Richard Lowenstein was very young when he burst on to the filmmaking scene in the early 1980s, and has been one of Australia’s most prolific and intriguing directors ever since. A graduate of Victoria’s Swinburne Film and Television School, he made his first film Strikebound when he was only 24.
He has had a successful career making commercials, and found a particular niche in music videos and directing recordings of live concerts, for bands such as INXS and U2.
His feature films include Dogs in Space, Say a Little Prayer, He Died with a Felafel in his Hand, and the telemovie Ghost Story. He was also executive producer on 10-part series John Safran’s Music Jamboree and the 8-part John Safran vs. God for SBS Independent.
Tell us a little about your film at SBS On Demand.
In October 1983, I was 24 years old and after a period of two years of trauma, disillusionment and conflict, I completed my first feature film, Strikebound. During the Christmas period of 1984, I began writing a screenplay entitled, ‘Dogs In Space’. Frustrated at the length of the writing/funding/production process that feature films in Australia had to go through, ‘Dogs’ was written as a quick exercise in character. It was an idea I had tossed around in 1979, along with two other fellow film-school students, Tim McLaughlan and Andrew De Groot, when we were living together in a large student house in the inner-city suburb of Richmond in the late seventies.
As the punk era began to disappear along a heroin-related path, its sense of community, idealism, militancy and innovation began to be replaced with the isolation, homogenisation, rampant materialism and the reactionary politics of the eighties and its “Greed Is Good” ethos, I began to investigate the idea more fully. An idyllic era of cultural change was ending – as it had for the Beat generation, the mods, the rockers, the hippies and now the punks.
The character of Anna in the story is based on a close friend and compatriot, whose spirit seemed to encapsulate the essence of that era both in Australia and abroad. The film is dedicated to that friend and all the others involved in the film who have also passed away…
Watch Dogs In Space now at SBS On Demand.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on a visceral and dark, cinema-style dramatic miniseries set in the neo-noir world of Kings Cross, Sydney in 1963 that follows a multi-perspective narrative of the lives of four main protagonists as they try to move forward in the tawdry and decadent world they inhabit, full of misogyny, murder, mayhem and the beginnings of a worldwide revolution in politics, culture and rock ‘n’ roll music.
How are you coping with self-isolation?
I have a long-suffering cat, Strudel who refuses to social distance and keeps me grounded and my ego under control. Both she and the virus have underlined the most essential aspects of existence: to be able to eat, breathe, take a lot of breaks, bask in the sun and having enough toilet paper… oh, and coffee, always coffee.
What are your 5 favourite films at SBS On Demand?
1. The Red Balloon
Director: Albert Lamorisse
Cast: Pascal Lamorisse, Georges Sellier, Sabine Lamorisse
The Red Balloon may well have been the first film I ever saw. I had the book when I was 6 and was keen to see how they’d adapted it into the movie. Then I worked out from the photos in the book that the movie may have come first. It was a defining moment in my cinema education. I identified with the boy in the book mainly because we had the same haircut which I think my mother may have arranged on purpose. It could explain why she wanted me to learn French as well.
Watch The Red Balloon now at SBS On Demand.
2. Withnail And I
Director: Bruce Robinson
Cast: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths
The definitive shared house film that inspired us all. And the best drug dealer in the history of cinema. I used to meet people like this in the eighties in London and sometimes the laughter just would not stop. I thought that it had influenced me but then I realised that I made Dogs In Space two years earlier… Perhaps later on it had an effect.
Watch Withnail And I now at SBS On Demand.
Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Jack Nicholson
This one really did influence me, along with all those Raymond Chandler novels I read. Probably the best Phillip Marlowe put to screen only it wasn’t Phillip Marlowe. It was Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and Roman Polanski.
Watch Chinatown now at SBS On Demand.
4. The Conversation
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Cast: Gene Hackman, Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall
The favourite go-to film for all anal conspiracy theorists. My favourite Francis Ford Coppola film of all time. I wish I could clean up bad sound recordings like Gene Hackman does!
Watch The Conversation now at SBS On Demand.
Director: Warren Beatty
Cast: Diane Keaton, Warren Beatty, Gene Hackman, Jack Nicolson
Warren Beatty acted in, produced and directed this masterpiece of John Reed’s great book Ten Days That Shook The World with Diane Keaton in the role of Louise Bryant. His masterstroke was the combination of interviews with real-life witnesses of the Reeds and their long-gone activities and romance.
Watch Reds now at SBS On Demand.
A Matter Of Life And Death – the effeminate French angel is the best.
Wings Of Desire – another angel film… must be a theme of mine.
Once Upon A Time In The West – best sound design in the history of narrative cinema.
Catch-22 – when it comes to anti-war films you can’t go past this one.
Orlando – gender fluidity, living forever, eternal youth and amazing frocks, wigs and music… Who could want more?