The recent death of Frank Lovece, a Melbourne based artist, has left us all deeply stunned and profoundly saddened. Such states of loss and shock can give rise, often in involuntary ways, to a range of unexpected and vivid memories, connections and reflections. In this tribute to Frank we have attempted to harness and consolidate such immediate reactions about Frank’s work in film. To this end we have collated a collective article from a range of invited contributors many of whom have been engaged as media artists with MIMA and its later incarnation as Experimenta.
Frank’s films embraced and activated a range of uncompromising artistic strategies that remained distinctively and radically interconnected and interrelated. By placing short pieces from invited contributors alongside each other in a collective and in a sense, random way, we hope to offer an insight into Frank Lovece’s films and artistic practice.
Each of Frank’s films represents a rare and unique artistic entity that has not been publicly screened as often as it should have been. Most of his films have not been shown for many years now, and many were only screened once or twice since they were made. But each of his films has had a profound and long-lasting impact on many of those fortunate enough to view them. A fundamental aim is to generate a wider awareness of Frank’s film work and pave the way for future screenings.
In recent conversations Frank made various appreciative and insightful references to Massimo Cacciari’s Posthumous People: Vienna at the Turning Point. Cacciari opens the book with this quote from Nietzsche: “It is only after death that we will enter our life and come alive, oh, very much alive, we posthumous people!” The implication being that artists and thinkers not understood or neglected in the present will only become significant in the future as ‘posthumous people’ seems poignantly true in terms of Frank’s extraordinary work in film.
The last breath,
is it a kite a paper plane
a train a sixteen-wheeler semitrailer, is it the top tower to take a dive from is it a song
is it a window a door way a tunnel a womb,
a wingless journey,
is it freedom, is it …….
Frank went first Frank went,
he went Frank went,
it pisses me off,
2. Dirk de Bruyn
Frank was Melbourne for me and surprisingly to some, Migrant Dandenong. It was also very much Frank and Marisa. Frank’s face and Marisa’s voice. I remember cycling to Dandenong from Moorabbin to Frank’s father’s house to see Frank and Marcus after his father had passed away and talking about the abundant fruit tree there covered with net to protect its bounty from the birds. That was a different kind of mourning that I connected to. I had worked with later generations of migrant kids in this area in the 90s, post punk. Turks, Vietnamese, Cook Islanders and Cambodian survivors of the Killing Fields. Imagining Frank and Marisa while working there helped me conjure up hope, remain connected and grounded.
I also remember Frank in Michael Buckley’s Work (1985), sitting quietly in an early morning train, going to a cleaning job. This was working class Melbourne. I did it and my mother did it. We have all sat on those trains. I understood Frank as coming out the other end of this Melbourne as a passionate ethical artist and intellectual. Punk Magic.
Participating in Te Possino Ammazza (1987), shot somewhere in East Melbourne was confirmation. He and Marisa set up situations. We acted them out. He listened intensely, watched and molded our actions with a camera eye. He was focused sincere and human. It was easy. All this Artaudian revelry ran through his veins, but importantly also his brain. How did he get there? Books. He was so well read on art.
You could never dismiss his thinking. It was intense. He leaned in on you. A potent fusion for the working-class aesthetics of Arf Arf, happening at a time when there was some kind of mobility in Australian art. My second son, Abram, loved the aesthetics of Thread of Voice (1993) but did this next generation understand the political impact, the body-centred immediacy of these working-class intrusions? It was full on and Frank was on the front line of this incursion. Arf Arf was a cell, an island in which this could endure, persist and grow. This view also helped me keep going and survive.
