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Herostratus
SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • Interview with Don Levy (1973), the only known recording of Levy discussing Herostratus
  • Ten Thousand Talents (1960, 24 mins): Levy's student film, set in Cambridge, featuring the voice of Peter Cook
  • Time Is (1964, 29 mins): Levys remarkable experimental documentary
  • Five Films (1967, 9 mins): Levy's hypnotic experiments in film editing techniques
  • Extensive illustrated booklet with newly commissioned contributors and original documentation

Herostratus

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Don Levy
Starring: Michael Gothard
1967 | 143 Minutes

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: £22.99 | Series: BFI Flipside | Edition: #4
BFI Video

Release Date: August 24, 2009
Review Date: August 25, 2009

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SYNOPSIS

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.

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

For their 4th title in their Flipside series BFI Video presents Don Levyís Herostratus in two aspect ratios on this two-disc set. The first dual-layer Blu-ray disc presents the film in Levyís preferred aspect ratio of 1.78:1 while the second single-layer Blu-ray disc presents the film in 1.33:1, the aspect ratio it was shot in and has been primarily screened in. In both cases the transfers are presented in 1080p.

Not surprisingly the image looks wonderful. The print has been cleaned up and only presents a few problems, limited mostly to debris and some noticeable scratches/marks. Detail is high and the image remains sharp throughout leading to noticeable and natural looking film grain. Colours are strong enough and skin tones look accurate if maybe a little pale (of course this could be just how the actors look naturally.) I didnít notice any problems or artifacts within the digital transfer itself.

I canít say I noticed a difference between the two versions of the film and I suspect they both come from the same transfer, with the widescreen version being cropped on the top and bottom. As to which one I prefer itís a bit of a draw. I do like the framing of the widescreen version but the full screen version doesnít look at all bad and does offer more information on the top and bottom of the screen. Itíll really come down to personal preference as to which version youíll want to view.

And yet again BFI has delivered a sharp transfer, going the extra mile for this obscure film. This looks astonishingly good.

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Like with just about every BFI Blu-ray Iíve come across this one includes a lossless mono track for both versions of the film. Itís not spectacular and can come off fairly flat but it sounds clean and dialogue, for the most part, is clear and intelligible.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

BFI has included a bit for this Flipside title, placing all of the special features on the first disc with widescreen version of the film (the second disc only includes the full screen version.) As usual all features are presented in high-definition with lossless audio.

Taking up most of the supplements are some short films by Levy. First is a 25-minute student film feature by Levy (who was going to school for his PhD) called Ten Thousand Talents, which humoursly covers life at Cambridge University. Itís a decent enough student feature (and even features a small bit of narration by a young Peter Cook) with some smiles and is certainly worth a viewing, though I suspect people far more familiar of Cambridge may get more out of it.

The leap from that film to Herostratus is rather large. While somewhat inventive and quickly edited Ten Thousand Talents is pretty straightforward. The next short film found on here, Time Is, comes a little closer to Herostratus. This 29-minute short film appears to be a science film (of sorts) on the subject time. This film is far more experimental, Levy getting more creative with his editing (including speeding up and slowing down the film) and imagery. Accompanied by a Sitar score itís actually quite effective and Levyís sure direction and editing stops the filmís subject matter from becoming too dry.

Five Films is the shortest one, running about 8-minutes. Itís a series of very short works which I think aim at simply conveying emotions. Made just before Herostratus this one closes off any gap between his short film work and that feature film. Made up of a series of images edited together (some of which appear in Time Is) with sound effects (though the first one is silent) and poetic narration itís the most experimental of the three shorts included here.

The final feature is 38-minute interview with Don Levy that was recorded in 1973. It can be a little dry at times but is worth listening to overall as Levy talks about the film, first starting with the story of the real Herostratus, and then talking about the film itself, including the production and eve giving a walkthrough that covers everything about the story of the film, but stops shy of giving away the ending. He also talks about his actors (coming off incredibly hard on Gabriella Licudi and her choice of film roles before and after his film) and the various themes in the film. Since we donít get a commentary or any other piece on the film this makes a great inclusion.

And finishing off the set is a 33-page booklet. Inside you get an essay on the film by Amnon Buchbinder and then another piece by Henry K. Miller on Levyís time at the Slade School of Fine Art. A copy of press blurbs are included on one page followed by biographies on Don Levy and the filmís star, Michael Gothard. There are then a collection of small notes on the short films included here and another note on the different aspect ratios for the film.

For a film like this I probably would have appreciated more analytical supplements but BFI have included some excellent material, Levyís short films being wonderful inclusions, displaying his growth as a filmmaker.

7/10

CLOSING

As Iíve said before BFIís Flipside series is one of the most intriguing collections around. Its films are wonderfully bizarre and unique. I also said I canít call any of them great films but Herostratus may be close to it. Itís a little rough around the edges but itís an impressive and astounding solo feature by Levy with striking imagery, camerawork, and sound. Itís satire is quite sharp and it also has a good sense of black humour (like a moment where someone suggests Max make his reason for wanting to kill himself a little more positive, making it easier to sell.) It pleases me this film will now find an audience thanks to BFI, who have yet again outdone themselves in saving another film from obscurity and giving it a deserving and wonderful Blu-ray edition.




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