Thursday, April 27, 2017

THE WALERIAN BOROWCZYK SHORT FILMS COLLECTION (1959-1984) (Blu-ray Review)

THE WALERIAN BOROWCZYK SHORT FILMS COLLECTION (1959-1984) 

Label: Olive Films 

Rating: Unrated 
Region Code: A
Duration: 152 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1), Full Frame (1.33:1) 
Audio: French DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Walerian Borowczyk

Polish-born filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk was a weird guy, a movie poster illustrator who moved to France in the 50's and became an avant-garde filmmaker whose later work were sometimes, and not wrongly, called artful pornography. Among these dirty works of cinema was the infamous Immoral Tales (1974), and while he never rose to prominence as did his fellow Polish filmmakers Roman Polanski (Repulsion) and Krzysztof Kieslowski (The Double Life of Veronique), his labors have had a recent reevaluations from the likes of Arrow Video, and now US distributor Olive Films. who are releasing a handful of the director's works, including Theatre of Mr. and Mrs. Kabal (1967), Goto, Isle of Love (1968), Blanche (1971) and this one, a compendium of 15 short films he made between 1959-1984, and they're just as weird and wild as I had imagined after viewing a few of his later films.

Borowczyk began his career as illustrator, and that comes through clearly in his early works, shorts made with still images and cut-out animations. I found hard to comprehend a lot of this to be honest, but something I did take away from it was the obvious influence his early animated work seems to have had on Terry Gilliam's animated works for comedy troupe Monty Python, he even does a brief introduction for the Blu-ray, acknowledging Borowczyk lasting impression.


The shorts:  

The Concert (1962) aka Le Concert de M. et Mme. Kabal (7 min) HD

An animated short about a married couple known as The Kabals, the Mrs. of which seems to be a concert pianist who doesn't appreciate her husband snoring his way through her recital. It all ends in bloodshed and dismemberment, wonderful use of music. These characters would be more fully fleshed out Borowczyk's animated film Theatre of Mr. and Mrs. Kabal (1967), also available on Blu-ray from Olive Films. 


The Astronauts (1959) aka Les Astronautes (13 min) HD. A man invents a spaceship, made from cardboard and newspaper, uses it to fight a space-war, sneak a peek of a nude woman, and surreal weirdness ensues. A mix of cut-out animation, illustration and stop-motion, this one is yet again very surreal, and the music cues and sound effects brought to the early LSD-fueled psych outs of Pink Floyd.   

Angels’ Games (1964) aka Les Jeux des Anges (12 min) HD. This one begins with some static shots of a train ride, it looks like we are looking out the window of a train in the dark, hearing the rhythmic clack and clank of locomotion, before we move into some sparse, dark rooms, there are organ pipes and organ music, then the Angel wings begin to be sawn off. Dark, weird and affecting, and again the music cues are essential to the cinema of the piece. 

Renaissance (1963)(9 min) HD. In this one a series of photographs depict a roomful of destroyed objects, which include fruit, an own, paintings, a doll and a horn, reconstituting themselves, until we see what caused the mayhem to begin with, this one has a great sound design, including the use of typewriter keys and rhythmic sound.

Joachim’s Dictionary (1965) aka Le Dictionnaire de Joachim (9 min) HD. A crudely drawn man illustrates a word for each letter of the dictionary with a nice muted horn accompaniment. 

The Greatest Love of All Time (1978) aka L’Amour Monstre de tous les temps (9 min) HD. A sort of wordless documentary French surrealist painter Ljubomir Popović accompanied by the soaring music of composer Wagner, nine minutes of the painter on the streets and painting on close-up, ending with the a view of his finished work.  

Diptyque (1967) (8 min) HD. In this film an elderly man is seen farming his land, enjoying the company of his dog, and driving into town from his rural estate. Then we are treated to a series of images of attractive flowers arrangements intercut with a kitten playing with a ball of yarn.  

Grandma’s Encyclopedia (1963) aka L’encyclopedie de Grand-Maman
(7 min) HD. A fun journey through time and illustration depicting three modes of transportation with some fun mishaps along the way. 

Venus on the Half-Shell(1975) aka Escargot de Venus (4 min) HD. Along the lines of The Greatest Love of All Time (1978) this one is a mini-doc of sorts from Borowiczyk documenting the erotic colored pencil artworks of artist Bona Tibertelli de Pisis with her narrating over it,its gorgeous, erotic and surreal. 