3. Adrian Martin
Flickers of Te possino ammazza (1987)
I have not seen Frank Lovece’s Te possino ammazza in 30 years. But yet I retain a distinct impression of it – of the work, of the humble conditions of its screening, and of what Frank said about it to me before and after the projection. I recall that there were two distinct phases to its making – shooting and editing – but this bore little relation to the standard, film-industry distinction between production and post-production, where everything fuses together to form what was envisaged from the outset in a script. Rather, two completely different kinds of film-work were attempted, and staged, at each of these two levels. At the first, shooting stage, Frank used 16mm, and organised events, movements, gestures, incidents for the camera. I vividly recall how Frank described this – just as Pier Paolo Pasolini had done over 25 years previously – as a personal discovery, even re-invention, of the most basic principles of cinematic mise en scène: bodies moving through a space, and this space defined by the solid frame of the camera. He told me how even the simplest direction of a movement immediately brought the event close to choreography, to music and dance …
Then came the montage, where all this recorded material, of both image and sound, was completely redefined, reworked, interrogated, “criticised” in a sense. In the great, unending tradition of the Letterists, everything was pulverised down to an atomic level: phonemes, frames, micro-gestures. Anything left in sync was pushed out-of-sync. I recall repetitions, variations, permutations of these fragments. New words created from disjointed sounds; new bodies conjured from the expression of someone’s arm movement connected to someone else’s leg movement … Where the first phase of Te possino ammazza ‘s making was, in a sense, a bodily confrontation (on Frank’s part, and on the part of his collaborators) with the “machinery” of the camera, the set, lighting, framing, and so forth, and with all the “living” matter of performance, then the second phase – equally material, but on another level – had to do with the mental reorganising and playing with this now “dead” or inert celluloid material. Frank patiently explained to me that he had devised mathematical procedures to govern the distribution of the fragments and their collision on the editing table. Perhaps these working notes and tables still exist. If not, we will have to reconstruct or dream them on the basis of hopeful future projections.
Adrian Martin, 25 January 2018
4. Sue McCauley
I watched “Work” for the first time in many years today. Flashes of this film have remained in my memory from days gone past. It was great to find and look at the work again. Frank’s humour and poetic approach to life shines through in the physical and gestural nuances, which were also evident in his live performances. It was also central to many of the amazing sound poetry pieces he wrote with all their vernacular inventiveness and gestural energies.
I remember the film being developed by Michael Buckley in our bathroom in Fitzroy in 1985. It was processed in one of those Russian OMO hand processing tanks, that we had often experimented with in the 1980s.This really is a handmade film. The Work film is also a favourite of Marisa Stirpe (Frank’s wife) featuring as it does the St Kilda Station that no longer exists, the cigarette machines, and the misery of earning a crust at the Australian Wool Testing Authority.
The film follows Frank around at work, in his job as a cleaner. It is accompanied by an enigmatic sound track created by Arf Arf. The early morning sequence captures the pain of pre-dawn departures – obvious in Frank’s vacant stare while mechanically downing a coffee! There he is in the pre-dawn light taking the train trip from St Kilda to the North Melbourne Wool Store, the camera roaming around the carriage. The familiar going to work experience, repeated with daily inevitability is counter-posed by the somnambulant, the anxious, the funny and the bored soundtrack of his inner thoughts, as he moves through the routine tasks of his cleaning job. The poetic in the everyday indeed. The combination of the mundane exterior and the multi-layered interior worlds of the Frank character still makes this short film strangely compelling viewing decades after its first screening.
Sue McCauley, 28th January 2018
5. Marie Craven
There is a single, striking piece of work by Frank, that stays in my mind so vividly, though it’s 25 years since I first saw it. It was one of those films that filled me with thrill and enthusiasm for the medium, for spoken word poetry and the power of raw and direct expression. The film I’m talking about is ‘Bronson’, also part of the longer masterwork, ‘Thread of Voice, by the collective he was part of, Arf Arf. I was lucky enough to have a small role in facilitating the production of ‘Thread of Voice’, a delight and honour it was and remains.
‘Bronson’ is a chant, a poem, and a howl – at the love and violent struggle between a man and woman. Having witnessed in childhood and participated in similar relationship struggles in adulthood, the film has a deep sense of recognition and resonance for me. It’s a rare and compassionate view inside a single moment of this love and struggle, simultaneously specific and universal. The film gets right inside the kind of irrepressible emotion that bursts forth in flaming accusations. A raucous lament that takes in a full gamut of pain, from dishes not done, to loss of a personal pride. While raw in its expression, the film, for me, also expresses Frank’s ecstatic love of poetry and language.
