michael_gothard_archive: (wild)
The extracts below are from a review of 'Herostratus' by Stuart Heaney, published in 'Sight and Sound' magazine, volume 19, issue 9, in September 2009.

"… This is the 1960s as you’ve never seen them before – the myths demystified before they were even crystallised. Its themes mirror in disturbing fashion the subsequent troubled lives of its principle cast and crew, not least Levy himself.

… The Nuffield films served as Levy’s film-making apprenticeship, enabling him to appropriate the documentary form for poetic ends. The same formal tension between the objective world of historical and institutional forces, and eruptions of the personal subconscious, lies at the heart of Herostratus, which recycles fragments of newsreel footage and juxtaposes them with dramatic scenes and fractured hallucinatory images. The effect of interfacing these different strands is to map the subconscious forces that formed Max’s psyche … Max’s only solution to the problem of finding meaning in his life is to sacrifice his physical form for a transcendent, infinitely reproducible electronic image.

… Levy’s intent was to induce a transformation in the film’s audience via a heightened emotional reality. In his notes accompanying the film, Levy cryptically referred to “a special form of improvisation … exploiting the subconscious”, but although he did not reveal the specific technique he used to direct the actors, it was clearly psychotherapeutic in intent. The performances were all improvised on scenarios and suggestions provided by the director-therapist, sometimes with disturbing results. Levy referred to “peculiar events” that occurred “both during and outside filming”; occasionally crew members refused to work owing to the intensity of the experiences being filmed.

… Levy wanted to deprogramme his actors, the better to reveal to the audience the programming within themselves through witnessing the actors’ experiences … The crucial moment that foregrounds this strategy occurs in the closing scene of the film, evidence that Levy may have been using some form of primal scream therapy, inducing trauma in the actors … Convinced they have provoled Max into committing suicide, Clio becomes hysterical. As she leans against a blank wall she wails, “I can’t get out!” Levy’s strident voice can be heard offscreen, replying, “YOU CAN GET OUT!” The whimpering of Clio-Gabriella is the last thing we hear as the image cuts to black."

For all the critical accolades heaped on Don Levy for 'Herostratus', it is perhaps fortunate that he did not make more films, and trap yet more vulnerable young actors in his amateur psychology laboratory.
michael_gothard_archive: (wild)
The BFI brought out three films in which Michael Gothard had major roles, “Herostratus”, “The Devils” and “La Valleé.” The booklets that accompany “Herostratus” (released 24/08/2009) and “La Valleé” (released 08/06/2009) include sections about him, which - apart from some material in the “La Valleé” booklet which specifically relates to his role in that film - are basically the same.

These notes show a disappointing reliance on online sources, one of whom – Curtis Harrington – actively disliked Michael Gothard. A quotation from Harrington is even used to provide the title: “An interesting type.”

At best, this phrase, culled from a highly personal attack that Harrington launched on Gothard some years after his death, damns a very talented and unique actor – not a ‘type’ – with faint praise, and tends to discourage the reader from looking more closely at his work.

It is tempting to think that the reason this quotation was used, was that it was easy to find. It’s true that there was not much information about Michael Gothard available at the time the booklet on “Herostratus” was written, but a little research in a library reveals that John Glen, the Director of “For Your Eyes Only”, described him as “a captivating actor”1, and that Louis M. Heyward, the Executive Producer of “Scream and Scream Again” said: "I felt that Michael Gothard was going to be the biggest thing that ever happened. He had that insane look and that drive, and he was wonderful … He had a lot of class and a lot of style.”2

Either of these quotations could have more aptly supplied a title for Michael Gothard's mini-biography. Instead, Harrington’s quotation sets the tone for an article which is not only negative, but misleading.

Firstly, the statement that, “Michael Gothard’s choice of television and film roles illustrated the dark side of the 1960s and 70s” warrants scrutiny. The word “choice” assumes that at the start of his career, Michael had the pick of television and film roles - which seems unlikely – rather than having to take what was offered.

Secondly, even if he did, indeed, choose the roles he took on between 1967 and 1979, from among many, it cannot be said that all or even most of them illustrated the "darker side" of those times. An argument could be made for his roles in “Herostratus”, “Up the Junction”, “More”, “The Storyteller”, “The Excavation”, “La Vallée”, “Nine Bean Rows”, “Games People Play”, “Run for Your Money”, and “Stopover”, but even some of those are debatable, and not all of them are extant.

As for the rest: “The Machine Stops” is set in the future; “The Further Adventures of the Musketeers”, “Michael Kohlhaas”, “The Last Valley”, “The Devils”, “Arthur of the Britons”, “The Three and Four Musketeers”, and “Warrior Queen” are all set in the past. “Les Fleurs du Mal” is an escapist spy/crime drama, “Scream and Scream Again”, a horror/science fiction, “When the Spirit Moves You”, a supernatural comedy, “Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?” a thriller, and “Warlords of Atlantis” a fantasy adventure. It is hard to see how his role in any of these could illustrate the darker side of the 1960s and 70s.

The notes go on to describe Michael as having a “deep, hard voice.” In his work that post-dates “Up the Junction”, his voice was deep, but “hard” is not how most people would describe it. David Wickes, who directed him in “Jack the Ripper” and “Frankenstein”, spoke of “his soft, husky voice” which “was electrifying … he knew how to use it to maximum effect.”

The notes go further into the realms of fantasy when they state that Gothard was “usually cast in historical actioners, European arthouse or mind-bending genre movies, more often than not torn apart or committing the ‘elemental crime’ of suicide.”

It’s true that he was often cast in historical pieces: a total of twelve productions. Under the heading “European Arthouse” there seem to be only three films, “Herostratus”, “La Valleé”, and a non-speaking appearance in “More.” Mind-bending genre movies? Again, perhaps “Herostratus” is one of those, along with “Scream and Scream Again”, and “Lifeforce.”

However, this only constitutes seventeen productions: less than half of Michael Gothard’s forty-two roles. This doesn’t fulfill the description, “usually cast.”

But it is the final assertion in the sentence – that his characters are “more often than not torn apart or committing the ‘elemental crime’ of suicide’” – which is the most damaging, and the most lacking in substance. It is complete fabrication.

Even if one assumes that by “torn apart”, the writer means “conflicted”, rather than literally “torn apart” (which never happens), this statement has no basis in fact. Most of Michael’s characters show no sign of being conflicted, and certainly not to the extent of being “torn apart.” Many of them – Kuno, Mordaunt, John, Weber, Hansen, Father Barré, Albie, Volthan, Gaspard, Locque, Terry Marvin, Karl Portillo, Strett, Stefan, Xaros – are unusually single-minded.

