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Home / Film / Feature Articles / The Politics of the Bizarre: the comically strange, strangely comic, and surreal world of Walerian Borowczyk’s Short Films and Animation

The Politics of the Bizarre: the comically strange, strangely comic, and surreal world of Walerian Borowczyk’s Short Films and Animation

Walerian Borowcyzk's Angels' Games(1964) [click to enlarge]

Walerian Borowcyzk’s Angels’ Games (1964) [click to enlarge]

There is a good chance that many of you reading this know of Walerian Borowczyk by his erotic, controversial 1974 feature, Immoral Tales—with a smaller subset of you who are probably also aware of his earlier features and shorts. However, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if his name draws blank looks for a large majority of you. While Borowczyk’s career spanned over 40 years, numerous mediums and disciplines, and various countries, there has been an egregious oversight of critical attention paid towards Borowczyk. In particular—the work that did garner him critical (albeit not commercial) acclaim—Borowczyk’s short animations, short live-action films, and debut animated feature, Mr. and Mrs. Kabal’s Theatre, represent an eclectic group of artistic ambitions ripe for analysis. In these works, it is difficult to isolate a singular style, tone, or intention. At the same time that Browczyk’s vision seems removed and distanced (as if Borowcyzk is just presenting images without passing judgement), it becomes impossible not to—at least try not to—politicize his work. Backed by theorist and filmmaker Daniel Bird’s critical perspective, Arrow Films set themselves the task of restoring and presenting Borowczyk’s work. Thanks to their efforts, a chronology of his evolution (from painter, to animator, to filmmaker) is laid forth, nd the first marker, Walerian Borowczyk Short Films and Animation, emerges as one of the most challenging.

Walerian Borowcyzk's The Astronauts(1959) [click to enlarge]

Walerian Borowcyzk’s The Astronauts (1959) [click to enlarge]

While I would far from argue that his more erotic films (Immoral Tales and The Beast) are void of political intent—to do so would be a mistake—his earlier pieces contain a strange aspect to them, a sort of autonomous logic. Unlocking the key to their logic seems, at times, a near to impossible act, while at other times his films seem deceivingly simple. Each piece works on multiple levels: the humorous irrelevance of Gavotte, the surrealist fantasy of The Astronauts, the perversely comic The Concert of Mr. and Mrs. Kabal, the harrowing Rosalie. Each of these films sees Borowczyk’s working under different styles, different mediums, and different tones. This package includes 12 short films that Borowczyk produced between 1959 and 1984—according to Arrow, “[the] vast majority of the shorts that he made… apart from ones that were originally intended to accompany specific features.” They almost seem like the work of numerous different artists, each with different goals, yet, there is something unmistakable that connects them all. What can be said of most of Borowczyk’s films, with a few exceptions, is that they beautifully mingle sincerity with folly, and are driven by a concern with voyeuristic desires, political and religious power, imprisonment, and—what emerges as the most complicated but interesting of all— the oppressive role in which women are subject. While each can be appreciated on their own distinct merits, the ones that emerged as the most stimulating, in terms with the aforementioned themes, were The Astronauts, The Concert of Mr. and Mrs. Kabal, Rosalie, and Angels’ Games; of which only Rosalie is live-action.

Walerian Borowcyzk's Rosalie(1966) [click to enlarge]

Walerian Borowcyzk’s Rosalie (1966) [click to enlarge]

If we are to view his shorts as a series of cinematic experiments that Borowczyk crafted in order hone his complete vision, his first feature, Mr. and Mrs. Kabal’s Theatre, is the fragmented synthesis. How can Mr. and Mrs. Kabal’s Theatre be described? While pretentious, the best answer for this question is to say that there is no accurate way to describe this film, a simple reflection of the events would leave readers only more confused. Only after viewing the film can anyone begin to form any sort of understanding. Envisioned as a television program, the vignette framework the film takes of is explained, but beyond this tactile fact the film opens itself up to a veritable mess of interpretations. Erotic, comical, surreal, and mystifying, Mr. and Mrs. Kabal is sure to strike some chord with perspective viewers. The rudimentary, scrawled artwork, interwoven with glimpses of live-action color footage, concocts an artificial world where the manufactured—almost mechanical—Mrs. Kabal and the inexplicable Mr. Kabal are subjected to an array of vaudevillian skits. Strange bird-like or butterfly-like beings soar through the air—and during one of the film’s sketches into Mrs. Kabal’s body—unexplained hooks are lowered from the heavens, nothing is answered, less is said; and yet, it is a fascinating and pleasurable viewing experience. The film does require a certain suspension of disbelief and patience, but if you submit yourself into the visual nightmare that is The Theatre of Mr. and Mrs. Kabal you will not leave unaffected.

Walerian Borowcyzk's Mr. and Mrs. Kabal's Theatre(1967) [click to enlarge]

Walerian Borowcyzk’s Mr. and Mrs. Kabal’s Theatre (1967) [click to enlarge]

“Release

“Release

Details

Director: Walerian Borowczyk
Writer: Walerian Borowczyk
Years: 1959-1984
Length: N/A
Rating: 18
Region: B
Disks: 1
Label: Arrow Academy
Release Date: September 8, 2014

Video

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: Various
Type: B+W and Color

Audio

Audio:  French: Uncompressed Mono PCM 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH

Extras
  • Introduction by filmmaker and animator Terry Gilliam
  • Film is Not a Sausage: Documentary about Borowcyzk’s animated work
  • Blow Ups: Visual Essay by Daniel Bird about Borowcyzk’s Graphic Design and Poster Art
  • Two Commercials by Walerian Borowcyzk
  • Reversible sleeve artwork
  • Collector’s Booklet Featuring the Writings of Daniel Bird, Peter Graham, and Peter Leconte, a Director’s Statement,Contemporary Reviews, and Notes on the Credits/Restorations
Walerian Borowcyzk's Mr. and Mrs. Kabal's Theatre(1967) [click to enlarge]

Walerian Borowcyzk’s Mr. and Mrs. Kabal’s Theatre (1967) [click to enlarge]

Walerian Borowcyzk's The Concert of Mr. and Mrs. Kabal(1962) [click to enlarge]

Walerian Borowcyzk’s The Concert of Mr. and Mrs. Kabal (1962) [click to enlarge]

There is a good chance that many of you reading this know of Walerian Borowczyk by his erotic, controversial 1974 feature, Immoral Tales—with a smaller subset of you who are probably also aware of his earlier features and shorts. However, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if his name draws blank looks for a large majority of you. While Borowczyk’s career spanned over 40 years, numerous mediums and disciplines, and various countries, there has been an egregious oversight of critical attention paid towards Borowczyk. In particular—the work that did garner…

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About Joe Yanick

Joe Yanick is a writer, videographer, and film/music critic based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the former Managing Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Noisey.vice.com, and Stagebuddy.com. In addition, he has worked with the Cleveland International Film Festival as a Feature reviewer. He is currently a Cinema Studies MA Candidate at New York University.

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