Meet the virtuoso who happened to be obscene: Borowczyk, a graphic artist, poster maker, and acclaimed filmmaker also hailed as a pornographer, whose works were banned in communist Poland. 'Boro' was an artist whose experimental films made a decisive influence on numerous artists, including the acclaimed animation duo, Stephen and Timothy Quay.
Walerian Borowczyk, Paryż, 1965, fot. Władysław Sławny / Forum
A fragment of the Astronauts animation, dir. Walerian Borowczyk, Chris Marker; watch the entire film on ninateka.pl
Born in Poland in 1923, Walerian Borowczyk studied painting and sculpture in Kraków before establishing himself as a poster artist during the late 1950s. Borowczyk emigrated to France in 1959 where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. With films such as Renaissance (1963) and Rosalie (1966), the filmmaker played a major part in getting animation recognized as a serious art form. His animated works are strongly surreal in character, and this trait would persist in his later visionary features. As an author of the latter sort of films, Borowczyk was both appreciated and rejected, most strongly because of the way in which he depicted sexuality.
Until now the majority of Borowczyk's early films have been unavailable. In 2013, the writer, documentary filmmaker and producer of the upcoming box set, Daniel Bird, secured the permission of the artist’s widow, Ligia Borowczyk, to restore and release an impressive array of his works. In collaboration with UK-based Arrow Films, Bird decided to reclaim Borowczyk as one of the great names in world cinema.
Thanks to their efforts, in May 2014, the astonishing works of this Pole will be digitally restored and produced as a DVD box set. The set is to include the first five of Borowczyk’s full-length films The Theatre of Mr and Mrs Kabal (1967); Goto, Isle of Love (1968); Blanche (1971); Immoral Tales (1974); The Beast (1975), as well as fifteen shorts spanning 1959-1984, many of which will be world video premieres.
Still from the film "Mr. and Mrs. Kabal's Theatre", photo: Leedsfilm
Major works of his early period include the stop-motion film Renaissance (1963), which uses reverse motion to depict various destroyed objects (a prayer book, a stuffed toy, etc.) re-assembling themselves, only to be destroyed again when the last object (a bomb) is complete.
There is also the nightmarish Jeux des anges (The Game of Angels) (1964) . In this animated short, abstract forms evolve in a setting evocative of a concentration camp, created by the universe. Jeux des anges was selected by UK director Terry Gilliam as one of the 10 best animated films of all time.
Mr. and Mrs. Kabal's Theatre is a 1967 production. Borowczyk's first full-length animated film, was addressed, as the director stated, to " adult and mature people". The dark and grotesque story of a married couple is also highly surreal. The protagonists are a wife - a mechanical monster made up of iron parts, and her henpecked husband. After eating a butterfly, Mrs. Kabal gets indigestion and her husband has to travel to his wife's insides to search for the cause of her illness. The film includes colour photographic inserts which are Mrs. Kabal's dreams.
Goto, l'île d'amour (Goto, Island of Love) was shot in 1968 amongst the ruins of Marie-Curie's laboratory in the outskirts of France. At the time of its release and for decades later, Goto was banned in both Communist Poland and Generalissimo Franco's Spain.
A fragment of the Infernal Scherzo animation, dir. Walerian Borowczyk; watch the entire film on ninateka.pl
On an island that survived an earthquake in the previous century, reigns the bloodthirsty tyrant Goto. One of his favourites, something of a monster, falls in love with the tyrant's beautiful wife. He kills her lover and the tyrant. But the woman of his dreams prefers death to life with a horrible dwarf. At the moment of death, she will find out he truly loved her. Stunningly designed, Goto, l'île d'amour is a film in which bizarre props, atmospheric sets and animals, are given as much weight on screen as the human actors. Features surrealistic sights, poetic flashes of colour and the stunning use of Händel’s organ concerto.
The film stars Borowczyk’s spouse, Ligia Branice-Borowczyk, and Pierre Brasseur.
In France, Goto was awarded the Prix Georges Sadoul and featured on the cover of the legendary magazine Cahiers du Cinéma.
Loves That Are Forbidden
Still from the film "Blanche" directed by Walerian Borowczyk, 1971, photo: Album / East News
Blanche is Borowczyk’s 1971 film based on the play Mazepa by Juliusz Słowacki. It is a free adaptation of the Romantic piece, the setting being moved from 17th century Poland to medieval France. Forbidden love between a stepmother and her stepson leads to family tragedy. Blanche purposely avoids explicit sexuality. In fact, the film is a tragic tale of love and lust depicted without the nudity and sex. What begins as a light and airy tale ends on a bleak note. Although the films is neither fast paced or action filled, its story is very well structured and effective.
Still from the film "Contes immoraux" directed by Walerian Borowczyk, 1974, photo: East News
Contes immoraux (Immoral Tales) is a 1974 film that tells four stories, including those of Erzsebet Bathory - Countess Dracula, and Lucrezia Borgia. The film was banned in France and then shown only after protests from a number of prominent figures. Though visually beautiful, it is bloody and saturated with sex (in one of the stories, the heroine has intercourse with a gigantic cucumber). The film was Borowczyk's first financial success.
Still from the film "La bete / The Beast," directed by Walerian Borowczyk, 1975, photo album / East News
La bête (The Beast) from 1975 is based on motifs from Prosper Mérimée's short story Lokis. A young American woman is to marry a marquis, but a beast appears and falls in love with her. Borowczyk's film is a variation on the fairy-tale material used in 1946 by Jean Cocteau in his film Beauty and the Beast. While Cocteau’s vision was poetic, Borowczyk's is a study of the power of animal sexuality (including the literal study of a gigantic penis on screen).
For the Quay brothers, stumbling upon Borowczyk’s work turned out to be a sudden fix: just like them, he started out as a poster designer and ended up as an outstanding director of both animated and feature films.
"Borowczyk was a decisive influence on our work", the brothers said in an interview with Mikurda and Oleszczyk. "His smooth transition from the closed, isolated world of animation to the confident, perturbing parable of his first feature film, was an epiphany to us". In a subsequent interview with Culture.pl, the Quay brothers picked Borowczyk’s Les jeux des anges as the film with the most interesting musical arrangements (composed by Bernard Parmegiani).
Author: Paulina Schlosser, sources: culture.pl, press release, www.kickstarter.com