Of his 42 known film and TV roles, only six of them, Max (“Herostratus”), Ivan (“Games People Play”), Olivier (“La Valleé”), Kai (“Arthur of the Britons”), Felton (The “Musketeers” films) Athelstane (“Ivanhoe”) and Sergei (“From Fulham With Love”) suffer significant internal conflict. Only in Max and Olivier is it a basic character trait, rather than something arising from circumstances, and Olivier’s conflict is not a bad thing, but the result of intellectual curiosity, and a refreshing capacity to step back from his sociological context.

As for the ‘elemental crime’ of suicide’: in “Herostratus”, Michael’s character, Max, intends to commit suicide, but changes his mind, then accidentally kills someone else. In “Scream and Scream Again”, as the artificially-created vampire, Keith, he jumps into a bath of acid to avoid capture, presumably because he has been programmed to do so, rather than from an actual desire to kill himself.

There is no other instance in his entire known canon of film and TV work, of a character Michael Gothard played, committing suicide.

Even if, being charitable, we count all six of the conflicted characters, and add in Keith the vampire as a suicide, this makes a total of seven roles out of forty-two: one sixth does not constitute “more often than not.”

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the writer made these claims in a misguided attempt to make things seem neat and tidy - by telling the rather tired story of an actor and his roles becoming one and the same thing - rather than making the effort to find out the truth.

Another less important inaccuracy, is the claim that Michael Gothard appeared in “Vampyre.” He did not. It was intended that he should appear, but the project fell through, and was eventually resurrected without him.

Towards the end of the article, the writer describes Michael Gothard “momentarily acting opposite Marlon Brando” as if that were his finest hour, when it was more like Brando’s worst. In fact, Gothard was brought in as a possible replacement for Brando, whom John Glen thought unreliable, and in the end, Brando got terrible notices for the film.

Finally, the article says of Michael Gothard: “Overpowered by depression, he hanged himself at home in Hampstead, aged 53 and alone.”

We know that Michael Gothard had suffered from depression for most of his life, on and off, but his suicide was unexpected. Some friends suspect that prescription medication may have precipitated his suicide, but the truth of what was going on in his mind will probably never be known, so to claim, as fact, that he was “overpowered by depression” is pure speculation.

Naturally he was “alone” at the time when he killed himself – few people take their own lives in company. But the tacit implication of “aged 53 and alone” is that he was “alone” in his life, and this is completely wrong.

A lifelong musician, he often met up with fellow musicians for jamming sessions. He dated many beautiful women, and was an avid letter-writer, keeping in touch with old friends and girlfriends. While he seems – as far as the creators of this archive have been able to discover – to have had no contact with his father, and little with his mother, he did have close friends whom he regarded as family.

The writer of the notes in the BFI booklet could not have known all this at the time they wrote the article, so - presumably because Michael Gothard’s social life was not plastered all over the tabloids every day - they have made the mistake of interpreting his whole life in the light of his final act, and suggesting that he was living a solitary and miserable existence. This is both misleading, and insulting to him and to his friends. It would have been better to be honest, and simply say, “Little is known of his private life”, but that wouldn’t have fitted in with story the writer wanted to tell.


1 "For My Eyes Only: My Life with James Bond”, by John Glen. (2001)
2 Interview with Louis M. Heyward by Gary A. Smith, in “Uneasy Dreams: The Golden Age of British Horror Films, 1956-1976.” (2006)
michael_gothard_archive: (Kai - determined)
Interviewed by Clare Spark, in February 1973, Don Levy stated:

“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."

The audition process for ‘Herostratus’, described in the BFI booklet as "intense", was perhaps designed to find out whether the actors who auditioned (including, per. Amnon Buchbinder, John Hurt as well as Michael Gothard) possessed what Don Levy considered that essential knowledge.

Evidently, Michael Gothard did, because he was chosen to play the lead role, Max.

In “Sight and Sound”, summer 1965, an unnamed reporter says that “Levy spent a good deal of his time testing artists: having decided that this was to be a film developed entirely by improvisation around a firm narrative, he wanted a particularly malleable and intense type of player. After the extensive improvised auditions, he settled on Michael Gothard, then a drama student, for the lead …"

As to why a young actor would put himself through a tortuous audition for a reportedly unpaid role – per Philip Ward: "This is Art, with a capital ‘A’, which may explain why, challenging as the film’s contents were, actors were keen to get on board. When the British film industry was turning out generic pap like the Carry On series, the prospect of a home-grown arthouse movie must have been enticing …"

It is easy to see how, having been cast in his first prestigious film role, Gothard could have been temporarily mesmerised by Levy, and regarded him as some kind of mentor: possibly letting himself be put through experiences and processes that were more demanding and revealing than he might have liked, or otherwise have tolerated.

In “Sight and Sound”, Levy says: “The film has several long takes up to four minutes. Some people are afraid of these, but I feel I need them here as the actors require space to reveal their deepest states of intensity ..."

Richard Whitehall, in 1972, spoke of: “Long takes, through which the actors improvise brilliantly … as Levy explores the ramifications and resonances of his theme: the revolt of a young failed poet against the horrors and corruption of society, and the means he takes to make his protest known."

According to Philip Ward: “… the filming, which extended from summer 1964 to spring 1965, took a huge toll on those involved as Levy, by his own admission, drove his cast to confront unwelcome truths about themselves.

Gabriella Licudi, the lead actress, suffered a breakdown during filming and retired from the business not long after … The resulting film gives a vivid idea of what it would be like to crack up mentally. Gothard’s derangement is expressed both as outward violence – in one frightening early scene he trashes his rundown bedsit to the sound of loud choral music – and in inner turmoil ...”

Drewe Shimon also mentions mental problems allegedly suffered, this time by Gothard himself:

"As the actor – Michael Gothard in his first major role - embarks upon this odyssey of wanton destruction, we are dragged into his psychosis in a way we wouldn’t have imagined when, five minutes earlier, proceedings commenced in an admittedly abstract but comparatively restrained manner. ... Gothard’s performance … is a revelation, a spitting, snarling yet suave diatribe on legs, and proof of what a performer can achieve when stretched to his outer limits (Levy would later admit Michael had at least “two breakdowns” during filming)."

