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1964/65: Herostratus: about the production

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Jan. 1st, 1970 | 12:00 pm

Michael eventually took the leading part in an "underground" film called ‘Herostratus’, in which he played a young man, Max, who decided to commit suicide, and arranged with an advertising firm that they could capitalise on his death in any way they wished, provided it was one which got a lot of publicity.

Per the cover notes from the BFI production:

An agent found Michael Gothard the role. “An intense three-hour audition for director Don Levy got him the lead role of the seething, suicidal poet Max; as such, Gothard’s performance is anarchic, intense, restless and angry.”

Per Amnon Buchbinder, who was involved with bringing out the DVD in 2009, and knew Don Levy, Don "had his pick of young talent – the one other actor I remember him mentioning having auditioned for the role was John Hurt."

When interviewed in 1973, Don Levy said: “It’s not necessary for the actors to know what they’re doing. What they’ve gotta know, is – what they are. In fact, that’s all I require of them."

Perhaps the audition process was designed to find out whether Michael had what Don Levy considered that essential knowledge.

Filming started on 20th August 1964, and took 8 or 9 months.

Herostratus was made with a budget of approx. £10,000, its unpaid cast and crew taking public transit to reach shooting locations.

Max's grafitti

The walls of Max’s flat are decorated with scribblings and drawings which must have taken a considerable amount of time to complete. As the film was made on a shoestring budget, it seems improbable that any professional set dressers were employed, and much more likely that Don Levy would have asked Michael Gothard to design the space his character was to inhabit, and eventually destroy.

Digs (7) Digs (18)

A close friend says: “I'm sure at least some of the writing is Michael’s. There's a lot of capital letters, but some look and feel like his, and I'm pretty sure the drawing was his. It looks like something he would have done.”

Digs (20) Smash it up (44)

Of Michael Gothard, Don Levy said: "In fact, it wasn’t until about ninety percent of the shooting was done that the lead actor, Michael Gothard, who’d been going through these incredible convolutions, came to me one day and said, ‘Don … what’s this film really about?’, because he’d just started to understand that there was much more – beyond what he’d been doing – in this whole film, and it had really gotten him curious.”
[Transcribed from the DVD interview section.]

Other quotations from interviews with Don Levy, from articles held in the BFI library, show how far he was prepared to go, to get the take he wanted, and how little care he seemed to have for the actors.

“Everything was shot on location and they didn't have to pretend it was cold or raining or dangerous. Mike Gothard, the leading actor, can't stand heights. But we had him standing on the edge of the roof of an 18-storey block, with no safety devices and in a howling gale. He was terrified, but he did it.”

Of Gabriella Licudi, he said: “In the final scene I had to get something very difficult out of Gabriella – difficult because she didn't want to give it, to admit to this in herself. I stood and shouted at her (that's my voice you hear on the film right at the end) until eventually she broke down.

She kept switching from herself to Clio and back again – she couldn't separate her own guilt as an individual from that in the part she was playing.

The camera crews had to stand and watch this in silence for an hour and a half. They were horrified, and argued fiercely about the morality of it. But I got the response I needed.”

In another interview he says of Michael:

“At one point in the film Max has to stand on the edge of a high building in a howling wind. The actor who plays the part, Michael Gothard, is terrified of height – but I made him do it. Most scenes really happened like this. The love scene is an act of love.”

Herostratus came out in June 1967, and was the opening exhibition at London’s ICA cinema in May 1968.

Other releases:
Australia: 15 June 1970 (Adelaide Film Festival)
Sweden: 29 October 1970

A detailed discussion of the film can be found here: You CAN Get Out: Herostratus Now: September 3, 2009 by Amnon Buchbinder

Speculation: Michael Gothard and Don Levy: Herostratus and afterwards.

IMDB entry

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