Marie Craven 26 January, 2018
Another “posthumous soul”. Like – and he was very much like – Vikki Riley and Mark Zenner, two other great “posthumous souls”. This trio, for me, were fierce, intellectual and uncompromising beings. Far from fashion and self-conscious aggrandisements of “profile” – for the world, the social media, the film circles. They didn’t care, and rightly so. Their minds were elsewhere, always “working” on something!And so they were also elusive.
I wish I could remember Frank’s films. THREAD OF VOICE, sure. TE POSSINO AMMAZZA – barely. But I do remember the quality and impact of it. I thought – now there’s an interesting film. A prosaic thought, but I do hope his work gets to You Tube. So we can all appreciate it. Posthumously, yes.
And of course, Frank was part of that great group, Arf Arf, with Marisa Stirpe, Marcus Bergner and Michael Buckley – with others like Neil Taylor joining them occasionally. What a raucous (literally!) group on the alt film/arts scene in Melbourne. Punky, sure, but the sweetest group of people you will ever encounter. The two go hand-in-hand of course.
I barely knew ya, Frank. But I’m glad I did.
Bill Mousoulis (independent filmmaker in Melbourne)
One day in 1986(?), Frank Lovece rang with a special request. He’d received funding for a short film, and wanted to shoot it in my lounge room. I’d known Frank since 1979 through the Melbourne ‘post-punk’ scene, and we’d become friends through common interests in various arts, including non-narrative ‘experimental’ film to which I’d first been exposed at the legendary Melbourne Filmmakers Co-op in Carlton in the mid-1970s. Frank wouldn’t say much about his proposed film, however: he had a script, but mightn’t use it; he had professional actors and crew, but wasn’t sure how amenable they’d be to his ideas. What he did have firmly in mind was a seemingly jokey title — Here’s Your Hat, What’s The Hurry?
I was living opposite Elwood Beach with my partner at the time, Trish Hoyne, in a rundown Federation-era house with an enormous lounge room that hosted many memorable parties. What attracted Frank to it I can’t recall. Dank and dingy, with visible signs of rising damp, its glory days were long behind it — though it retained a modicum of period charm in the form of stuccoed plaster walls (now peeling paint) and a dusty chandelier (now shedding crystals). Frank’s plan was to empty the room of furniture, and shoot his film within a single weekend.
So it went: filming proceeded with great intensity over those two days, but Frank seemed dissatisfied, and despite extensive editing over many months, his film seemed so deeply problematic that he abandoned it. Years later (1991?), he screened an unfinished version for friends, and despite his misgivings I remember being delighted by his inventive use of many contemporary experimental film techniques — fragmentation, repetition, conflicting perspectives, etc. — but what affected me most was his transfigurative use of lighting to bathe that gloomy lounge room in what seemed like radiant sunshine.
After discussing the film recently with Marcus Bergner, it occurred to me that its very title — Here’s Your Hat, What’s The Hurry? — gives a clue as to why Frank may have wanted to shoot in that room. It alludes to a bygone age — roughly contemporaneous with the room’s décor — when everyone wore hats, which they deposited in cloakrooms at cinemas; and it is cast in imperative mode, as if addressed ironically by a cloakroom attendant to a patron fleeing a film in disgust. Could it be that Frank, in a quasi-surrealist gesture, was challenging his audience not to like his film? There is a curious anachronism at play here, however: that décor had since decayed, and audiences weren’t wearing hats anymore anyway. So whose hat could it be? Clearly, this film warrants rescreening.
Mick Earls, February 2018
Working with Frank
I was fortunate enough to work with Frank on three very different projects. I had never met Frank when he rang me on behalf of Arf Arf and said that they were looking for someone to shoot their film. I confess that I was skeptical. There was no single “director”, and the points of reference weren’t clear to me. I wasn’t sure how I could get at precisely what they wanted. My attitude, as a cinematographer, was very conventional. Ultimately, I would discover how best to contribute in process, rather than in pre-production. More importantly, I would meet Frank, and on the first of three occasions, be the beneficiary of his extraordinary presence, influence and trust.