The source reference for these supposed breakdowns among the cast have so far not been found, but Levy himself said that Michael Gothard had “been going through these incredible convolutions …”

In “Sight and Sound”, Levy says: “Details of characterisations and dialogue were all developed during a very complicated process of improvisation and recall, designed to produce through various psychological methods a peculiar emotional state whereby the acting became behaviour. The improvisation was not based on their own characters … but was used as a technique for freeing and distorting action and reaction and enveloping the characters of the play.”

In other interviews from the BFI library, Don Levy seems to have no shame in describing his treatment of the actors, which is at best unreasonable, and at worst, downright cruel.

Of Gabriella Licudi, he says: “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 “Sight and Sound”, Levy says that sometimes the actors appeared to be in a state akin to hypnosis, during which they were able to operate by drawing directly on the subconscious. In connection with one scene ... where the girl, posed in the corner of the screen against a white wall, goes into a long hysterical outburst, he commented: “The actress was not informed of the end result required. The scene was gradually built up by a violent actress-character conflict during the recall and preparation which took about two hours. When it finally occurred, two members of the unit were not able to watch and one was unable to work.”

One can only imagine what effect watching this treatment of Gabriella Licudi might have had on her co-star, but Michael Gothard wasn’t spared either. Levy says: “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.”

And in another interview:

“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.”

Even if the talk of mental breakdowns is exaggerated, Levy very obviously relished the feeling of superiority and power over his actors, and had little care for the possible consequences of what he put them through.

One might suspect that, in making this experimental film, Levy was not only experimenting with techniques, and with his audience, but on the actors: seeing how far he could push them, while dispassionately filming the results, just like any scientist observing his "experimental models" – rats in a maze.

Philip Ward describes Levy as “one of a rare breed of artist-scientist … he made educational documentaries on scientific subjects for the Nuffield Foundation …”

Drewe Shimon observed: “Indeed, it seems he [Don Levy] only gave ‘Herostratus’ what linear narrative it has to ‘throw people a thread.’ This attitude demonstrates not only a contempt for cinema audiences (and a feeling of intellectual superiority to them), but cinema itself, and possibly even humanity in general ...”

Levy was, however, an admirer of the poet Rupert Brooke, whom he – somewhat presumptuously – credits as an “assistant” on an earlier film, ‘Ten Thousand Talents.’ Brooke was: "A young Apollo, golden-haired …” (Frances Cornford), who was beset by mental anguish, and travelled around Europe trying to find himself: a narrative which might also have fitted Michael Gothard in his early years.

Angharad24 has speculated that Don Levy saw this similarity, and picked Michael for the role of Max because of it.


Following his work on ‘Herostratus’, Michael was unemployed for 18 months, a time which he described as "too depressing to think about." Per a 1973 TV Times article, “It was this taste of unemployment that determined his practical attitude to his profession.”

Whether or not Michael Gothard and Don Levy kept in touch, Levy clearly continued to follow Gothard’s career.

In his 1973 interview, he said: “The lead actor, for a year or so, held out, waiting for a role – really good work – finally said … recognised, to himself, at least, that a … there wasn’t any such thing as good work, and so he just accepted everything that came along. Really. He’s played in ‘The Devils’ of Ken Russell. He’s played in ‘Scream and Scream Again.’ So he’s just a … working actor, but he does this with incredible reluctance.”

It’s hard to tell whether Levy regarded ‘The Devils' and 'Scream and Scream Again’ as extreme examples of good and bad work, or whether he considered both equally unworthy; neither does he suggest what, in the supposed absence of “good work”, he expected Michael to do for the rest of his career.

Michael Gothard appears to have been aware of Don Levy’s opinion. Things he said in the second of only three interviews he is known to have given, (this one in October 1973), could be seen as a rebuttal of Levy’s criticisms:

“In order to survive, you must compromise. If not, how can your ideals remain on a high level? I don’t like the glorification of violence and materialism, but I realise that I cannot just sit at home waiting to do a righteous, moral film. It may never come along.”

He also said: “You see, my work is an extrovert thing, performing publicly – but I approach it in an introvert manner. I’m quite happy to show myself as the character I’m portraying but I’m not at all interested in doing it as a direct revelation of myself.”

This is the exact opposite, in terms of performance, to what Don Levy sought to extract from him, and from Gabriella Licudi, in ‘Herostratus’; Michael is clearly rejecting Levy’s approach. He must have recognised that, while ‘Herostratus’ was a big break for him, Don Levy was not the most helpful director he could have worked with.

Michael Gothard with Don Levy with Gabriella Licudi

Image from the BFI booklet, showing Gabriella Licudi, Michael Gothard and Don Levy. Gabriella appears to be wiping away a tear.

Articles referred to:
Review by Philip Ward

Review by Darius Shimon

TV Times interview, 8 February 1973

"Petticoat” interview, 6 October 1973

Sight and Sound 1965, on location:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Clare Spark’s interview with Don Levy, in February 1973 can be heard on the British Film Institute DVD of ‘Herostratus.’

Interviews found in the BFI Archive.
michael_gothard_archive: (wild)
This interview appeared in ‘X’-Films Vol.3 No 1. 1973.1 While it is more accurate, and contains less that is as demonstrably fake than the ‘interview’ in the German teen magazine “Bravo”, it contains some sections which are certainly made up, and others which seem to have been taken down incorrectly or misunderstood. Also, some of the words Michael is said to have used, such as “helluva”, and “movies” are not – according to A.S., who knew him well – in his idiom. He always said "film" or "picture". He would not have said "unprofessional part", but would have used the correct term of "non-professional part", and he wouldn't have said "'cause"... he would have said “because.” Sections which should definitely be treated with scepticism are annotated.

Interview with Michael Gothard

Michael, how did you become interested in acting as a career?

I went to acting school, but before that I originally became involved because a friend was making an amateur movie, auditioning a lot of professional out-of-work actors and actresses. He couldn’t find exactly what he wanted and I happened to be at the audition, so just for a laugh I auditioned with them and got the part. It was a typical ham movie – boy and girl walking in the park, etc. I think the new wave was very popular at that time – about ten years ago. [1962]

How long have you been acting professionally?

About 8½ years. I went to a place called the Actors Workshop, which in those days was at Baker Street, being run by an American. It was quite a good scene. The first unprofessional part I played was the movie I told you about, which, like most weekend movies, didn’t get finished. Nevertheless, I got some encouragement from these people while I was working with them, so I thought perhaps I should take acting a bit more seriously. At first I thought it was just an interesting thing to do.

What were you doing before that?

