Walerian Borowczyk –



Walerian Borowczyk –
Jerome Kuehl
Winner of the Best
Restoration Project
Award at the FOCAL
International Awards 2015
Walerian Borowczyk –
Polish film artist’s masterpieces get
the full restoration treatment
More seriously, the films that had initially established his reputation
as a uniquely original film talent had become increasingly hard
to see, with 35mm and 16mm prints fading and falling apart and
several films having never been previously transferred to any video
format. In particular, the animation had become almost inaccessible
outside fuzzy online bootleg copies that did scant justice to their
visual qualities. So it was with the aim of restoring access to this
all-important first half of Borowczyk’s career that Arrow Films
embarked on a lengthy and complex project to restore the bulk of
his output from 1957-75.
The aim was the creation of definitive restorations of these
neglected but important films, together with archival materials
that would support the preservation of Borowczyk’s work.
Blanche (1971)
Once considered one of the most original and provocative artists
working in European cinema, Walerian Borowczyk (1923-2006) has
since seen his work fall into disrepute. Born in Poland, but resident
in France from 1959, he began his career as an award-winning fine
artist and experimental animator in the 1950s and ‘60s before
making a markedly successful transition to live-action features with
Goto, Isle of Love (1968) and Blanche (1971).
Borowczyk’s subsequent interest in sexual subject-matter via such
notorious films as Immoral Tales (1974) and The Beast (1975) caused
him to fall out of favour with critics who had previously championed
his earlier work, even though the later films were often just as
creatively dazzling as what had come before.
Reprinted from Archive Zones, Winter 2015 Issue No. 96 © FOCAL International
To accomplish this, the best existing film elements were made
available, alongside the guidance of the late director’s closest
collaborators including longtime producer Dominique Ségrétin,
regular cinematographer Noël Véry, and his widow and muse,
actress Ligia Branice (who played the lead roles in Goto and Blanche).
Support was also provided by filmmakers who were directly inspired
by Borowczyk, including Terry Gilliam and the Quay Brothers.
Additional funds were raised through a Gilliam-fronted Kickstarter
campaign that was launched in November 2013. This proved
so successful that it also became possible to restore a number
of important additional short films that had not initially been
considered for inclusion.
Converted to 2K standard
All the films were restored to a 2K standard using the best original
elements in existence. In many cases this meant using the original
35mm camera negative, although in some cases a combination of
elements were used (such as on Goto, Isle of Love, which utilised
both Interpositive and Internegative elements) when this proved the
best method. In all cases the original 35mm elements were scanned,
graded and digitally restored in 2K. The work was conducted
carefully to maintain the original grain, textures and feel of the film
materials without introducing any unwanted digital artefacts.
All restoration work was overseen by James White, Arrow’s Head
of Restoration. The Borowczyk project was jointly produced by
Daniel Bird and Michael Brooke, world-renowned experts on
Borowczyk’s work. All scanning, grading and restoration work
was completed at Deluxe Restoration in London. All original
elements, plus copies of all the restoration materials including the
archival scans were delivered back to the French rightsholders for
preservation purposes.
For the Blu-ray and DVD releases, numerous special features
were created specifically for this project by Daniel Bird,
including interviews with Borowczyk’s friends and associates and
documentaries exploring Borowczyk’s work in multiple media
(live-action and animated film, fine art, “sound sculptures”). Noël
Véry recorded a commentary to hitherto silent 16mm footage of
the production of The Beast and three Borowczyk-animated TV
commercials were also included as an illustration of how he had to
earn a living in the early 1960s.
Limited edition
The project was released as the limited edition boxset Camera
Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection in September 2014,
The Concert (1962)
including five Blu-ray discs, six DVDs and a 342-page book compiling
new essays, reprints of earlier articles on Borowczyk’s work and
the first publication of an English translation of his 1992 short
story collection Anatomy of the Devil. Because this special edition
of 1,000 numbered copies sold out before the official release date,
Arrow also made all the discs available as stand-alone editions,
with booklets which collectively reproduced about a third of the
contents of the big book.
The 2K restorations
also formed the basis
of extensive Borowczyk
retrospectives at BFI
Southbank (London, May
2014), the Film Society
of Lincoln Center (New
York, April 2015) and
Greeted with ecstatic
reviews and frequently
cited as one of the best
Blu-ray/DVD releases
of 2014 (Sight & Sound
and Little White Lies both
placed it first), Camera
Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection was widely hailed as
one of the most important archival releases of the year, for the
commitment involved, the high technical quality of the restorations
and the new exposure that it gave the previously neglected work of
this important filmmaker and artist.
Since 2014, Arrow Films has continued its commitment to
restoring Borowczyk’s work, with a Blu-ray and DVD release of
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (2015) and Story of
Sin (scheduled for 2016), the last of which will also include all the
surviving short films that he made in his native Poland.
Michael Brooke, Daniel Bird and James White
James White
Head of Film Restoration &
Technical Services, Arrow Films
Renaissance (1964)
[email protected]
Reprinted from Archive Zones, Winter 2015 Issue No. 96 © FOCAL International