Herostratus (1967)

  |  Drama

Herostratus (1967) Poster

When Max (Michael Gothard), a young poet hires a marketing company to turn his suicide-by-jumping into a mass-media spectacle, he finds that his subversive intentions are quickly diluted ... See full summary »


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24 June 2011 | tomgillespie2002
Interesting forgotten artifact of British cinema
This forgotten artifact of British art-house cinema, has been resurrected (like so many other forgotten British films) by BFI's Flipside releases. The release marks it's first commercial distribution since its release in 1967. The film had made quite an impact at the time with - particularly - other film makers and film critics, when the film was exhibited at festivals. In one publication Herostratus was described as "the great white hope of British art cinema'. Directed by Australian born film maker and physics graduate, it has a powerful and prescient message about fame and greed, and the dangerous, dark aspects of marketing and advertising. Like the film itself, director Don Levy, has fallen into obscurity. I had not heard of him until I read of this release (in fact I had never heard of this film until this time).

Max (Michael Gothard), is a struggling poet. He is agonised by society around him, and like Travis Bickle in the later film Taxi Driver (1976), he foments a distinctive hatred whilst holding up alone in a disheveled flat in a distorted, crumbling London. But unlike Bickle, Max's ideas are motivated by fame. He proposes to a marketing executive, Farson (Peter Stephens), an offer he cannot refuse. Max will publicly kill himself by jumping off of a tall building, and the advertising company can own this commodity, and do whatever they please with it. The machinations of the marketeers begins, as they attempt to come up with adequate exposure for the death-as-entertainment, subversive performance art piece. The silence that preceded Max's encounter with Farson, is perfectly highlighted in a line from Albert Camus, in his book 'The Myth of Sisyphus': An act like this (suicide) is prepared within the silence of the heart, as is a great work of art. As the workings of the sadistic minds of advertisers is quietly taking place in the background, Max begins a relationship of sorts with Farson's secretary, Clio (Gabriella Licudi), with devastating consequences.

As a commodity, Max is used, humiliated, and displayed as despicable for his desperate attempt at using his death for fame and immortality. The title of the film is taken from a character from ancient Greece who wanted immortality; which he gained by setting fire to the Temple of Artemis. The film is most certainly relevant today with our wealth of deluded people, hungry for fame with no substance. Fame has itself become a commodity: We are in an age of fame that is hinged on one act; one single moment. And like the fame that Max is attempting to gain, it is also very fleeting.

The films technical brilliance is in its editing, a process that took Levy two years to perfect. Levy approached editing like science (he did have a PhD in Experimental Physics). The film is littered with subliminal images. Short sequences of static shots, obscure imagery, and images of animal slaughter. The latter of these are often used to juxtapose with images of a female stripper. The snippets also seem to appear, not just as fractured images of a deranged mind, but also almost synonymous with televisual adverts themselves. Almost self contained. In one, a very young Helen Mirren (uber-MILF) seduces the camera and its audiences, stating that you want her. The use of jump-cuts and long takes is reminiscent of the then new European movements, mostly evoking some of the work of Godard and Antonioni.

It's an interesting piece of forgotten cinema. As with many art-house films of this type, it is highly pretentious. But it is watchable pretension. It's idea does not really carry throughout the film, and it could have gone in more interesting angles. But this could perhaps be just an opinion from today's perspective: Marketing has certainly become more all-pervasive since the late 1960's. As a closing statement, it is ironic that later, both Don Levy and Michael Gothard ended their lives by suicide. The film remains though, and is at times visually arresting. Classic? No. But as an artifact of British '60's cinema, it is a delight.


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June 1967



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