I was living in Paris for about a year, just bumming around if you like, just drifting about … I came back to England and met up with these people … I just did it for a laugh – as I was doing many things for a laugh. It only became serious when people started paying me money to do it. After all, I’d been broke for a long, long time.

So you’re not working for the moment?

No. I’m not really looking for work ’cause I was away for six months working on the Arthur of the Britons series. I came back to find a lot of things in a mess, so I can’t really work at the moment anyway. I’ve got a few things to sort out.

What’s acting like in this country at the moment?

The scene here at the moment is very quiet, and has been so for about three years or so.

How are you regarded in the trade?

A lot of people tend to consider me in some way – a word they’re fond of using – established – which to me is a joke. By established they mean I earn a regular living. Well let me tell you, to get yourself in a position where you can be absolutely sure that you work a certain number of months a year is really a very unique position to be in. I found that word very funny. I think you’re really not qualified to use that word unless you’re right at the top – if you’re a Burton or a Taylor or something. The whole thing is such a precarious sort of set up and even more so now than even a few years ago – in England, anyway. The Americans withdrew their finance 3 or 4 years ago and the film industry in this country really took a dive. Suddenly all those fat, well-paid technicians who always had permanent work suddenly found themselves in the same positions as the actors and actresses. The point I’m trying to make is that the situation in this country is so bad now that the technicians, who for years had a really nice piece of the cake, are now confronted with exactly the same situation as we are. That’s how bad it’s got over here.

The section above probably includes misquotations. A.S. suspects that Michael’s criticisms were actually aimed at "the fat cats", as he really respected "the workers", (carpenters, sparks, extras etc), and would never have been so derogatory about technicians, but would have happily been derogatory about “the suits”: producers and studio executives.

And yet, strangely enough, I’ve worked pretty consistently during this time. At the time of the boom – about six or seven years ago – when I was in the early stages of my career, I just couldn’t break in at all. I spent nearly two years out of work, during which time I did all sorts of insane things. I mean, the first job I ever did for money was a film, a 2½ hour colour feature. [Herostratus] I played the lead in it and I was on the screen from start to finish, so you could say it was a big part. The film didn’t have any success. It was experimental, a very strange thing. It had many qualities about it which just didn’t seem right. I spent a long period out of work after that, so I really started with a great flourish.

It was a helluva way to enter into oblivion. I couldn’t get into TV, I couldn’t even get an audition for theatre. But eventually I broke through and got into TV. From then on it was all right. I’ve hardly stopped working since.

So how did it all start?

It sounds like such a cliché. I was walking down the King’s Road on a Saturday morning with some friends, something I very rarely do. We went somewhere for a coffee. I was with a young lady actress who was doing very well at the time. I was sitting at this table and suddenly a young guy came up to me and said, “That gentleman over there wants to talk to you. He’s Philip Saville.” I didn’t know who Philip Saville was, but it turned out he was a television director.

We went for a walk down the King’s Road, chatting away all the while and he told me about a film he was making. Apparently he wasn’t looking for actors and didn’t even know I was one, but said he was looking for a young guy to play a part in a short film he was making for TV. When he realised I was an actor, we arranged an appointment for the following day.

His office was somewhere in Shepherd’s Bush. After being out of work for two years I was very edgy and easily offendable – in as much as I was quick to take insult. Somehow we got into one of those strange interviews. He was really trying to audition me via an interview, asking me very personal questions. I got progressively more annoyed and pissed-off. I thought, ‘Here we go, another little power trip. He’s enjoying himself at the expense of another out-of-work actor.’ I’d been through that scene so many times I was really ready for battle and, well, we ended up having a flaming row – and that was that! I didn’t see him again for quite a long time and I didn’t – needless to say – get the part in that film. Then a few months later I got a phone call. It was Philip Saville.

He said he could use me for something on television with Yvonne Mitchell – a superb actress – and we ended up doing a show called The Machine Stops, which went on to win a prize in the International Festivals, and that’s more or less how I got in, how I started work again.

When I was out of work we started a lunchtime theatre group in St Martin’s Lane, in the West End. There was no money in that – we just hoped these weren’t too many in the audience, so there’d be some sandwiches left! Nevertheless, I had to stick at it, because two years out of work devastates you – you’ve go to keep your hand in. It doesn’t matter really what you do, the important thing is to work. That’s why I did a few horror films. I didn’t consider it a bum part, any more than any other part of the entertainment industry. So I tried to do that as capably as I would do anything else. I sweated over that to get it right, as I did in more serious projects, like The Devils, for instance.

Which did you prefer?

Well, the horror film was more fun – great fun, in fact – but in terms of deeper satisfaction obviously The Devils was better, but it was a much harder thing to do.

I didn’t audition for Scream & Scream Again – they asked me to be in it.

Why did they choose you?

God knows –I really can’t remember how it came about. Maybe they chose me because I was considered a new approach to the problem. The first thing that Vincent Price said to me was, “Your flies are undone.” I thought, ‘Oh, man, what a corny gag!’ They pull that on every inexperienced actor. So, that was the sole extent of my relationship with Vincent Price. The way the film was scheduled, I didn’t have to work with him. It was a very physical part, running up mountains, etc. I did most of the stunts myself. On Arthur of the Britons we did all the stunts ourselves – riding horses and fighting. It was quite a rough show. We used to take turns being in hospital. Really, we tried to schedule it so we weren’t both in at the same time. Oliver ended up with a fractured skull and was in twice for x-rays.

According to A.S., Michael moaned a fair bit about being saddle-sore while filming “Arthur of the Britons”, but never injured himself.

Strange, that I get given all these wild, extrovert parts. The part in Arthur is of a crazy, wild guy – a Saxon – who’s sometimes melancholy, sometimes explosive and violent. I play quite a few parts like that. I suppose it coincides with my natural temperament. I try not to be temperamental as an actor, but it does happen. I’ve played such a wide variety of parts.

I remember Saville with affection, because it was through him I got into this work again (I was absolutely flat broke). When I completed that show I didn’t have a penny. Normally it takes quite a few weeks before you get paid. Anyway, the night we finished recording I went into my dressing room and there was an envelope with money in it. He knew I was broke and without saying anything he arranged for me to be paid that night – as soon as I was finished. But he was a fiery bastard to work with. He shouts, screams and curses, but he’s great – tremendous energy and enthusiasm. I haven’t worked with him for many years, but I remember him as I said, with great affection. It was my big break.

You were waiting for the big break?

