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Herostratus [DVD] [1967]

4.1 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Actors: Michael Gothard, Gabriella Licudi, Mona Chin, Allen Ginsberg, Helen Mirren
  • Directors: Don Levy
  • Format: PAL, Anamorphic, Widescreen, Dolby, Digital Sound
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 15
  • Studio: Bfi Video
  • DVD Release Date: 24 Aug. 2009
  • Run Time: 137 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 141,385 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)
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Product description

Product Description

A young poet wishing to take his own life soon finds events have overtaken him in this experimental 1960s drama from director Don Levy. Disillusioned poet Max (Michael Gothard) decides to commit suicide, but rather than making it a quiet affair, Max contacts the local media so that, he hopes, his name will live on. On the appointed day, however, Max suddenly has a change of heart, but with an eagerly expectant media in attendance, he finds that he is no longer in control of events.


When Max, a young poet (played by the iconic Michael Gothard) hires a marketing company to turn his suicide-by-jumping into a mass-media spectacle, he finds that his subversive intentions are quickly diluted into a reactionary gesture, and his motivations are revealed as a desperate attempt to seek attention through celebrity.

Unseen since its limited release in 1967, this audacious and prescient - yet criminally overlooked - work by experimental filmmaker Don Levy left a profound mark on the landscape of late-1960s British cinema, with echoes of its visual style evident in the more celebrated work of such notable directors as Stanley Kubrick, Nicolas Roeg and Michael Winner.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Blu-ray Verified Purchase
I watched the BFI Blu-ray edition of Herostratus (1967) last night
after having seen it only once before in a class I took as a freshman
in 1972 at U.C. Berkeley. The essays in the BFI booklet largely try
to defend Herostratus against the charge it is pretentious or praise
it for what it managed to do on such a small budget. I recommend the
film very highly even though I think it is fair to say that the acting
is often bad (either because bad actors were cast or because good
actors got bad direction), the editing generally poor (which is really
surprising because Levy, the director had worked as an editor for
twenty years), and the cinematography generally mediocre (there are
some stunning long shots). The film does not hold up very well when
measured against contemporaneous art films such as Antonioni's Blow Up
(1966) or Roeg's Performance (1970). Initially, Herostratus even
seemed a bit crude to me. But I stayed with it and saw that the film
really does have a very sophisticated narrative / editing structure
which builds up gradually and really takes off for the last third of
he film. One of the most interesting things Levy does is use
cross-cut editing first in a rather crude way (a couple have sex while
dead cows are butchered so that seemingly loving sex here equals a
meat market) but then returns to the sex scene and cross cuts it
differently. Some very briefly held shots recur and are gradually
juxtaposed and then superimposed to unfold a theme about love and
fame. There are some really interesting use of stills when the hero
is made to look like a Francis Bacon portrait (just recently saw the
Bacon show at MOMA in NYC).
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Format: DVD
At its best, which is not where it is enough, this is brilliant filmmaking depicting a side of the 60s we don't generally get to see, decidedly more punk than hippie and ferociously angry and alienated. The main character, Max, a short-haired, angularly handsome young man deranged by rage and dressed perpetually in white lives in a dingy bedsit covered in febrile black scrawls. At some point, like an English Iggy Pop, he rips into the walls and tears the place to pieces, then goes out to plan a spectacular protest suicide.

The flat trashing and a few other sequences are like passages from some genuine lost classic, one that could take its place alongside Performance and Easy Rider while actually looking more modern than either of them. I love, especially, the non-narrative shots of Max violently shaking his head and body, creating Francis Baconesque blurry disfigurements. The effect is both visually extraordinary and so simple you wonder why no one else in film history seems to have thought of it. I also think it's fascinating that both this film and Performance reference Bacon - and this one does it better.

Sadly, the lost classic status is undermined by some out-and-out badness: frequent, tediously repetitive resorts to standard-issue film-school artiness (the cover's dominatrix, prancing around King's Cross with an umbrella for no reason, passages of hum-drum psychedelia) and a script that is an amateurish muddle. In particular, it seems unsophisticated in its assumption that the advertising industry would want to co-opt the protagonist's suicide to defend high flown moral values, as if capitalism wouldn't happily sacrifice religion, traditional morality and the family unit to keep on flogging product -- a 60s counter-culture assumption that the most astute commentators recognised as fallacious even at the time. Or, if you like, a bit of hippy naivety putting the fly in the ointment of all that proto-punk nihilism.
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Format: Blu-ray
When Max (Michael Gothard) decides that he's going to commit suicide, he won't just go. He visits Farson (Peter Stephens) the head of an advertising company and convinces him of the marketing potential of this event. Clio (Gabriella Licudi) gets involved in the process (even unwillingly), just because she's the secretary-assistant to Farson. What is Max looking for? Maybe a last moment of popularity he always longed for, but never had. Maybe the feeling of knowing that for at least a moment, many people will care for him. It's just about the ego: the ego that inspires all human action, the ego that could make the head of an advertising company and all the people that work there plan every detail for the suicide as if it was business as usual, because it's going to make good money or bring great reputation to whomever launches a successful marketing campaing around such an event. The ego that, ultimately, is bringing society to his demise...

HEROSTRATUS is a very interesting movie, but one that I find hard to recommend, since is not for all tastes. Main reasons:
-It's one of the most pessimistic movies I've ever watched.
-It's hard to have some kind of care (ironically) for the main character. That changes in the third act (I'm single-handedly dividing the story in 3 more or less identifiable parts) but by then it might be too late for some.
-Although the story is not strictly linear, by the end you may be able to put everything together (more or less). But meanwhile, you will be invaded with brief but numerous intercuts of scenes that sometimes represent a part of the story that is going to happen later or already happened, representations of thoughts or dreams, documentary material that at first seem to be completely unrelated to the story or unnecessary, etc.
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