Legend has it that "The Beast" began as an 18 minute short intended as the fifth segment in "Immoral Tales," the director's 1973 erotic anthology. Creatively integrated into a new narrative by the director the following year, the footage appears in Sirpa Lane's masturbatory dreams, and is thematically linked to the movie's jarring opening of two copulating horses. Seen during her drive to the chateaux, the wealth and breadth of equine masculinity leaves an obvious impression on Lane, and foreshadows the priapic power and limitless seminal reservoir of the dream creature's fabled assault/copulation with her fiancé's matriarchal ancestor, from some two hundred years ago.
Cult Epics re-issues Walerian Borowzcyk's outrageously naughty film in a 3-disc edition that includes a very lovely transfer of the uncut theatrical version (here billed as the Director's Cut) on Disc 1, with removable English subtitles. (Though filmed in French, the soundtrack does include some English dialogue as spoken between the bride, her mother, and their chauffeur.) The film's trailer (with a censorial black box over the Beast's happy member) is also included.
Unique to this set (and limited to 10,000 copies) is a longer print on Disc 3 (labeled the Complete Version). Worn and affected by dirt, nicks, and murky colours, this unique print includes about 4 minutes of short scenes and dialogue extensions subsequently trimmed by Borowczyk. Found in Holland in 1990, the print is cropped to a 1.37:1 ratio, and Cult Epics have placed English subtitles and a black band over the Dutch subtitles from the original European video master. Overall, the extra scenes aren't wholly crucial to the plot, and while archival in value, this shouldn't be seen as the definitive version of Borowzcyk's "film about the unconscious."
That's how the director assesses his legendary work in a short interview, archived on Disc 2. Titled "Beast Bis" ("bis" being French for encore), the three-part portrait includes a brief bio comprised of stills of the director's own non-film sketches, paintings, and lithographs. (These surreal yet striking designs from the former animator-cum-director are also archived at http://www.awn.com/gallery/boro/index.html.) Note: the rapid-fire English subtitles have trouble keeping up with the French text cards, so the Bio should be played at half-speed for easy reading.
The Director Interview begins cheekily with Borowczyk hiding behind an enormous "Beast" poster, featuring the face of a shocked woman. A grayed Borowczyk suddenly crumples the image, and emerges with a placid smile to offer some poetic and rather vague thoughts on mythology, before briefly addressing the film proper. Like the Bio segment, Borowczyk's interview also functions as a programmable intro to a wad of behind-the-scenes 16mm material on Disc 3. Forgotten in a box for 25 years and re-edited to match the feature film's order, the footage offers an intriguingly informal fly-on-the-wall glimpse during several stages of principal photography, and a lot of candid chatter between the cast, crew, and director. It's a pity there's no sound - it would have been fascinating to hear their exchanges - but the diversity of material shows a production at ease during filming (including a few nude moments towards the end).
The included booklet seems to be a reproduction of the original press text, and offers a pair of amusing (and ridiculously pompous) reviews by critics who arguably used grand statements to enshroud their own attraction to the film's nudity, and frequently clinical, Brassian-styled self-pleasuring montages. An interview between the director, producer Anatole Dauman, and Jean-Paul Sarre is a puree of intellectualisms, though one does get the impression Borowczyk was already trying to cultivate the persona of an artist of a higher order. Some vintage cast bios (with personal quotes), and a synopsis by Chris Marker (!) close the graphically attractive booklet.
Missing from this set is a more contemporary perspective of the film and the director's fascinating career, though perhaps Borowczyk prefers to let his art speak for itself; the more the mystery, the more enduring a work's legacy. The lack of detailed bio and production notes is at least balanced by the rich archival goodies in this elegant 3-disc set, and the Cult Epics makes excellent use of the striking British poster art for the DVD's sharp cover.
The Walerian Borowczyk Collection includes Goto, Island of Love, Love Rites, and single-disc edition of The Beast, and four postcards featuring images from the three films that are also available separately.
Available separately is "Behind Convent Walls / Interno di un convento" (1978).
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan