Format: DVD

Date: 24 August 2009

Distributor: BFI

Director: Don Levy

Writer: Don Levy

Cast: Michael Gothard, Mona Chin, Helen Mirren

UK 1967

137 mins

Herostratus in a nut shell: callow young poet and narcissist played by Michael Gothard decides to indulge in the ultimate act of narcissism - suicide - and flog the whole thing to the ghastly advertising industry. All of this is wrapped up in dyspeptically groovy, ideologically limp, Situationist-lite-lite, pop-modernism.

The idea that marketing/advertising has no moral bounds; that it is a crass, vulgar, cynical, pervasive, opportunist industry should come as no surprise to 21st-century mortals living under global capitalism. Indeed, it should strike most people as being utterly obvious that it is so. Why, only some months ago I recall television images of Jade Goody being shovelled into the grave amongst wreathes with the Marmite logo emblazoned upon them. So the observations made by writer-director Don Levy in this film about capitalism, advertising, commodity fetishism, spectacle, youth and mortality seem merely quaint and rather superficial.

This is not simply because it is an anachronism, there is a whole slew of critical culture contemporaneous to Herostratus that remains potent. For example, Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her (2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle) was released in 1967, as was Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, but Levy’s film is not to be filed alongside such beasts because it just does not share their wit, ideological depth or analytical chutzpah.

As audio-visual spectacle, Herostratus is rather spectacular (for a bit) and has all the expected provocative thrills of modernism: jump cuts, deft use of noise and silence, fragmented narrative, non-sequitur. However, the content does not merit the duration. At two hours and 17 minutes, this film has it longueurs… longueurs that last approximately two hours. One feels that a postcard-sized idea has been stretched across a Guernica-sized canvas. Herostratus also seems to ape the very thing it denigrates in its cheap juxtaposition of cinematic tropes and objects - for example a laughably trite sex-and-meat scene (a striptease melds with forensic shots of butchery). The film seems to convey the confusion of its protagonist and the protagonist’s perception of the world as dissonant plastic space by contrasting excellent, surgically precise camera choreography and montage with cooler, looser, improvised scenes. But I suspect this is also testament to Levy’s intellectual confusion.

Herostratus has been released by the BFI as part of its series of kitsch nostalgic DVD releases entitled Flipside. Undoubtedly, it is a great transfer in terms of the technical reproduction, but if it had zombies, pornography, violence and a cameo appearance from Arthur Lowe, and was a give-away with the Sunday Telegraph, I might shell out for a centre-right newspaper and my grimace might mutate into a grin. Right now, my mouth is fixed in a rictus of callow disgruntlement. Marmite for me.

Philip Winter