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The Beast
SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.66:1 Widescreen
  • 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • French Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • French PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • Introduction by film critic Peter Bradshaw
  • The Making of The Beast: camera operator Noël Véry provides a commentary on footage shot during the film's production
  • Frenzy of Ecstasy, a visual essay on the evolution of Borowczyk's beast and the sequel that never was, Motherhood
  • The Profligate Door, a documentary about Borowczyk's sound sculptures featuring curator Maurice Corbet
  • Boro Brunch, a reunion meal recorded in February 2014 reuniting members of Borowczyk's crew
  • Commercials by Borowczyk: Holy Smoke (1963), The Museum (1964) and Tom Thumb (1966)
  • Gunpoint, a documentary short by Peter Graham produced and edited by Borowczyk (11:04)
  • Behind Enemy Lines - The Making of Gunpoint (5:16)
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring Borowczyk's own original poster design
  • Illustrated booklet featuring new writing on the film by Daniel Bird and an archive piece by David Thompson, illustrated with original stills

The Beast

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Walerian Borowczyk
1975 | 93 Minutes

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: Arrow Video
MVD Visual

Release Date: September 15, 2015
Review Date: November 5, 2015

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SYNOPSIS

Walerian Borowczyk's most notorious and controversial film wildly re-works the classic Beauty and the Beast story into a very adult fairy tale, a parody of pornographic tropes and an assault on notions of 'good taste'. Bestial dreams interrupt the venal plans of a French aristocrat attempting to save a crumbling mansion by marrying off his deformed son, Mathurin, to a horny American heiress, Lucy. Yet Mathurin seems more interested in his horses than in his bride-to-be, and when Lucy finds out about the story of his 18th-century ancestor Romilda (Sirpa Lane) copulating with the titular beast it sparks to life one of the most outrageous dream sequences in cinema history. A huge hit in France that was extensively censored and banned elsewhere, The Beast broke new ground in sexual explicitness and remains a truly startling experience even today.


PICTURE

Walerian Borowczyk’s The Beast receives a Blu-ray upgrade in the USA courtesy of Arrow Video. The film is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on a dual-layer disc. This new high-def 1080p/24hz presentation comes from a new scan of the original 35mm negative.

Arrow yet again surprises me, offering a nicely detailed, very filmic looking presentation. I rented one of the various DVD editions available in North America through Netflix (unfortunately can’t recall what edition) and remember it looking incredibly subpar, even for DVD.

The image here offers a fairly considerable improvement over that edition; it’s crisp and fine-object detail is decent if not razor-sharp, which looks this comes down to just being inherent to the source rather than a problem with the transfer itself. The film is quite grainy, fairly heavy at times, but it looks generally clean and well rendered, and I didn’t notice any blocking patterns. Colours are also rather good, with reds popping rather nicely along with the greens of the vegetation that appear during the dream sequence. Black levels are also strong, though I found crushing to be evident.

The print is in far better shape, and only a few minor marks remain, but nothing too distracting Overall it has been beautifully transferred and restored, making for a whole new experience with the film.

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The French audio track, delivered in lossless linear PCM, sounds good for its age but is still limited. Fidelity is lacking and range is fairly limited. Music might get a tad edgy during the dream sequence but dialogue still sounds clear and I didn’t detect any background noise.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Arrow Video released this as part of their Borowczyk box set in the UK. Unfortunately, due to rights issues, they were unable to release all of the films in North America meaning they couldn’t release the other titles in the set, meaning there was also the possibility some supplements wouldn’t make it over. What Arrow has done here is they have released a slightly different version in North America, featuring special features that appeared on the UK editions of other Borowczyk titles. So despite the fact this disc can play in both regions A and B, this disc does differ from what Arrow made available in the UK and does feature different supplements in comparison (if this has an impact on any other aspect of the disc I cannot say).

The film opens with an optional, just-shy-of 2-minute introduction by Peter Bradshaw, who seems to be offering a bit of a forewarning to anybody coming to the film for the first time. Though he admits that Borowczyk had a “talent for porn” he defends the film and his work as being up there with Buńuel and Cocteau, calling the film quite hilarious.

