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…