No, I don’t think in those terms. For me, when I work, it’s just a job, and I want to be paid for it. I don’t want promises – “This is going to bring you more work; this is going to make your career” – I’m just not interested. I’m not working for that at all. I’m working to earn a living. I enjoy it, sure I do. I’m like a man who does a job and who expects to be paid a certain rate for it. I’m not interested in promises of a great future glory. I’ve hard all that crap for years. It really doesn’t impress me very much. The only thing that impresses me is when the cheque comes in.

But you enjoy acting?

It’s a helluva profession. There are lots of good moments in it. But it’s also a very savage scene. Actors are very vulnerable. They are the most vulnerable in the whole business. For a lot of people, it’s hopeless being an actor, but not really for me. I know what it’s like to feel hopeless. There’s no guarantee. When they talk about ‘being established’ – what the hell does that mean?

But you feel a bit more secure now?

At the moment. I suppose I’ve got an image for the kids. And, judging by some of the letters we get, we’ve made some impression on the emotional life of some of the young ladies of this country! I get funny letters like “You have the most ugly beautiful face I have ever seen” or “My friends think Arthur is prettier than you, but I prefer the way you walk.”

That show was the one I got the most public notice from. I also did another TV series five years ago, called “The Three Musketeers” [The Further Adventures of the Musketeers]. I was playing the villain in that, but I used to get more fan mail than the bloody hero! So, I had an image then, but I don’t know what it was. It just depends how much you’re in the public notice.

But what about “The Devils”?

Well, I get the impression that it’s helped my reputation in the business. It was, after all, a very celebrated film. For me, it was well publicised. I got 3rd or 4th billing. I did all sorts of things in the movie – tortured Oliver Reed, ended up burning him alive and chanting Latin prayer at him. It was an exhausting film – I enjoyed doing it. The Devils was more a mental pressure, by comparison.

For the last two months of Arthur we were knee-deep in snow and rain, so physically it was a much harder part. But Russell was a very exacting man to work for – everyone jumps around. It really challenges you. You’ve really got to get yourself together and concentrate. It’s good. You really feel you’ve accomplished something. That separates the amateurs from the professionals. There’s a lot of amateurs in the business who have no right to be there, but who get away with it – people who have never really studied, who approach it in a very casual sort of way, who take up space. When you work for Russell, you feel good, ’cause you know you’re being used as a professional.

At no point in “Arthur of the Britons” does a snow scene appear. Michael may have said “mud”, because there was plenty of that.

What less challenging roles have you played?

Parts in Department S, Armchair Theatre, Thirty Minute Theatre, Out of the Unknown and Fraud Squad..

Tell me more about “The Devils.”

I played a priest on the 17th century, a fanatic. I had to speak Latin as naturally as I speak English. I had to really work on that. I spent some time in a monastery with some monks to get that whole atmosphere. I studied pages on Latin and exorcism prayers – terribly difficult things to learn. It was agony – you have to learn it like a priest would. I suggested it. Russell fixed it up for me to get into this monastery. He understands how actors work, he’s so professional. He’ll give you all the help you need. I used to get prayer books in the mail, which is incredible. Any success that man has, he deserves.

A.S. is doubtful of the monastery visit, as she thought he was a not a "method" actor. His attitude was, ‘you are an actor, so ACT! You don't need to experience it.’

Do you prefer films to TV roles?

I prefer movies. I don’t like the idea of repeating performances. You can’t compare twenty takes to doing performances every night. With a take, you can alter it. As far as I’m concerned, the more takes the better. I could go on until the sun sets. I find it a really incredible luxury.

Clearly, the question Michael is answering here is, “Do you prefer film or live theatre”, not “Do you prefer films to TV roles?” He said something similar about not repeating oneself to The Runewriter.

Tell me more about your fans.

I had a letter the other day that said, “I’m giving up David Bowie for you!” I thought, well that really must be progress. That’s not bad, is it!

Tell me about your other work.

I’ve done nude scenes. I was playing my usual wild-extrovert-killer-rapist-romantic. Raping one lady with a burning brand between my legs and being quite romantic. With another, I leap after someone with a dagger.

I did a French picture last year in New Guinea – La Valleé. I’d love to go to the States to work. I’d love someone to say, “Come over and do a picture.” That would be a lovely way to go. It’s a country that seems to be slowly torn apart by its internal problems. It’s really got to change course. I don’t think it would be easy to break in there.

What do you think about agents?

My first agent was a disaster – a bad experience. That gave me such a bad feeling about them. Two years without work. I got my own work without an agent, through Philip Saville. William Morris asked me to join them. That was the happy ending. They have a big legal department, so we try to keep the endings as happy as possible.

Do you have other interests besides acting?

Music. I play flute, jam around with other guys. I enjoy good food and travelling which is mostly in my job. I’ve worked in Czechoslovakia, France, Australia, and the New Guinea jungle for a few months.

Do you answer fan mail?

I’ve only answered two fan letters over the years. Sometimes you get one that is so very original that you feel it might just be worth an answer. We don’t usually get to see them.

According to A.S., Michael got to see most, if not all, of his fan mail, and answered it. He was lovely with fans, always giving autographs. He insisted that he only had work because of the people who wanted to see him. She remembers helping by writing out the envelopes in which he would send his replies, and signed photos.

1 The exact publication date is not known.
michael_gothard_archive: (pensive)

MICHAEL GOTHARD was among the first of the "underground" heroes to emerge into the mainstream of the acting profession.

In Arthur of the Britons (Wednesday) he plays the Saxon, Kai, brought up in the Celtic community. Generally, he is associated with more sinister, misfit roles, for example his part as a killer in Scream and Scream Again, and the psychopathic priest-inquisitor in another film, Ken Russell's The Devils.

Gothard, single and in his early 30's, has a broad, massively square face and a deep, hard voice which seems un-English, though he comes from North London. Contrasting with his appearance are his small, rectangular metal-rimmed glasses, perched low on his nose in the style of the docile shoemaker in Pinocchio cartoons.
Read more... )
michael_gothard_archive: (wild)
This extract from the press book was also available in a French translation.


Born 24 June, 1939 in London.
Course of Dramatic Arts.

Actor in the following films:

MICHAEL KOLHAAS [sic] by Volker Schlöndorff
UP THE JUNCTION by Peter Collinson
GINGER BREAD HOUSE by Curtis Harrington
THE LAST VALLEY by James Clavell
THE DEVILS by Ken Russell, with Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave

He was discovered in HEROSTRATUS, Don Levy’s very interesting film, in which he played to principal role. His spectacular performance, which alternated moments of violence with lyric sequences done in very long takes, was noticed by Volker Schlöndorff, who signed him for MICHAEL KOLHAAS.

In this intense chronicle of a peasant revolt, Michael Gothard played the part of a young soldier who joined Kolhaas’ band, but who, refusing to obey, looted for his own gain, and finally died by hanging. His truculent performance, especially in the last scenes with Anita Pallenberg, earned him a very similar role in THE LAST VALLEY, James Clavell’s ponderous allegory.

But it is in SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN that film buffs were struck by Gothard. In this fantastic modern tale, very reminiscent of Fritz Lang, Gothard plays a weird character, a vampire with fabulous power, created by Vincent Price. During the course of a long chase across the English countryside, beautifully filmed by director Gordon Hessler, he cuts [off] his hand and dies in a vat of acid.

In Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS he plays an equally monstrous character, that of a young inquisitor, dressed like a hippie, who brutally tortured Vanessa Redgrave. Gothard seemed unable to get away from violence and savagery, but, fortunately, in THE VALLEY, Barbet Schroeder gives him a new kind of part, where he is not obliged to strangle, rape, torture or disembowel a half dozen people.
michael_gothard_archive: (wild)
Under the "World Cinema" heading, "Herostratus" was shown on BBC2 at 9:40 pm on Friday 21 August 1970.

Dick Richards of the Daily Mirror called it "Experimental, but fascinating."

Herostratus 1970 RT
michael_gothard_archive: (wild)
Extracts from an interview by Bruce Beresford with Don Levy in “Cinema”, March 1969.

DL: Herostratus is a tragedy of egoism. Only by self-realisation is honesty achieved, and the characters in Herostratus do come to this self-realisation … Basic values are questioned. For example, Max thinks it’s important to be famous. Also he thinks he’s being honest, but he isn’t; he thinks that by being a rebel he’s facing up to things. He cracks completely when Farson abuses his motives.

BB: I found it hard to believe that the Ad Agency would agree to publicise the suicide.

DL: But the point is that the agency doesn’t take it on. It’s a personal thing between Farson (the Agency head), and Max, and Clio. Farson feels challenged by Max’s alleged freedom and he’s jealous because he knows Clio is impressed by him.1

BB: Herostratus has an interesting structure – long dialogue scenes interspersed with short staccato scenes. Why did you use this form?

DL: The scenes in long takes give the actor a lot of scope, and long scenes cause tension, sometimes the aim was to anger the audience.2

BB: Why did you choose to have the actors improvise the dialogue, instead of working to a written script?

DL: All of our theatre and cinema works inside a convention. Dialogue is a convention … compare any candid camera stuff with people talking with any dialogue in any film … What interests me is true motivation, true behaviour.

BB: But what’s true about actors improvising someone else’s life?

DL: The point is that the actors in Herostratus are quite close in real life to the people in the film. That’s why I chose them for the parts.3

BB: I thought there was some overacting, particularly by Mike Gothard as Max.

DL: I don’t agree. Often the character is overacting, but that’s different. I think the behaviour in the film is naturalistic.


1 This was not made clear in the film.
2 An example of Don Levy’s apparent contempt for his audience.
3 The arrogance Don Levy demonstrates here is breath-taking, firstly, in his assumption that he knows his principal actors inside and out, and secondly, in the obvious conclusion that he considers Michael Gothard a deluded egotist, Gabriella Licudi as someone who would prostitute herself to oblige her boss (and here, the line between reality and fiction really starts to blur, because it is Levy who is employing her) and Peter Stephens, (perhaps best considered as a stand-in for Levy himself) a manipulative pimp.
michael_gothard_archive: (Default)
The Times, 27 April 1968

In a lengthy review of "Herostratus", the hero is described with classic British understatement as: "... rather well played by a newcomer Michael Gothard."


Michael Armstrong – Films and Filming, June 1968

The performances are so good that I cannot even start to criticise them. Michael Gothard’s Max is one of the most exciting performances from a young actor I have seen for a long time. Peter Stephens as Farson is superb. He makes the character both detestable and tragic … while Gabriella Licudi’s Clio is so rich in depth and understanding, so sensitively played that the glamour-shell which so many beautiful actresses have imposed upon them, cracked fully to reveal an actress whose emotional range and expressive means are as highly charged as they are broad.

All three performances are continually bursting from the screen only to be held back, strangely enough, by the impositions of the film itself; held back by the film’s editing style …

All the dialogue was improvised. I thought about twenty percent was scripted due to the firmness with which it is played … I find watching any improvised scene that one is aware, continually, of the poor actor’s mind working … The actors in this film almost defeat this obstacle …

The film is strange in that it’s basic fault, I feel, lies in conception and initial working methods … the basic problem with the film’s resultant distortions is that Levy applied too much conscious thought to his conception.

Full review:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4


Jean Delmas – Jeune Cinema, November 1968

"Farson cares for Max as one cares for stock before slaughter; he even services him with love. Farson's "secretary" Clio, who has first refused, is finally subdued by her employer, and allows herself, despite herself, to be seduced. She will make love in service, and give account of it to her boss, who wants to use it to humiliate his subject.

... through the interaction between Farson and Max, creates a confrontation between two worlds of terrifying impact. Two types of man: the impassive shark with empty eyes and ample double chin, and against him a boy exploding with vitality and insolence ...

Between the two there lies the strange fog of impossible communication, as between two totally different biological species. "You resemble more and more the corpse you will be," says Max. But the other answers him: "what is the use of your honesty and freedom?" What indeed? For in a society that can consume anything, even suicides, there is still some merchandise that will not sell (like honesty or integrity) because no one wants it.

What drives Max to suicide is despair at the indifference of others, rather than the quest for glory of the first Herostratus. 'I am doing it because no-one gives a damn. I will look down at the people passing in the street. All of a sudden someone will see me up there and they will say to themselves, "He mustn't jump!", and they will forget about themselves for a minute, and think about me.'"

Full review


Richard Whitehall, 1972

"Under the greatest of difficulties, Levy has produced a dazzling film d'auteur quite unlike any other British film ever made. Long takes, through which the actors improvise brilliantly, alternate with clusters of staccato, sometimes subliminal imagery as Levy
explores the ramifications and resonances of his theme: the revolt of a young failed poet against the horrors and corruption of society, and the means he takes to make his protest known."


