd marked the 18th anniversary of Michael’s passing. What are your feelings of this day, it’s crazy to think time has flown by right?
RL: Anniversaries don’t really affect me. Everyday involves a sense of loss for all of my friends who are no longer with us in order to enjoy the trials, tribulations, pain and earthly pleasures and stimulation of life.
What are your plans for the new year? Any [plans] you are going to work on which you can discuss?
RL: I have a local low budget script I have to research & finish called River’s Edge and perhaps some festivals for our latest film ‘ECCO HOMO’
Check out all the latest updates about Richard and his work here:
This original interview appears on my personal blog, where you can see more too:
Follow me on Twitter: