Alongside other notorious enfants terribles such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Russ Meyer and John Waters, Walerian Borowczyk became an iconoclastic mainstain of the legendary Scala repertory cinema club, most notably with the infamous The Beast (La bête, 1975) and the twisted The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981), which screened in a pleasing uncut print to salivating artsploitation freaks munching on hash cakes and muffins. In his heyday, The Establishment very much saw Borowczyk as a censor-baiting braggart. However, time has brought respect, and looking back at his oeuvre, one can detect a sense of playfulness in his self-centred obsession. Borowczyk merely presented his fantasies as personal cinematic gestures – can he be to blame for the media frenzy and the shock tactics of his distributors?
Before elevating himself to spunking monsters and GLC certificates, Borowczyk paved a delicate, refined path in sideways installations, which the newly restored shorts from Arrow represent, for those wishing to look back at this quirky auteur’s roots. Borowczyk’s background in painting comes to the fore in these esoteric chocolate box confections: Rosalie (1966) features snappily shot agit-edits alongside Švankmajer-esque stop motion while in the eye-popping Gavotte (1967), fighting dwarves wrestle for their ceremonial seat (showcasing the director’s bizarre sense of mischief, which would come to typify his later works).
Darker expressions emanate from the dadaist Les jeux des anges (Angels’s Games, 1964): Borowczyk incorporates potent Dalí-esque visualisations into a 12-minute pre-psychedelic mindfuck (it would make for amazing wallpaper), while a dingy, low, humming musique concrète aria permeates on the OST (riffing on the music heard in Polish concentration camps). Théâtre de Monsieur & Madame Kabal (The Theatre of Mr and Mrs Kabal, 1962) connects grotesque Ubu-esque stick pencil scrawls with sepia-toned live action. At a feature-length running time of 72 minutes, this satirical beast is best experienced on a BIG monitor in the company of cracked stimulants and a 7.1 system. The bizarre Renaissance (1963) throws a wink to Man Ray with its creepy dolls and grapes that appear to the growling, popping sounds of a clanging typewriter (it genuinely put me off my cereal).
A respectful tip to Arrow for their care and attention in restoring these left-of-centre shorts, an eclectic selection from an experimenting genius whose reputation has been overshadowed by controversy for far too long. Now where’s that Emmanuelle 5 tape…
Short films were represented by two screenings at the London Korean Film Festival. Each showcased different works selected from Korea’s Mise en Scène festival, which celebrated its tenth edition this year and was originally set up by the filmmaking powerhouses Park Chan-wook (Old Boy) and Bong Joon-hoo (Mother) as a platform for the country’s shorts.
Both screenings opened with their star attraction, Night Fishing (2011), a collaboration between Park Chan-wook and his brother Park Chan-kyong. Steeped in Korean folklore and traditional religion, the film passes through three distinct atmospheres. It begins with a stylish musical prologue with a jerking, twisting front man and his band performing amid colourless reed beds. The camera soars away to a lone man sitting on a riverbank, his fishing rod primed and tinny radio playing, and the film takes on the air of an ominous horror film. Then, in a gloriously unexpected twist, the film makes a high-energy ascent into a colourful cacophony of mournful wailing and religious chanting. It is a strange journey and one made more so by the way in which the film was made: every single shot was filmed on an i-Phone 4. It would have been a bizarre, beautiful film regardless, but the technology creates further interesting effects as the camera flips 360 degrees or shoots the fishing scenes in grainy night vision.
It was an impossibly strong start and at the second screening, which I attended, the following shorts never quite matched its quality. That said, the standard was high and I especially enjoyed Kim Bo-ra’s The Recorder Exam and Lee Chang-hee’s Broken Night (both 2011), two wildly different films. The Recorder Exam is a beautifully small-scale, poignant film that follows a young girl’s preparation for a school music test. The film makes snatched references to the 1988 Seoul Olympics but the narrative focuses on the domestic story of an unhappy home life, a million miles away from grand, international ceremonies. In contrast to the slow and still approach of The Recorder Exam, Broken Night is a fast-paced nightmare of high-speed road accidents and shifting moral perspectives.
The sinister atmosphere was echoed in Yi Jeong-jin’s Ghost (2011), which followed a man hiding out in a derelict housing block following the murder and assault of a young girl. The film never made its message or the subject of its empathy clear so, while its creepiness was well executed, the story seemed to peter out, feeling like the start of a longer film rather than a completed short. I felt that the weakest of the selection was Kim Han-kyul’s Chatter (2011), a comedy focusing on a meal out between friends that quickly descends into a battle of gossip and ill-feeling as secrets and insults are exchanged. I found the humour to be a bit laboured (an effect further hampered by poorly translated subtitles) but I think this was a matter of personal taste; the ICA cinema was soon filled with laughter. Indeed, the audience seemed to be engaged throughout the screening and there were very positive murmurings as the selection came to an end. The chosen films provided an interesting chance to see material beyond Korea’s internationally screened feature films and it appeared that everyone at the ICA was very appreciative of that.
The Edinburgh Film Festival once more delivered an excellent, wide-ranging selection of short films, organised in eight programmes, including international and UK films, digital and animation, and Cinema Extreme, an initiative from the UK Film Council and Film4.
The clear highlight for this writer was Maska, the new film by the Brothers Quay, whose achievements in the field of animation were celebrated by the festival in a special event on June 22. Based on Stanislaw Lem’s short story ‘The Mask’, it tells the story of a robot created in the shape of a beautiful woman by an authoritarian king in order to seduce and destroy a noble man who opposed him. The robot tries to work out its identity, ‘it’ coming to know itself as an ‘I’, then as a ‘she’, before discovering that she is in fact a metallic construction resembling a praying mantis, which violently erupts from her previous female shape. The Brothers Quay’s elaborate animation style lends itself remarkably well to a rich visual exploration of the fluctuating identity of the creature and conjures up disturbing echoes that connect the female, robot and insect natures she successively adopts. Artificially gendered, then born of herself, she leads us on a journey through the dark mystery of creation and metamorphosis. Parts of Lem’s wonderful story are narrated in Polish and although the Quays are generally wary of using large amounts of text in their films, the fusion of the sumptuous imagery with the poetic narration and Krzysztof Penderecki’s unsettling music is here perfectly realised and richly evocative.
Other animated shorts of note included the Brothers McLeod’s excellent Gothic fairy tale The Moon Bird, which was shown earlier this year at Flatpack, and Max Hattler’s witty, Busby Berkeley-inspired war satire Spin. Nick Cross’s Yellow Cake was another smart political satire from the USA about the consequences of big cats’ exploitation of small blue creatures, in which escalating death and destruction was contrasted with a cute, childish animation style that underlined the ironic tone. In The Astronomer’s Sun, Simon Cartwright and Jessica Cope told the story of a young man who goes back to his father’s observatory and revisits a traumatic childhood memory, with unexpected consequences. Bathed in melancholy blue tones, the enigmatic story was a true delight. In an entirely different style, Stewart Comrie’s Battenberg was an impressive example of digital animation which saw a squirrel and a magpie locked into a power game inside a miniature cabinet of curiosities within an abandoned house. The objects, evoking the human world, created a bizarre, disquieting setting for the cruel fight to the death between the two animals. A work of startling originality and technical mastery.
In the live action shorts, Cinema Extreme was a somewhat disappointing section – although it is a very laudable scheme – partly because the films seemed rather tame in contrast with what could be expected from such a label. Daniel Mulloy’s Baby won the UK Film Council Award for Best British Film. The story of a brief encounter between a young white woman and a black boy from a street gang, it played with viewers’ assumptions, but reversed them in such an unsubtle way that it was utterly predictable from the start. Scott Graham’s Native Son, which focused on an outsider in an isolated rural Scottish community, was mysterious and menacing but the pace was not quite controlled enough. Tony Grisoni’s The Pizza Miracle, about a man having an imaginary dialogue with his dead Italian restaurateur father, was humorous but offered no genuine insights or emotions.
Among the international shorts, Joyce A Nashawati’s The Bite (La Morsure, France) stood out through its masterful composition, sharp editing and atmospheric quality. A young woman takes a little girl to a park, where she meets her lover. While they talk, the little girl disappears into the woods and has an encounter with a man who is sleeping rough in the park. The story had a fairy tale quality and was told in a nicely elliptical, suggestive manner, which contributed to the unsettling, ominous atmosphere. Magnus von Horn’s Echo (Poland) opened with the reconstruction of the apparently motiveless murder of a young girl by two boys and ended with the confrontation between one of the boys and her parents. It was bleakly realistic and looked fairly drab, but the constant rainfall, timeworn face of the detective and striking finale made it worth checking out.
In the UK shorts, Ben Lavington Martin’s Dust was a particularly affecting and ingenious work. Using NASA archival footage, Martin constructed the story of astronaut Glen Gordon, who is stuck on the moon after his mission goes wrong. As we see images of the moon, a spaceship, an astronaut on its silver surface, we hear Glen Gordon talk to man on the ground Jimmy, fellow astronaut Alan, and his wife Patty. The dying moments of a man alone in the universe are captured with humour and pathos, as he poignantly describes the astonishing experience of walking on the moon, reflects on what is important and ponders the existence of God. A very full and rich 10 minutes.
A Deviant View of Cinema – Features, Essays & Interviews