H D - S E N S E I

A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze


Herostratus [Blu-ray]


(Don Levy, 1967)


Offered as a Dual Format Edition October 24th, 2011


Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: BFI Experimental Film Fund

Video: BFI Video "Flipside" Spine # 004



Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:22:11.522

Disc One (1.77) Size: 40,089,926,672 bytes

Disc Two (1.33) Size: 22,230,333,916 bytes

Feature Size (1.77 Feature): 25,353,430,272 bytes

Feature Size (1.33 Feature): 21,772,112,832 bytes

Video Bitrate: 20.33 Mbps (1.77) / 17.11 Mbps (1.33)

Chapters: 12

Case: Standard Blu-ray (UK thicker) case

Release date: August 24th, 2009



Aspect ratio:  1.78 (disc 1) and 1.33:1 matted to 1.78 (disc 2)

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



LPCM Audio English 2304 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 24-bit


English, none



Newly transferred to High Definition from the original negative under the supervision of Levy associate, Amnon Buchbinder
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
34-page illustrated booklet with newly commissioned contributors and original documentation



(Herostratus - 1.33 Blu-ray TOP vs. 1.77 Blu-ray - BOTTOM)



Description: 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.



The Film:

This 'triumph' for the British avant-garde - an inverted Mephistopheles story in which a poet sells his suicide to an ad agency - now looks charmingly naive. It's Antonioni crossed with Lester's Beatles generation: polite, irreverent, inarticulate, with an irredeemably narrative construction (love story), and much proudly presented but embarrassed improvisation. While the film's choice of models (tragic grandiloquence versus minimalism, capitalism versus existential angst) remains confused, it's still clever and pretty. Leather fetish fantasy turns wittily into rubber glove ad, striptease is intercut with abattoir - and juxtaposition nearly reduces both to advertising slickness. Intriguing to see how even the avant-garde was mesmerised by the 'beautiful life' of the '60s.

Excerpt from TimeOut located HERE



Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Herostratus was originally shot at in 1.33:1, but director Levy preferred the film to be projected, matted, to 1.78:1. The BFI have included both aspect ratios on separate Blu-ray discs. They were transferred from the original 35mm picture negative and sound elements. Despite Levy's wishes I prefer the 1.33 allowing the full extent of the visual information captured when the film was originally shot. Plus you can see more of the stripper's butt (testing if anyone is actually reading this). I also tend to think it looks sharper in full-frame even though the bitrate is lower. I assume the BFI have done some digital restoration and cleaning and the result looks excellent in 1080P at 23.976 fps. The image on both is very clean and clear of any damage or speckles and colors are vibrant and true. Grain and noise are minimal (more grain in the vintage clips). The extras share the 1.77 (disc one) and it is dual-layered while the 1.33 resides by itself on a 2nd, single layered, Blu-ray disc. This film is a solid choice for a 'Flipside' release - a truly clandestine piece of cinema, discussed in whispers, buried deep in the archive for the past 40-years.




(Herostratus - 1.33 Blu-ray TOP vs. 1.77 Blu-ray - BOTTOM)



(Herostratus - 1.33 Blu-ray TOP vs. 1.77 Blu-ray - BOTTOM)



(Herostratus - 1.33 Blu-ray TOP vs. 1.77 Blu-ray - BOTTOM)



(Herostratus - 1.33 Blu-ray TOP vs. 1.77 Blu-ray - BOTTOM)



(Herostratus - 1.33 Blu-ray TOP vs. 1.77 Blu-ray - BOTTOM)



(Herostratus - 1.33 Blu-ray TOP vs. 1.77 Blu-ray - BOTTOM)



(Herostratus - 1.33 Blu-ray TOP vs. 1.77 Blu-ray - BOTTOM)



(Herostratus - 1.33 Blu-ray TOP vs. 1.77 Blu-ray - BOTTOM)



(Herostratus - 1.33 Blu-ray TOP vs. 1.77 Blu-ray - BOTTOM)



Audio :

No phony bumps here and both discs share the same linear PCM 2.0 channel track at 2304 kbps with the audio originally transferred from a 35mm print.  It does a solid job of exporting the film's sound characteristics but there are still minor instances of imperfection that the more discerning ear may pick up (minor clipping and hiss). There obviously isn't any need for demonstrative separations and the original economic 2.0 channel will suffice for a profound presentation of this masterwork. There are optional subtitles in English and my Momitsu has identified this as being region FREE!




Extras :

There are some good supplements including some rare Don Levy’s short films put to HD from 16mm and an audio interview with Levy from 1973 transferred from the original reel-to-reel tape held by the interviewer. As for the shorts - they appear unrestored and have damage marks - we get Ten Thousand Talents (1960, 24 minutes): Levy's student film, set in Cambridge, featuring the voice of Peter Cook. Time Is (1964, 29 minutes): Levy's remarkable experimental documentary. Five Films (1967, 9 minutes): Levy's hypnotic experiments in film editing techniques with 5 separate film segments and a wonderful 34-page illustrated booklet with newly commissioned contributors and original documentation.



It should be obvious that the 'Flipside' releases are not for all tastes. For those keen on the avant-garde this is an easy must-own. Beyond seeing it on Blu-ray it's incredible just to see it - period! William McClung on IMDb HERE commented "Herostratus screened at the Orson Welles theatre in Cambridge (Mass.) for two weeks in (I think) 1968. At a party in New York a few years later, I met the owner of a theatre (I can't recall any names, alas) where it played for three days; he said he detested it and withdrew it.
I have never been more moved by a film. I can compare it only to such transforming experiences as seeing
L'Avventura in the early 'sixties, although the art of Herostratus is far more mysterious. The mystery is compounded by the great gulf of years that separates me from that screening, by the fact that almost nobody I meet has seen it or even heard of it, and by the apparent lack of any body of explication and commentary.
Without seeing it again I wouldn't attempt a precis of the plot, but what remains in memory is the cool classicism of the narrative (innocence vs. worldliness and levels of manipulativeness that Henry James might have appreciated) as mediated through an unobtrusive but arresting surrealism of technique.
It's been 35 years--I'd really like to revisit Herostratus

And now he can while many cinephiles can partake for the first time. We recommend! 

Gary Tooze

August 23rd, 2009

Offered as a Dual Format Edition October 24th, 2011


About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 7500 DVDs and have reviewed over 3000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction. So be it, but film will always be my first love and I list my favorites on the old YMdb site now accessible HERE.  

Gary's Home Theatre:

Samsung HPR4272 42" Plasma HDTV
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

Gary W. Tooze








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