The main portion of the special features then begins with a 58-minute documentary The Making of The Beast, which is made up of 16mm footage shot on set and a new interview with camera operator Noël Véry. The is comprised of mostly on-set footage and some location scouting, giving a rather surprising look at the fairly light atmosphere of the shoot. Unfortunately because the infamous dream sequence had been filmed before for a segment of Immoral Tales we don’t get any of the (what I can only assume was) humourous footage. Véry simply talks about the production, getting into detail about what it was like to work with Borowczyk while also getting into some of the issues that popped up, like when the original actress hired for the film suddenly disappeared. As one would imagine the film had an intriguing shoot and Véry covers all of the details quite nicely. I also must express my surprise at the condition of the footage, which is in spectacular shape.

Frenzy of Ecstasy is a nice little presentation going over the correspondence from Borowczyk about the beast’s costume, showing the creative process behind the segment. It includes text of the correspondence along with sketches of the various aspects of the beast, and it includes some interesting technical information about how the costume, uh, works. There’s also a rather wild treatment written up by Borowczyk going over a possible sequel he would have liked to do in the 90s. It’s short, running only 4-minutes, but it’s a terrific feature.

Following this is a rather intriguing feature called The Profligate Door, hosted by curator Maurice Corbet. Here we get a 13-minute lesson and demonstration on Borowczyk’s “sound sculptures” and collection of impressively constructed items (without nails) that were meant to be interacted with by the public (this of course proved to be a problem with the over use that came with it). Basically these contraptions, which have some surprisingly intricate details, have some sort of mechanism that a person interacts with, which then produces a sound (and there’s even one called “Silence” that reacts to humidity). This is a rather fun little document of Borowczyk’s work outside of filmmaking and a thoughtful inclusion on Arrow’s part.

There’s then a 7-minute feature called Boro Brunch, which gathers together various members of the cast and crew who have worked with Borowczyk, including Noël Véry, Florence Dauman, Dominique Duvergé-Ségrétin, Philippe D’Argila, Dominique Ruspoli, and Zoe Zurstrassen . They talk about Borowczyk and the films they worked with him on. I unfortunately didn’t find the conversation as engaging as I hoped, almost feeling left out of it, but this disappointment was quickly remedied by the next section.

Arrow includes a collection of other work by Borowczyk, including a few commercials the director had worked on. The best of the bunch is a 10-minute animated one called Holy Smoke!, featuring a pompous upper-class cigar smoker wallowing in the fact that the prestigious pastime of which he partakes in is being made more affordable for those in the lower-class. It’s a very funny ad, animated in a way similar to what Terry Gilliam would become known for many years later.

Following that ad are two ads, both animated, for a brand of pasta in France. Tom Thumb features a Hansel & Gretel type story where two children come across an ogre who thankfully likes pasta, while The Museum shows how the artwork in a museum loves to eat pasta when everyone was gone home for the evening. Both are fairly out there but rather wonderful. Another set of great inclusions.

Also here is a short film by filmmaker Peter Graham, which was actually shot and edited by Borowczyk. The film, called Gunpoint, is an anti-hunting documentary that starts by showing young birds raised in captivity only to be released to be unfairly hunted for game. It’s an unsettlingly done documentary, and Borowczyk does show through, though it’s still Graham’s baby. Arrow also includes a short 4-minute interview with Graham, who explains how he was able to trick the hunters into letting him follow them around, and then what it was like working with Borowczyk. He also shares a story about the fight they had over how the film should end, Borowczyk eventually winning with Graham admitting here that he was right.

The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer, made up of clips (censored where required) from the dream sequence. Amusingly the entire trailer features text that basically warns possible viewers of the graphic nature of the content in the film, but of course it’s done in such a way to only enhance intrigue.

Arrow then includes one of their wonderful booklets, first featuring an essay by Daniel Bird, who writes about Borowczyk’s career and his success in France but lack thereof abroad, and examines the film’s story and exaggerations of certain pornographic tropes. David Thomson then offers a very insightful and detailed essay on the film’s British release, which unsurprisingly faced battles over the year.

Altogether Arrow has put together a wonderful set of supplements, nicely covering the film and Borowczyk’s work as a whole. They’re a fascinating collection of materials, all worth going through.

9/10

CLOSING

A terrific edition wonderfully put together by Arrow, featuring an excellent transfer and engaging supplements. Though it should go without saying that the film is not for everyone, those who are fans or at least curious should look no further than this edition. I can’t imagine a better one being available.




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