When viewing this lost oddity, don’t bother with the cryptic narrative and visceral, cut-up edits, just sit back and let the sights and sounds engulf you.
Made in 1967 on a tiny budget, with the help of a dedicated ensemble of actors and crew, over a five year period, Australian auteur Don Levy’s Herostratus concerns nihilistic young poet Max (Scream and Scream Again’s Michael Gothard), who invites a Max Clifford-styled PR guru to stage his public suicide in a bid for fame.
Powerful, anarchic, and a virtual textbook on experimental film-making technique – you can see where Nicolas Roeg, Derek Jarman and their ilk drew their inspiration – Levy is very much the angry young man here, shaking his fist at a soulless and corrupt world. Well, after all, this is London, circa 1966 – a time when acid test experiments were being carried out, America was showing its might in Vietnam, the Soviets were heading into space, and The Beatles were bigger than Jesus. This was THE time for rebellion.
And like Michelangelo Antonioni, whose 1970 film Zabriski Point viewed the world from the point of view of disillusioned youth, Levy gets there first – showing humanity heading towards despair and oblivion (summed up in his hauntingly beautiful shots which bring Francis Bacon’s portraits to life). Herostratus is a terrifying, neurotic, visionary insight into the mind of the artist on the brink.
The BFI high definition release – number four in the fantastic Flipside strand – includes some of Levy’s earlier experimental shorts (which should not be dismissed) and a rare audio interview with the director, who went on to become a film studies tutor in the US after making this, his final cinematic achievement.
Released 24 August