Friday, 29 November 2013

C is for... Composer

During his career, Borowczyk displayed a remarkable capacity for combining imagery with music. In Poland, two of the films he made with Jan Lenica (1928 - 2001) used music that had emerged from the then newly established Experimental Studio of Polish Radio. Modeled along the lines of similar facilities in Cologne and Milan, the Warsaw studio is proof of not just the relative freedom in Poland during the late 1950s, but the extent to which the State not only tolerated but encouraged experimentation and innovation. To see a newsreel about the Experimental Studio click here.
Był sobie raz... (Once Upon a Time, 1957) was scored by Andrzej Markowski (1924 - 1986), whom Borowczyk would call upon to provide music for not only his first professional solo-effort, Szkoła (The School, 1958), but also his first professional film abroad, Les Astronautes (Astronauts, 1959). 

Dom (The House, 1958), Borowczyk and Lenica's final collaboration, featured a remarkable score by Włodzimierz Kotoński, with whom Lenica would continue to work during the 1960s. Music from the archives of the Experimental Studio have recently been re-issued on CD by Bôłt Records.

In France, Borowczyk established fruitful working relationships with Avenir de Monfred and Bernard Parmegiani. Monfred, an organist and composer, was born in Petersburg in 1903, emigrated to France. For Borowczyk, he composed scores for films produced by Jacques Forgeot's Les Cinéastes Associés: Le concert (The Concert, 1962) L'encyclopedie de grand-maman (Grandma’s Encyclopedia, 1963) and Renaissance (1963).

Borowczyk's association with Parmegiani began in 1964, with Les jeux des anges (Angels’ Games, 1965), which utilised some elements from Violostries (1962), with others that would appear in later compositions, such as L'Oeil écoute (1970). Borowczyk's collaboration with Parmegiani continued with Le dictionnaire de Joachim (Joachim’s Dictionary). However, arguably the most effective unison of Borowczyk's imagery with Parmegiani's music was in Docteur Jekyll et les femmes (The Blood of Dr Jekyll, 1981). For this, Parmegiani reworked passages from his 1972 composition, Pour en finir avec le pouvoir d'Orphée. Borowczyk and Parmegiani's final collaboration was in 1984, with the animated short film, Scherzo Infernal (1984). Parmegiani talks about his audio-visual collaborations with Borowczyk in Eyes that Listen, a new featurette to be included in Arrow Academy's Walerian Borowczyk Collection:

When not working directly with contemporary composers, Borowczyk demonstrated a fine ear for classical music. A recording of Tino Rossi singing Je crois encore entendre, an aria from Bizet’s opera Les pêcheurs de perles, can be heard during the second panel of arguably Borowczyk’s most curious short, Diptyque (Diptych, 1967). For the title sequence of Blanche (1971), Borowczyk turned to an arrangement based on a song (no. 116) from the Carmina Burana song book.

The harpsichord is put to ironic use in both Gavotte (Rameau) and La Bête (Scarlatti), while the rapturous strains of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto play an integral role in Borowczyk’s delirious melodrama, Dzieje grzechu (Story of Sin, 1975). Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse macabre appears during the sex and death in Borowczyk’s Wedekind adaptation, Lulu (1980). Arguably the most unique soundtrack in Borowczyk’s filmography is that for La Marge (The Streetwalker, 1976). For this, Borowczyk’s first film to be set exclusively in the contemporary world, Borowczyk featured music that might conceivably feature on the jukebox standing in a bar where prostitutes pick up their clients. This includes Elton John, 10CC, short-lived seventies outfit Sailor, not to mention Charles Aznevour, selections from Chopin, old tango recordings and Pink Floyd’s Shine on You Crazy Diamond...
On one occasion, Borowczyk himself was responsible for the music: the Goto anthem. This melody, incidentally, reappears Brief von Paris (1976), as part of a musique concrete soundtrack credited to Borowczyk and Tom Schmitt.


Friday, 22 November 2013

B is for... Beast

Arguably Walerian Borowczyk’s best-known film, certainly his most immediately notorious, The Beast (La bête, 1975) was nurtured by several creative and historical wellsprings.  

French author Prosper Mérimée (1803-1870)

In 1869, Prosper Mérimée’s novella Lokis described a young man believed to be half-bear, who duly tore out his bride’s throat on their wedding night and fled into the forest.  (Mérimée is best known for the 1845 novella Carmen, in which a strong-minded and sexually liberated woman favours a man who tames bulls over her staid husband Don José.)  

Lokis (first filmed in Poland in 1970 by Janusz Majewski) has been interpreted as an inversion of the classic fairytale ‘Beauty and the Beast’. 

The poster for the film Lokis (1970),
designed by Franciszek Starowieyski.

Jean Cocteau's famous 1946 adaptation of
La Belle et la Bête, with Josette Day and
(under lots of fur) Jean Marais.

The most famous version, by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont, was published in 1756, a decade before rural France was terrorised by a creature described as a grotesquely oversized wolf.  

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

Robert Louis Stevenson, later the source of Borowczyk’s Docteur Jekyll et les femmes (1981), vividly depicted what he called “the ever-memorable Beast, the Napoleon Bonaparte of wolves”:

“What a career was his!  He lived ten months at free quarters in Gévaudan and Vivrais; he ate women and children and shepherdesses celebrated for their beauty; he pursued armed horsemen; he has been seen at broad noonday chasing a post-chaise and outrider along the king’s high-road, and chaise and outrider fleeing before him at the gallop.  He was placarded like a political offender, and ten thousand francs were offered for his head.”

