The Moviegoer Herostratus at the Orson Welles, starting tomorrow
ONE of the great problems facing serious film makers is the parochialism of most film intelletuals, and the disturbingly ??? quality of movie criticism. ??? ??? interested in the future of the ??? would wast-time discussing the works of say, Philip R?th or Norman Mailer, yet every year small ??? film journals surface with long exegeses of ??? or Hawks, or critical re??? evaluations of Allan D.?wn's Sands of ??? Jimd. Incredible as it may seem, new books are on the stands about such ??? as John Franken heimer ( Grand Prix ) and Rouben Mamoulian ( The Mark of Zorro ), men whose stature stands in direct relation to that of ??ving Wallace or Ricky Nelson, Sadly, the conventions of film-making which these critics ??? to are still governed by an aesthetic derived from ??? ??? novels and plays: dramatic sense pacing ??? ??? and clear cut chronologies are among the touchstones.
For important film making to ??? ??? from under this corpse of the California industry, where production ??? have served in ??? of conscious artistic intentions, critics and ??? alike will have to engage themselves in a ??? of the nature and role of narrative strut??. G?dard's importance stems from his central role in this re? evaluation, for though his films ??? a critical allegiance to the forms and conventions of ??? wood cinema, they aspire to a free from plotlessness. Garnished in the trappings of traditional genres, Godard's works suppress ??? scenes? and their narratives lie ??? in between dramatic actions, ??? and ??????.
Donald Levy's Herostratus belongs to no such currently fashionable style as Godard's but harkens back to the furious experiment ??? of the twenties, attempting to rethink the problems of cinematic form from fresh, non-dramatic perspectives. As such it challenges our expectations of how movies should look and feel, answering certain questions in unusual ways while leaving others in abeyance. The critical yardsticks with which I am comfortable, dependent upon consistency of style and certain principles of dramatic construction, are no longer applicable, and I can't come to an evaluation with which I can feel at case. So what I have to say here is tentative, merely preparatory to my own understanding of the film.
IN TERMS of the redefinition of narrative cinema, Herostrutus is a transitional film, combining elements of narrative similar in their conditional sense to certain strains of the New Novel, with more "poetic" effects dependent upon the associative powers of imagery, traditionally the province of the avant-garde cinema. A balance is struck between the demands of plotted works and those of more abstract compositions. what Levy calls cinema "communicating like music." The structure of the film is determined by how Levy gauges the emotional impact of particular shots at particular times in their relation to a story; images do not develop organically according to conventional dramatic concepts, but instead relate to both a personal mythology and Levy's own scientific experimentation on the impact of certain combinations of visuals and sound.
Levy is this the heir to the avant-garde of Ray, Richter. Duchamp, and Dali, and also the most sophisticated of Eisenstein's psychology and his montage of shack therapy. Indeed Levy's ??? on film are built around similar percept?? ??? (though in his case, with a Phl). in theoretical physics from Cambridge, the science is a good ??? more ??? fide) and his recourse to similar language ("emotional shocks." for instance ??? predominantly in his theory).
Herostrattis has a story, but no plot, at least if we conceive of plot as progress. In the Greek legend ??? burnt down the temple of Artemis at Ephesens to gain ever-lasting fame. In Levy's retelling Max, the protagonist, sick of the "crap-heap" and the guardians of the nation's institutions who have us "hopping around like jumping beans," decides to kill himself, and takes his intention to an ad agency. He offers the head of the agency. one Farson, the chance to handle his suicide in any way he sees fit.
Why Farson takes Max as a client may appear to some unclear. though a case could be made that it results from the personal antagonism of two different lifestyles, as I think Levy would argue; in any case it's strangely believable-we've seen men dying in cancer commercials, we await the Maysles brothers record of the murder at Altamont, and the theatre needs murder or real copulation to keep us interested, so it's all of a piece somehow. Max's suicide is quickly out of his control; in one of the film's best scenes Farson and an underling explain why the next Monday has been chosen (". . .everybody has that black Monday feeling after the weekend. . . they've got the whole week ahead of them and they need something to look forward to . . .") and go on in a predictable yet subtly understated manner to remodel Max's "too personal, too negative" reasons into "happy, acceptable reasons." The happy acceptable reasons are serving as a warning to moral decay and the unpatriotic, socialist "beasts among us, who say equality but mean debasement."
This recognizable story is presented in long sequences, usually one take, in which the actors were allowed a maximum of freedom to improvise their own dialogue: aside from what may be some over-acting by Michael Gothard as Max, the result comes off as well as any improvised acting I've ever seen. But the distinction between acting and being in Herostratus is hazy, complicated by Levy's choice of actors whose personalities he felt were in harmony with those of the characters they were to portray. Consequently, the character can be over acting-that being the nature of his fictive interpersonal style (especially in Max's case)-while the actor is not.
LONG TAKES are alternated with staccato bursts of images, much like the structure of Robert Lapoujade's brilliant Le Socrate . But in that film the quick cutting served as a form of chorus, while here the psychic icons of the central characters create a mosaic of emotional cross-references, used in turn to bore, startle, perplex, or electrify the viewer. The nature of these icons, which compose the main body of the film's formal statement, is too varied to effectively catalogue here, but includes a great deal of crude psycho-social imagery concerning the fall of idealism since the second World War: the role of women rockets, Hitler, an extra ordinary passage on growing old, and the market in neo-capitalist society, as well as some intense visuals suggestive of the work of Francis Bacon, animated collages of fashion models, a woman dressed in black leather whose dramatic relation (if indeed she has one) is never made clear, a stripper and a slaughter-house sequence more forceful than anything in Franju's Le Sang des Betes.
These images are interwoven in the manner of melodic lines, recalling Levy's ambition for cinema as music, with the same images (though invariably differently shot, and of different duration) recurring in a variety of contexts, elaborating, explicating, and redefining Max's condition, a condition in which each character, dreamt of or recorded, shares.
Godard said in an interview in 1967 that people still don't know how to hear and see a movie: Herostretus demands that consciousness at every moment. Sound is used extremely expressionistically; on a stairway we hear waves: in a studio, owls; when Max smashes his room the sound-track erupts in supra-realistic explosions. Often the developmental relation of the imagery relies on the sound track alone, as when the screen goes blank, or when a sound from a previous image returns with out its visual accompaniment (in the early morning. a close-up of Max alone in an empty plaza is matched to the sound of children playing).
HEROSTRATUS should stir some critical controversy, and it's worthy of it; but whatever the outcome of the debate about its relative merits, or the validities of Levy's theories and ambitions for the cinema, no one can deny that it's an astoundingly original work in a medium where convention is all a film that draws on the avant-garde's history yet reaches its own conclusions. What is most exhilirating about the whole experience is the raw intellectual energy, the pulse beat of an unflagging imagination, the sense that an important artist has places to go and visions to show us if only the industry will let him. The premiere tomorrow of Herostratus is, as I hope I've suggested, an important event.