the epitome of a lost masterpiece…
The surest answer is in the mysterious nature and singular dedication of its Australian born writer-director Don Levy (1932 – 1987). Originally a scientist (he held a rare Doctorate in Physical Chemistry) Levy supported himself prior to Herostratus by directing commercials and industrial films. Although he completed the principal photography between late 1962 and early ’64, the film was not released until 1967 because of the lengthy ordeals of post-production. Cutting the film, technically, on begged and borrowed equipment was one giant hurdle – and even that was dwarfed by the task of locating the soul of the finished work, of honoring its most truthful rhythm with a jeweler’s attention to each frame. It was too avant-garde to attract a ready backer, so Levy used his own money. He was briefly hospitalized for starvation while finishing it. By the time it emerged, matters of style and content that had been well ahead of the curve when he started were lost in the wave that was then carrying Blow-Up and Weekend to their garden-spots in Valhalla.
Levy taught at The California Institute of the Arts from 1970 until his death. He was a wonderful teacher – I was one of his students – and he cleverly drove us all mad by posing discussion questions like “What is Sanity?” (That led to three years of endless bickering in class, by my count.) Most of us had never seen Herostratus for the first years we knew him – there was no 16 mm print – but when we did (a gang of students contriving to borrow a pair of 35 mm projectors, one memorable weekend) our astonishment was indelible. We already cherished Don as a great mind, but his personal aura of privacy now became heroic – especially as he was so soft-spoken in relation to what he’d done, and so generous with each of us.
After a single showing at the Los Angeles Filmex in 1972, Universal Studios approached Levy about distributing Herostratus – but there was a catch. The film runs two hours and 23 minutes; they wanted him to cut about 25 minutes out. He refused. The pace of the film is its vertical challenge – especially in its climactic third – but this is so inseparable from the vision being embodied, so entirely in the character of what Levy is dramatizing, that it was a moral test of his character that he refused to tailor it.
And so it is now that his family, former students and CalArts colleagues are bringing this masterwork to light after decades of effort. They’ve made a DVD deal, and with the aid of the British Film Institute, used HD-CAM technology to restore the film’s original pristine color for a fresh premiere at REDCAT.
“HEROSTRATUS” 1967 directed by Don Levy
don’t miss “Herostratus” at Calart’s REDCAT theatre monday 3.1…