When I planned to make a film of people reading, silently to themselves, there was no doubt in my mind who I should film first; who, by their very participation and presence, would indicate to me if the experiment was worth pursuing. “Casting” Frank for my own purposes – having a legitimate and (hopefully) worthy reason to photograph him – was for me as exciting as had I been able to cast Volonte, Cuny, or Aznavour. Once again, the faith that he placed in me, his understanding and, on this occasion, his ability – in spite of his great capacity as a performer – to not perform, to not “act”, were an incredible gift.
A little more recently Frank phoned to see if I could make an urgently required music video for the reformed Primitive Calculators. Had anyone else asked, I would have explained truthfully that I don’t make music videos, that I don’t often make anything at all, and that I wasn’t up to, or interested in such a task. But it was Frank, and I didn’t hesitate. Once more, Frank didn’t direct me in any conventional sense but, to paraphrase William Blake, his belief somehow made it so.
In front, behind or beside the camera Frank had that rarest thing. But how to name it? Magic, perhaps. Grace, certainly. There will be no one to take his place.
Myriam Van Imschoot
The Lady of the Lake Film narrated by Frank Lovece
Mid November 2015 Frank was visiting Marcus and I in Stuttgart during our residence at the Akademy Schloss Solitude, for what was a brief stop in a European ARF ARF tour. We were showing him our favorite place, a pond where a heron came fishing, when he told us the idea for a film that had come to his mind on the spot. A boat would be involved, and also angels or monks, and the apparition of a woman in a dark cloak who would be the premonition of death, and there were many more details that I would have retained if the heron had not distracted me, flying off to a better hunt near a tree that had fallen in the water and broke the surface in a myriad of reflections.
Looking back, it appears that Marcus and I had been witnessing a Delphic moment, with a future allegorized – unknown to us but sensed by Frank. Montaging the omen, he thought of it as a script, and presaged an untimely ending.
Frank made many films. We should definitely rethink filmographies and consider to include not only films with the credentials endowed upon them by standard filmic ‘medium’ matter, be it super 8, 16 millimeter, bits and bytes, etc. Frank saw film everywhere around. He excavated them from situations in daily life, which looked a bit less daily after he told them. He had the gift of double vision. What was in front of him was holding the spectrum of cinematic tales. His eye saw the oracular prism in a blink. No need for a switch to start the transfiguration. A big part of the pleasure of it all was that he could narrate it for you all so lively and frankly. He projected the film straight from his inner eye into an imaginary movie theater built by words. Gone was the gruesome production toil, unnecessary the fundraising and pitching, redundant the rental of equipment, dollies and trollies.
How I enjoyed watching these films. You just had to surrender to what was unreeling, with the bonus of Frank’s animated voice-over. Such is the art of true osmosis: reality and art, no matter from where you start, you celebrate the entanglement of substance.
Myriam Van Imschoot
Behind inconspicuous laneway doors, steep stairs precede
a glow of green tinged tiles, whose cracks seemingly pulsate in the gloom
of Long Hallways, which blown bulbs shroud
Smells of damp, and dust emanating from cobwebbed corners,
framing the walk towards a room of blinding light
A long walk for little legs
Bowls of Sugared Almonds on hallway tables,
hallway runners where dust rises from each imprint made
by small sandalled feet
Voices that hover above heads with soft scalps and cradle cap
Unfamiliar vocabulary drifts fragmented
among other, alien knowledge
The smell of coffee, the names of avant-garde seminaries,
the yellowing of nicotine stains
A weatherboard facade
Long Hallways and small kitchens
with greasy walls, and glass ashtrays emulating crystal
An illusion of glamour,
Concrete courtyards where tomatoes grew stubbornly in plots of dirt
The hot bitterness of percolator coffee permeating memories that with time become only remnants
Of Rust, warmth
Corners towering with written words, yellowing dusty pages
A paddock where prickles in grass tangled with yellow flowered weeds
In retrospect, what seemed a mammoth environment, a boundless plain,
but upon reflection I recall how large the world seemed at five
Head to toe in black and navy blue
always in Well Worn scarves and pilling suit jackets
As curious as us
About a prickle in a sock
About an iron tangle of mattress innards exposed to elemental forces
a sleep disturbed, in a dream-field
Where we walked through white marble archways, faux greco vases and weeds resembling vines spilling from crevices in walls and the cracked concrete floor
At the funeral service a man in a ridiculous robe,
like a pretentious professor,
spoke of loss and memory
and quoted the bible.
