UK, 1968 (MIFF 1969, Programme C)
Director: Don Levy
Herostratus burnt down the temple of Artemis in Ephesus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was a bid to achieve immortality by some great feat of destruction. That same night, Alexander the Great was born.
Max, an impoverished and unsuccessful young poet, seeks a latter-day version of immortality. His feat of destruction is to be self-destruction, but first he must ensure the utmost publicity for the event. He sells himself to a public relations firm by persuading them to exploit his death. But as they begin to build his image, life begins to take on a different complexion. And the trouble is, Max has set other forces in motion. He is no longer in control of his destiny...
In our world, where most aspirations are those of private gain and personal success, there is no place for the legendary heroism of old. Unless you can count that of Dr. Don Levy, an expatriate Australian who spent two years raising the finance for this wildly ambitious first feature. It took nine months to shoot, and most of the unit worked without pay. Now he is teaching film making at an American university.
Levy will be remembered by Festival audiences as the author of that splendid complex documentary shown in 1965, Time Is. Now he employs brutal images, an amplified sound track, improvised dialogue, a daring use of colour, and a black screen as a kind of regulating eye-blink, for a film which is as passionate as it is disturbing, as vital as it is enraged.
Levy knows what few of us can face: that the idealism which can unify a country after a war becomes rapidly displaced by destructive self-interest because it is shallow: the true causes of the war have never been honestly analysed or attacked.
He exposes the inescapable horror underlying the surface of modern life: the spiritual desolation and the traps people construct around themselves to conceal the desert without. His answer is one that a growing number of people, including the most gifted, are beginning to confront—that of a bid for the survival of human dignity by some majestic feat of destruction in the manner of Herostratus.