Gavotte (1967) (11 min) HD. A 18th century costumed dwarf  struggles for a comfy seat while a second dwarf endeavors to ruin his day, it's a brief bit of farce. 


The Phonograph (1969) aka Le Phonograph (6 min) HD. An antique phonograph which plays wax cylinders in both real-time and stop-motion photography, we glean the portrait of a young girl throughout, the piece ends with the sounds of gunfire and the wax cylinders and portrait being destroyed in the process. 


Rosalie (1966) (15 min) HD. With this one we have a harrowing confession by a woman on trial for the murder of her baby, very effecting, a powerful performance from Borowczyk's own wife Ligia. Powerful stuff, this is the most affecting and emotional short in the collection, adding punctuation to the emotion are images presented as evidence during the trial, including cloth that wrapped the baby, pillow, and a shovel.   


Scherzo Infernal (1984)(5 min) HD. A fun and blasphemous animation about an Angel named Purea and a devil down in Hell named Mastro, both coming of age and proving to be disappointments to their respective families, with Mastro fleeing to Heaven where he meets Purea and red-cocked sex ensues. This was my favorite of the animated shorts, loved the style and execution, good stuff that showcase some of Borowczyk's artful smut, and to be honest, that's the stuff i tend to enjoy the most about his work.   


A Private Collection Long Version Censored aka Une Collection (14 min) HD. This 14-min doc is a collector walking s through his private collection of vintage and antique erotica and erotic devices. We get everything from vintage prints and photographs, illustrations, and coin-operated machinations, and we get quite an eyeful of vintage smut, including imaged hidden with seemingly innocuous illustrations, an ivory dildo, vintage film reels, smutty pics, and a censored scene involving Victorian era bestiality! All proving that there have been pornography obsessed people since, forever! There's also a shorter version of the same film, running 12-min.  

Audio/Video: The Walerian Borowczyk Short Films Collection (1959-1984) arrives on region A Blu-ray from Olive Films on a single-disc release looking very nice, preserving the original aspect ratios. I do believe this is the same restoration work that Arrow Video released in the UK as part of their Walerian Borowczyk Short Films and Animation release in 2014, restored from the 35mm elements. The DTS-HD mono French audio sounds just fine, it's limited in how dynamic it can be, but the dialogue and score sounded just fine, the music accompaniments are integral to the shorts, optional English subtitles are included.   


Looking at the extras, we begin with an introduction by filmmaker and animator Terry Gilliam, plus the 28-min Film is Not a Sausage documentary about Borowczyk’s animated work featuring Borowczyk, producer Dominique Duvergé-Ségrétin, assistant André Heinrich and composer Bernard Parmegiani. Both the intro and doc are straight from the Arrow Video release, though, notably, Olive's release also contains Venus on the Half-Shell (1975) and A Private Collection, both the Long Version Censored and the short versions. Arrow's collection did not have either, though both versions of A Private Collection are available on Arrow's  Immoral Tales (1974) Blu-ray release. Fairplay, missing from the Olive release is the Blow Ups, a visual essay by Daniel Bird about Borowczyk’s works on paper, and the Borowczyk directed commercials Holy Smoke (1963), The Museum (1964), Tom Thumb (1966), which are found on arrow's shorts collection, so there's some give and get between the two releases, though I am quite happy with the Olive release, which is more affordable, minus a few bells and whistles. 


Special Features: 

- Introduction by filmmaker Terry Gilliam (1 min) HD 
- Film is not a Sausage: Borowczyk’s Short Films – Interview program featuring Borowczyk, producer Dominique Duvergé-Ségrétin, assistant André Heinrich and composer Bernard Parmegiani (28 min) HD

The Walerian Borowczyk Short Films Collection (1959-1984) is a wild ride, a stupendous and surreal compendium of the shorts from the very unusual mind of Polish born filmmaker Borowczyk. I wouldn't recommend this as a starting point for your entry into his filmography, this is surreal and abstract stuff that can be an assault on the senses and values at times, but if you've had a taste for his cinema and crave more, you might want to dip into this collection, or just throw yourself in and go for it you brave cinema-loving soul. 3/5 



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