I hated how much his words on reminiscing meant to me
But clichés, about loss, and memory, and those who have departed
are often so named for a reason
Now, captured solely in the ethereal stillness present in all memories seen through temporal veils
Especially those featuring figures who remain with us only as earthly shadows
Without the commotion of motion postponing the unquestionable prospect of meeting
Once again, inevitably
To reminisce about prickles stuck to socks, and Sugared Almonds
Eaten in kitchens of dark houses with sparks of light
At the end of long hallways
Stories Only Happen to Those Who Can Tell Them or Two Cinematic Gems by Frank Lovece:
Untitled (Paul Nougé Film) and The Museum and Library Workers Film Society (both early 1990s).
Each one of Frank’s many films is intractably connected to his extraordinarily original and powerful poetical writings. It’s like glimpsing the reverse side of a tapestry to find the woof and warp of the imagery on the underside. The special symbiosis and interactivity between writing and performance in Frank’s work, and as I see it now, has many strong parallels to a poetics of performance also occurring in the work of the German writer Thomas Kling. As both Frank and Kling in their own radically driven ways, were able to harness and celebrate the revelatory potential of poetical language to become highly energized, inventively vernacularized and majestically contorted performance events.
Even though much of Frank’s writing remains unpublished in the traditional sense, it’s actualized and emergent across a diffuse and beautiful range of forms or platforms. From a prolific and lifelong output of tightly filled-in small black notebooks, to hundreds of performance scores, to a series of unique artist books, to radio-phonic works, to a wealth of song lyrics, to many of what Benjamin Fondane liked to call ‘unfilmable film scripts’ and also across a host of other incidental forms of writing. A cinematic gem that Frank made in the early 1990s was a nine-minute silent Super 8 film. But lamentably it was lost somewhere in transit after its first and only public screening; therefore I recollect it from the prismatic intensity and excitement that occurs when trying to remember a truly wonderful work of art only from memory. In it Frank had filmed a number of friends posing in group situations and singular gestures that replicated and restaged a series of photographs taken in 1929-30 by the Belgium surrealist Paul Nougé. The figures in the film posed absolutely still for minutes on end in domestic settings aligned to those in the photographs. The intense luminosity and coloring of this film (from memory much like that of gems and stained glass windows) was something quite particular to Super 8 film itself, and was in strong contrast to the entrancingly tenebrous qualities of the original black and white Nougé images. This was cinema of pure performance, and one wielding an impressive conceptual sting and set of resonances. The loss of the film was understandably a major blow to its’ maker, and to all those who have now missed out in seeing it; yet this untimely disappearance also makes twisted sense in light of the strange reflexivity and sense of irony that the film emulated and seemed steeped in terms of art history. For now, to reconstruct or just simply imagine this lost masterpiece one must only revert back to the Nougé photographs replicated and restaged within it. Something requiring a quite lopsided and stereoscopically elongated layering of temporalities, of different artistic sensibilities, of mediums, and, most strikingly, a doubling up of all that which remains ineffable within the experience, memory and historical perspective of any work of art. All of which brings to mind Joseph Roth’s prophetic and cyclic takedown of histrionic thinking when he quipped: “There is nothing that is irredeemably lost. In the future is the past.”
Another one of Frank’s films that I wish to recall here, if also only in a criminally brief way, is the 30 or so-minute video entitled ‘The Museum and Library Worker’s Film Society.’ This is a shot-from-the-hip and edited-in-the-camera documentary about a film society screening held within the now demolished historic cinema located once at the rear of the State Library of Victoria. The two films screened by the Society on the night the video was shot, and that are only glimpsed in various tantalizing oblique and fragmented ways, are Ozu’s ‘I Was Born But’ and Straub and Huillet’s ‘Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg’s Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene.’ Much can be said about this remarkable experimental documentary, including pointing to its immense value as a poignant record of a once legendary public space now lost forever. Notably Frank used the video camera itself both as a performance prop and prod from which to unravel and tease-out some of the beautiful mysteries, strange banalities and intimate social manners that arise when a group of people come together to view historic avant-garde films in a similarly historic and increasingly rare cinematic space. Also, this is an example of a seminal and radical form of filmmaking where filmmaker and film audiences are implicated in the collaborative dream of both celebrating and rethinking the cinematic experience anew.