John Rusnell Taylor – The Times

"… Tremendously ambitious … it would be difficult to imagine anything farther from the norm in British film-production …It is brilliant and it is faintly repellent, but repellent because it means to shake us up … shot spectacularly in colour, and edited with complete assurance …"


Kevin Thomas - LA Times

"The key to Levy's success is his utterly inspired, exhaustive use of the camera's resources to allow us to experience the feelings of his tortured hero. Indeed, rarely has the camera, backed by extraordinary acting, been used to give such objective form to a man's inner anguish. The world of HEROSTRATUS is cold, stark metallic, expressed with an imagery as succinct and evocative as anything in Antonioni at his best.

Counterpointing it is the hell of the poet's imaginations, juxtaposing slaughterhouse eviscerations with the glamorous, dominating temptresses of the advertising media. At the same time, HEROSTRATUS is the timeless story of a youth's coming of age – of both his philosophical and sexual rites of passage. The lovemaking sequence is one of the most profoundly beautiful of its kind ever filmed."


La Libre Belgique

"‘Herostratus’ is without doubt one of the great films of the year ... One does not know what to admire most in this film. The direction, the sets, the acting or the scenario. The psychological truth of the principal characters, the intensity of the dramatization, the handling of the actors and the originality and vigour of the cinematographic style are perfect."


Pierre Apruxine – Arts and Artists

"‘Herostratus’ rises far above the experimental and directly ranks among the masterpieces of the Seventh Art."

Richard Mayne – The Critics, BBC

"… a fantastic assault on one’s visual sensibilities … I was absolutely engulfed by this film and would like everybody to know it."


Lorenza Mazetti – Via Nuova, Rome

"… this disturbing piece of work … which rides so close to the quick … plunging us … into the neurotic world of impotence and frustration lived by the young today …"


Margaret Hinxman – Sunday Telegraph

"… terrifying and moving …"


Molly Plowright – Glasgow Herald

"… the most astonishing film of my experience – right on the frontier of cinema as we so far know it … the visuals are more beautiful and the content more terrible than anything else I have seen, and the steady stare into the human mind makes the Godard and the Losey look like the fumbling side glances they actually are."

Also Out - The Guardian, 22 August 2009

"The visually impressive Herostratus is a more arty and oblique affair that takes its own sweet time telling a tale of a poet, the great Michael Gothard from Ken Russell's The Devils, who markets his planned suicide into a media event, diluting the "purity" of taking one's own life. A young Helen Mirren also stars. The extras are particularly fine, with short films and interviews scattered amongst the three titles, all given the full restoration treatment."


LA Times

"In this coruscating work, Michael Gothard astonishes as the eponymous young poet who hires a PR firm to turn his planned suicide into a media spectacle. Bursting with psychological and aesthetic urgency, Herostratus proved as prescient about the failure of the ’60s counterculture, as it was inspirational for the likes of Stanley Kubrick and Nicolas Roeg."

Full review


Amnon Buchbinder - You CAN Get Out: Herostratus Now, 3 September 2009

"The finished copies arrived in my hands yesterday and I have to say the BFI did a really nice job! From the striking and perfectly emblematic cover (featuring Don’s widow, the remarkable Ines Levy who collaborated with him in a variety of ways, including appearing in all his films and playing a number of visually striking roles in Herostratus), to the booklet which not only covers all of the films on the disc but offers a touching piece about Herostratus‘ lead, Michael Gothard (never mind the small number of really good films he did, like Ken Russell’s The Devils; try watching a piece of crap like Scream and Scream Again and see how the film comes to life when Gothard appears).”
Read more... )
Full discussion


Jesse P. Finnegan - Foreign Pick: Film Comment, Mar/Apr 2010

“Utterly luminous, occasionally brutal, it concerns one angry — or possibly mad — young man (the gifted, ghoulish Michael Gothard), who offers London’s biggest ad agency the chance to "handle" his public suicide … Now, recovered after 40-odd years, Herostratus seems less like a lost artifact than a votive offering, left purposefully to be found by a future generation of audiences.”


BFI Monthly Film Bulletin, 1968

"While the title of his film suggests a critical attitude to its hero ..., Levy's techniques betray a strong affinity with him. Max expresses his rage and contempt for society by smashing up large pieces of it with an axe. Levy attacks it with equal vigour, making analogies (inevitably through inter-cutting) between a stripper's body and the carcasses in an abattoir, between sex-oriented advertising and Hitlerian rhetoric ...

Max, expressing himself only through destruction, becomes the embodiment of the society he despises and rejects; trapped within it, he is - as Farson tells him - good only for "tearing down other people's work". His destructiveness is contagious. He causes the photographer's death and turns Clio into a mirror image of himself, making her conscious of the trap she lives in. Yet the camera uncritically caresses every muscle of his body ...

Still, despite its all too obvious faults, Herostratus remains a passionate, exhausting and disturbing film. The photography ... has an occasional poetic beauty - particularly in the sequence beside the railway bridges where Max finds a child nursing a doll in an abandoned van; and there is some remarkable use of colour, notably in Max's room, all black and white except for the colour of his own skin and the pink plastic flesh of a hanging doll."

Full review


Ian Jane - Rock! Shock! Pop!

"The plot of the film follows a young man named Max (Michael Gothard) who finds an advertising executive named Farson (Peter Stephens) in order to convince him to have his impending suicide broadcast as a sort of protest against where society is going. Max intends to jump off of a skyscraper and he wants everyone to see it.

As Max and Farson go about setting this all up, Max falls for a woman named Clio (Gabriella Licudi) and of course, Max then changes his mind about all of this, but by this point it’s too late, he’s set the train in motion and now he has to ride it out.

This is a film set in the unfortunately all too real society in which its various citizens care only about themselves. The world that surrounds Max has lead to his understandable narcissism and jaded view and his suicide is initially thought of as his way of essentially flipping us all off on the way out.

Bits of stock footage and symbolism hint at a time when the world wore a more united front but by the time it all comes around to our protagonist, it’s obvious that all of that has changed and not necessarily for the better interests of anyone. This is a subject and point of view that’s been exploited plenty of times since and quite often with better and more interesting results than Levy manages to accomplish here, but you’ve got to give the film credit for getting there before the likes of better known and more popularly embraced filmmakers like Herzog and Kubrick.

It’s interesting that Gothard, who hung himself in 1992 after a long battle with depression, plays the suicidal Max. It’s also interesting that the film is titled Herostratus, named after the ancient Greek fable in which a man destroys the most beautiful temple in the land in hopes of achieving fame only to wind up executed, his name forbidden to be uttered even after his death."