Contemporary engraving of the legendary
Beast of Gévaudan

These all fuelled Borowczyk’s film, as did Władysław Podkowiński’s painting Frenzy of Exultations (Szał uniesień), which scandalised Varsovians in 1894 - a reproduction hangs on the walls of the film’s main location.  (Borowczyk graduated from Kraków’s Academy of Fine Arts, not far from the National Museum where Podkowiński’s original has hung since 1904).  

Władysław Podkowiński’s
Frenzy of Exultations
(Szał uniesień, 1893)

Borowczyk initially made the short film The True Story of the Beast of Gévaudan (La véritable histoire de la bête du Gévaudan) for the anthology Immoral Tales (Contes immoraux, 1974), but it was subsequently removed and turned into the 18th-century dream sequence in The Beast.  It’s now bookended by a Lokis-inspired present-day framing story in which young Lucy Broadhurst (Lisbeth Hummel) travels to France for an arranged marriage, but discovers that her would-be husband Mathurin (Pierre Benedetti) is less interested in her than he is in his horses - shown graphically copulating in the film’s confrontational opening sequence.  

Lucy Broadhurst (Lisbeth Hummel)
in the throes of her dream.

The original short film now becomes Lucy’s erotic dream, in which Mathurin’s ancestor Romilda (Sirpa Lane) is pursued by a ravening beast sporting a monstrous phallus, but her awakened sexuality proves too much for it.  The film was made years before the modern definition of the term “political correctness” was coined, although the sequences between Lucy’s future sister-in-law Clarisse (Pascale Rivault) and the château’s black manservant Ifany (Hassane Fall) are at least as much a comment on class-based divisions as on racial ones.  

A horrified Romilda de l'Espérance (Sirpa Lane)
encounters the beast.

Besides its complex disquisition on human and animal sexuality, The Beast is also a pointed social satire, with the aristocracy and the church coming in for mockery of a kind already familiar to devotees of Borowczyk’s fellow Surrealist Luis Buñuel.  Indeed, the shot of a snail occupying Romilda’s discarded shoe echoes the moment in Buñuel’s The Diary of a Chambermaid (Le journal d’une femme de chambre, 1964), in which a murdered child is found with sticky snail tracks over her legs.  

A new high-definition restoration of Borowczyk's The Beast will be released on Blu-ray and DVD by Arrow Films in Spring 2014 as part of the Walerian Borowczyk Collection box set.  A Kickstarter fundraising campaign to restore Borowczyk's first live-action feature Goto, Isle of Love (Goto, l'île d'amour, 1968) is running until 11 January 2014.

Next week, C...


Friday, 15 November 2013

November Screenings

Leeds International Film Festival

Festival director Chris Fell and Programme manager Alexander King have been longstanding supporters of Borowczyk. Between November 16 - 17, they will be screening Eight Shorts (1962 - 1969), Théâtre de Monsieur & Madame Kabal (1967), Blanche (1971) and Obscure Pleasures: A Portrait of Walerian Borowczyk (2013).

Krakow Etiuda & Anima Festival

Krakow's Etiuda & Anima festival has also championed Borowczyk's work over the years. There will be screenings of Eight Shorts (1962 - 1969) and Obscure Pleasures: A Portrait of Walerian Borowczyk (2013) on November 24 and 25 respectively. The full programme can be downloaded here.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A is for... Animation


Whether it be a prop or an actor, animation, for Borowczyk, simply meant breathing life into something or someone. While he is often referred to as an animator turned live action filmmaker, Borowczyk did not make a distinction between the two genres:

"I’ve never considered whether I make animation film or a film of animated drawings or anything else... I just make film. My principal guide in everything I do in cinema is what I learned when very young: film is the unfolding of 24 images per second. This analysis, or extract, of what the eye perceives, creates cinema. My guide is thinking of how to express myself in 24 images, going past and creating a movement, or an illusion of one. When I learned that, I immediately came up with so many ideas. But I didn’t invent this way of thinking. Méliès did it all first. There’s no invention involved. It’s just playing with the elements. And each does so according to their temperament."

(This quote is from a filmed interview with Borowczyk that features in a new 60-minute documentary which is to be part of Arrow Academy’s forthcoming Walerian Borowczyk Collection - to pre-order your copy click here.)

Whenever journalists quizzed Borowczyk about his filmmaker heroes he would always mention:
Charles-Émile Reynaud (1844 - 1918):

Émile Cohl (1857 - 1938):

Georges Méliès (1861 - 1938):

It is interesting to consider Borowczyk’s affinity with these three pioneers of early cinema. First and foremost, all excelled in the short film form. Second, each one of these filmmakers made fantastic films, in the sense that they favoured the world of imagination.

Like his former collaborator, Jan Lenica (1928 - 2001), Borowczyk was fascinated not just with early cinema, but also the precursors of cinema. He was particularly fascinated by the French physiologist and chronophotographer Étienne-Jules Marey (1830 - 1904). Over a decade before the Lumière Brothers held their first private screenings of their own motion pictures, Marey developed a gun-like device which could photograph twelve frames per second: 

Similarly, the English photographer Eadweard Muybridge (1830 - 1904) developed a system involving multiple cameras to capture motion as well as a projection device: the zoopraxiscope:

Borowczyk and Lenica paid homage to these early pioneers of cinema in a sequence in Dom (House, 1958), featuring a bout between two fencers. The same year, Borowczyk produced a short film entirely from still photographs, Szkółka (The School, 1958), and developed the technique further with Les Astronautes (Astronauts, 1959), co-directed by Chris Marker (1921 - 2012):

Interestingly, a few years later Marker directed his own film made up from only still photographs (well, almost), La Jetée (1963), which featured none other than Mrs Borowczyk, Ligia Branice, as one of the ‘faces from the future’:

Next week, B...