 For instance, this one-hour major radio-phonic work by Frank: http://oralsite.be/pages/VolumeSP1
Frank Lovece loved artistic collaborations with people – generating artistic conversations, brainstorming ideas and then attempting to bring them to fruition in whatever medium he was involved in – from songwriting, making music, cartooning, writing, filmmaking, talking, vocal noise making and poetics. Frank made a large number of stunning experimental films in a short period of time that involved crowds of friends, often performing with Frank strange sequences within and through the poetic logic of his visions. These films include The Cenci, The Broken Jug, The Johnston Street Library, Ti Apposino, Here’s Your Hat What’s the Hurry and many more.
There were also countless joint collaborative film projects Frank worked on with various friends. I made ‘Aesop’s Fable’ with Frank one afternoon in the back garden of a house in Northcote. Frank loved exploring old and new fables, reinterpreting them and exploring there meaning in new ways. We used a large pot and an iron as the props for the Tortoise and Hare. We pixelated them racing around the garden interspersed with speech bubbles made by Frank and both of us cheering on our critters. This was shot on super 8 then re-filmed of a wall with a 16mm Bolex camera. I then hand processed the film in a Russian OMO developing tank. I also changed slightly the temperature of each colour in the processing. The finished version from memory looks quite lurid in its colour and is filled with gritty scratches and strange processing effects that are impossible to get in the Digital filmmaking world we use now. This film was part of a MIMA (Modern Image Makers association) screening in the late 80’s. For the films program notes, we wrote…’Aesops Fables was inspired by a river of urine from a cask of Coolabah.’ The last shot in the film is Frank with a big grin tapping on a cask of Coolabah wine. The film exists somewhere (I hope) in the attic of my house. I haven’t seen and located it for 25 years. Unfortunately, many of these films that Frank worked on are in danger of disappearing as old technologies such as 16m, VHS videos and early digital formats wear out. Something needs to be done! Franks films need to be collected saved and recovered for future screenings.
27 January 2018
Frank Lovece and Marisa Stirpe 2017
Remembering the Unforgettable
Frank was not prolific in one language but across many. Whether he was making a sound poem, a book, ideating a film, possibly its material outcome, the solitary and social dimensions of these, Frank gave himself in a spirit of generosity and surprise utilizing the foundation of his immense knowledge and trust in his friends. Frank wasn’t smug with his knowledge but was hungry to complete his telos, his schema. “There is so much more to know.” He used it to fuel his own practice and shared his infectious enthusiasm in a spirit of fun, purpose and belief. “Balalaika, songs at the balalaika. Tanya. With a heart as brave, as, as, your soul, soldiers of the tsar. How many miles to go? My heart, heart, is a gypsy. Balalaika, operetta”.
Frank’s work, in words or music is osmosis: living, breathing flux and flow to the cellular boundary, testing the membrane, pushing through it…this metaphor will not turn into a pearl…but in Frank’s hands it would have.
His study/smoking room is an archaeologist’s dream. In there are concentrated and compacted layers of dusty sedimentation consisting of art objects, books and assorted curios which mirror rich and complex intellectual worlds. Frank’s best allies were Little Book and Little Pen. Written in a microscopic hand Little Book spans many years and consists of notebooks which are primarily a chronology of ideas, future projects, poems, intriguing designs, phone numbers, addresses and instructions to the self.
I believe his eyebrows were sensors because he could read in virtual darkness. Through their nervous barely perceptible bristling, Frank detected and scrutinised beauty and bullshit alike.
For some time he had wanted to make a film where the viewer was looking down and into micro worlds; a screen that could’ve been on the ground with people gathered around it. Or maybe he was describing a viewing experience that he would create of boring into the image, mining it and moving on to the next. However, he imagined it, it would’ve been wonderful.