Like a good many, I'm sure, I've seen fewer films by Polish director Walerian Borowczyk than I really should have and until recently knew surprisingly little about this filmmaker and his work. Indeed, my introduction to his cinema was far from representative of the quality of his output, being a picture published in Films and Filming magazine from his 1978 feature Interno di un convent, or as it was released in the UK, Behind Convent Walls. What caught my then adolescent eye was not the striking composition or the face of an actor whose work I knew, but the simple fact that in a time when pornography was something you read about but rarely encountered, this po-faced film organ had printed a sizeable film still in which a half-naked nun was being taken from behind by a very naked man. The film's most notorious poster only added to its erotic intrigue, featuring as it did a nun wearing bright red lipstick, looking straight into the camera and sucking on her forefinger in a manner that sent a very clear message about the film's likely content. For reasons I choose not to go into here, it went straight on my wish list.
Yet the first Borowczyk film I got to see was his 1972 Blanche, and did so at at time when I was still new to the pleasures that world cinema had to offer, when almost every such work seemed to open my eyes to a new and and captivating approach to film storytelling. I remember that the film made quite an impression on me but not the specifics of why. It has, after all, been a long time since I saw it – long enough for me to forget the names of some of people I hung around with back then – and somewhat criminally I've failed to catch up with it since. I do seem to recall being struck by the manner in which it was shot, that people were often positioned against walls in the manner of a moving painting or frieze, but this could be my overcrowded brain playing tricks on me.
In the years that followed, Borowczyk all but dropped of my radar, then a couple of years ago my interest was revived by an email from freelance writer and former BFI Screenonline curator Michael Brooke (also the producer of some superb BFI DVD releases like The Quay Brothers Short Films 1979-2003 and Jan Svankmajer: The Complete Short Films) in which he enthused about Borowczyk's early works and particularly his animated short films.* This was one of those moments which, had it happened at a party in front of others, I'd have probably tried to bluff my way round my ignorance on this matter, but I see no reason now not to admit that I was at that point completely unaware of Borowczyk's early animated work (there are, it turns out, good reasons why you wouldn't stumble across them by chance, which are briefly outlined in the interview below).
It was this revelation I recalled when I first read about the Kickstarter campaign to fund the restoration of Borowczyk's 1969 Goto, Island of Love [Goto, l'île d'amour] and the subsequent news that Arrow Films were to release some of Borowczyk's little seen early films on UK home video. The guiding hand behind both projects is DVD and Blu-ray producer Daniel Bird. If the name rings a bell then you may well have read my review of the Second Sight Blu-ray of Andrzej Zulawski's extraordinary Possession, whose impressive collection of excellent quality extras was largely the result of his hard work and enthusiasm for the film.
I met with Daniel at the BFI Southbank in London in January to talk about Walerian Borowczyk, the challenges faced in restoring his films, and his work on the upcoming Borowczyk Blu-ray/DVD box from Arrow Films.
* You can read more about the cinema of Walerian Borowczyk on Michael's blog at http://borowczykcollection.blogspot.co.uk