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  Herostratus So You Want To Be Famous?
Year: 1967
Director: Don Levy
Stars: Michael Gothard, Gabriella Licudi, Peter Stephens, Mona Chin, Richard Huggett, Max Latimer, Hilda Marvin, Helen Mirren, Malcolm Muggeridge, Vivienne Myles, Anthony Paul, Brigitte St John, Allen Ginsberg
Genre: Drama, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: A young man (Michael Gothard) dressed all in white runs through the streets of London, careering along almost blindly, desperate to get away from or get to something. He reaches his hovel of a bedsit which is papered with a collage of magazine snippets and photographs, then contemplates the scene, briefly throwing a tantrum then quietening down. When he re-emerges, he meets Sandy (Mona Chin) one of the other residents of the block on the stairs, and tries to persuade her into his room, but finds her uninterested when she wants to go out and make money. He'll have to think of another way to fill his time...

Or indeed end his time, as our hero (or is he an anti-hero?) conjures up a way to make himself famous, or in this case notorious. He's going to kill someone, but not any stranger off the street, no, he's going to kill himself, but that act of self destruction won't be enough to slake his thirst for renown as he hits upon a great idea (or so he thinks): hire an advertising firm to publicise his upcoming plan to hurl himself off a tall building. Thereby he can take a savage attack on the cheapness of human life in the modern world, and simultaneously make a spectacle of his exit from it in a way that shows everyone how much he despises it all.

If there's something very petulant sounding about all this, then imagine the endurance test of watching it for over two hours as it rambled through director Don Levy's semi-improvisations, circling around the point to a degree that only the hardiest fan of the avant garde would be prepared to stick it out till the end. Nevertheless, there were intriguing aspects to this, from its deeply cynical view of the media and the way it was heading - to hell in a handbasket, basically - to some of the editing choices that now look like art film cliché, but had to start somewhere and Levy was one of those who brough in such devices.

Devices such as juxtaposing scenes he shot, like a striptease, with other footage designed to elicit confused or sober reactions, a cow being slaughtered in an abattoir, for example. But that also meant hoary old clips of Adolf Hitler giving a speech, Japanese radiation victims, and Allen Ginsberg peforming one of his poems, all intended to catch out the viewer as to what they traditionally expected from narrative film, but now, and maybe even then, coming across like film school posturing. That's not to say Levy wasn't worth listening to as he did have ideas worth hearing, it's just that in this context there would be few eager listeners.

As often with these types of film, it was advertising that took a battering, and why not, there can be few more cynical expressions of artistry than that of loading the dice in favour of whatever you want to sell to the consumer. But Levy didn't quite seem to grasp he was employing the same techniques for his message with an irony that didn't eclipse the method or the meaning, so you'll get an overly sexual minute or two of Helen Mirren (in her screen debut) flirting with the camera which then turns out to be an ad for rubber washing up gloves. Amusing enough, but heavyhanded too. That the media would exploit one of the worst acts a person can commit for entertainment purposes may have seemed audacious back then, but it's practically par for the course now, so it's sad to note that both Gothard and Levy killed themselves in the years to come with very little marking of their passing at the time. Recommended to fans of far out cinema, but naive in these days.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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