Scen.: Calvin Floyd, Peter Kass. F., Scgf.: Ed Emshwiller. M.: Ed Emshwiller, Peter Kass. Mus.: Robert Gray. Int.: John Heffernan (Gaunt), Stewart Heller (Ted), Nathaniel White (Cal), Ethyl Ayler (Marie), Orville Steward (Link), Barry Collins (Jesse), Dan Goulding. Prod.: Calvin Floyd per Emshwiller Project Co. DCP. Bn.
A protégé of Clifford Odets in the 1940s, Peter Kass was mostly known for his work as a world-famous theater actor, director and acting coach for the likes of Olympia Dukakis, Faye Dunaway, Val Kilmer, and Maureen Stapleton. Except for a very limited release in the UK and on European television at the time (and a screening of a rare 35mm print more recently at the Finnish Film Archive), Kass’s sole feature release Time of the Heathen has been mostly overlooked and forgotten in the past several decades. Kass collaborated with celebrated artist and avant-garde filmmaker Ed Emshwiller on Heathen, and thanks to the programming efforts by the Lightbox Film Center at University of the Arts (Philadelphia) around a 2019 Emshwiller retrospective, the original Heathen pre-print elements were discovered at the BFI.
The script, co-written by Kass and Swedish-born Calvin Floyd, is deceptively simple yet ambitious in scope, and Emshwiller’s beautiful B&W photography works perfectly to set a neo-realistic tone to the proceedings. Heathen follows emotionally unstable drifter Gaunt played by the expressive character actor John Heffernan (who is mostly supported by non-professional actors). At the beginning of the film, Gaunt stumbles into a horrific and deadly backwoods situation that sets in motion a series of events and an unlikely bond that cinematically explores the themes of guilt, racism, the casualties of war, and redemption. The film’s finale takes place on the hauntingly still and bleak shores of Oyster Bay, New York, and is juxtaposed with a highly experimental color hallucination sequence that profoundly reveals Gaunt’s background and emotional struggle.
This “lost” Kass-Emshwiller effort won the grand prize at the 1962 Bergamo International Film Festival.
Restored in 4K in 2023 by UCLA Film & Television Archive and Lightbox Film Center, University of the Arts at Illuminate Hollywood laboratory, in collaboration with Corpus Fluxus and Audio Mechanics. From the 35mm picture, the soundtrack negative and the original ¼” stereo master recording of Lejaren Hiller’s score. Fundings provided by Ron and Suzanne Naples