[Presumably the interest in the title lies in the relative obscurity to which Michael Gothard has been consigned since his death.]

Full review


Slarek - Cine Outsider

"The real surprise is that despite of the film's experimental structure and Max's air of self-importance, we actually start to care for him and his fate, thanks largely to a captivating central performance from Michael Gothard and the shifting balance of power, as the destructive, cocksure and playful anarchist of the early scenes is transformed by big business into a ineffectual commodity whose only purpose is take his own life at the prescribed place and time.

So browbeaten and humiliated is he by then that he keeps the appointment, by which point he has become a figure of pity, shuffling around the rooftop and huddled against the cold while unfeeling marketing man Pointer prepares his camera and barks at him to jump from the chosen side.

This is one of those scenes that CG would nowadays have neutered, as actor Michael Gothard stands and even struggles with his fellow performer Antony Paul close enough to a genuinely lethal drop to catapult my stomach into my mouth and make me wonder all involved had taken leave of their senses."

Full review


Ithankyou - Don Levy Hero! 25 January 2011

"... Herostratus ... must rank as one of the true, and most challenging, classics of 1960s British film. The film uses an unconventional narrative structure, mixed with beautifully judged sound and cinematography, to create an assault on our senses and our complacency: as a society and as individual viewers. The film's main actors Michael Gothard and Gabriella Licudi, gave their all and it shows in the unflinching honesty of the film."

Full review


Other reviews:

20 August 2009 review on Movie Talk by Peter Fuller

February 2010 review on The Celluloid Highway

Thanks to Tzaratango and Belsizepark for finding many of these reviews.

michael_gothard_archive: (Kuno)
Running (23) Digs (7)

Max (Michael Gothard) arrives at his crummy room in a decrepit boarding house.

Digs (39) Digs (61)

He inhabits the space he has created, sometimes depressed, sometimes elated, sometimes bemused.
Read more... )
michael_gothard_archive: (John in Michael Kohlhaas)
Herostratus came out in June 1967, after a long editing process by Don Levy.

BFI synopsis.

The film was the opening exhibition at London’s ICA cinema in May 1968.

Per: Stuart Heaney: BFI Screenonline:

"... Herostratus was in its own time largely misunderstood. After only a handful of initial screenings it virtually disappeared from public view altogether, remaining all but forgotten to this day. Yet while admittedly flawed, the film does offer a compelling critique of the failure of 1960s postwar idealism in Britain, an ideal portrayed as having degenerated into neurotic self-gratification.

Originally commissioned in 1962 by the BFI Experimental Film Fund to make a short film, director Don Levy found his ambitions soon exceeded the budget as it expanded into a feature-length production ...

As Levy was at pains to point out, ... the basic plot of the film is just the surface of a deeper narrative, a complex interconnected web of images and sounds designed to trigger emotional reflexes in the viewer's subconscious. Images of postwar urban decay and juxtapositions of burlesque stripteases with carcasses hanging in an abattoir frequently recur. The leitmotif of a deathly pale woman in black leather (played by Levy's wife, Ines) is particularly prevalent: she appears to be some kind of phantasm who plagues Max's mind as it begins to unravel.

Later critics would remark upon Herostratus's apparent influence on Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971) ..."

Full article.


1965 - 1966

Jan. 1st, 1970 01:00 pm
michael_gothard_archive: (Kuno)
From: TV Times: 8 February 1973

[Herostratus] brought Gothard approval from the critics, but no actual work. For 18 months - "a period too depressing to think about" - he did odd jobs and went intermittently on the dole. It was this taste of unemployment that determined his practical attitude to his profession.

"I was involved in helping to get the very first lunchtime theatre off the ground. It was a great experience but there was absolutely no money in it."

From: Petticoat interview 6 October 1973

“About a year and a half passed between my first important film part in Herostratus and my next big break – Out of the Unknown – a television series.” (He appeared in the first episode of season 2: The Machine Stops.")

In 1966 Michael appeared in the "The Spotlight" casting publication for the first time.
He does not seem to have had an agent, as interested parties were referred to the publication itself for contact information.

1966 Attwood crop

This was the photo used: taken in 1965 by Graham Attwood.
michael_gothard_archive: (Kuno)
Excerpts from "On location" report on "Herostratus."

... Levy spent a good deal of his time testing artists: having decided that this was to be a film developed entirely by improvisation around a firm narrative, he wanted a particularly malleable and intense type of player. After the extensive improvised auditions, he settled on Michael Gothard, then a drama student, for the lead …

Main shooting took place between August 1964 and March 1965 in a variety of London locations (there is no studio work), including the Royal College of Art, Regent Street Polytechnic and a slum house in Paddington …

Herostratus Sight and Sound, Summer 1965d

[Levy] “The film has several long takes up to four minutes. Some people are afraid of these, but I feel I need them here as the actors require space to reveal their deepest states of intensity ...

We also wanted to re-create the broken syntax of real speech: therefore, we never used any fixed dialogue or detailed action and the players never saw a script. Details of characterisations and dialogue were all developed during a very complicated process of improvisation and recall, designed to produce through various psychological methods a peculiar emotional state whereby the acting became behaviour. The improvisation was not based on their own characters … but was used as a technique for freeing and distorting action and reaction and enveloping the characters of the play.”

Mr. Levy added that sometimes the actors appeared to be in a state akin to hypnosis, during which they were able to operate by drawing directly on the subconscious. In connection with one scene I saw where the girl, posed in the corner of the screen against a white wall, goes into a long hysterical outburst, he commented: “The actress was not informed of the end result required. The scene was gradually built up by a violent actress-character conflict during the recall and preparation which took about two hours. When it finally occurred, two members of the unit were not able to watch and one was unable to work.”

I asked Mr Levy if he was generally satisfied with the way things had gone. “… The basic idea was certainly accomplished and, although some extremely startling things have happened, these have only opened the way to vast unexplored spaces both in film-making and drama."

Full review:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

It is interesting to note that despite these “vast unexplored spaces” awaiting him, Don Levy did not make another film for public viewing.

Thanks to Belsizepark for finding this review.
michael_gothard_archive: (Default)
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.

Don Levy also 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 fiches of two articles from the BFI library, both interviews with Don Levy, show how far Levy was prepared to go, to get the take he wanted, and how little care he seemed to have for the actors.

Of Michael Gothard he said:
“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.”

And of Gabriella Licudi:
“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 also speaks 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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