The Astronauts
Director: Walerian Borowczyk

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The Astronauts A charming twelve-minute mix of stop-motion animation & collage cartoon The Astronauts (Les Astronautes, 1959) chronicals the efforts of a hobbyist inventor to launch his makeshift spaceship. He builds the components in his apartment & puts the components together on the roof of the building.

When first launched, he just flies about the city, using the ship's periscope to become a peeping tom peering in at a beautiful woman's window. He also steals a politician's thunder by putting on an impromptu airshow above a gathered crowd.

At last he makes his flight upward into outer space, smoking his pipe the whole while inside the tiny compartment of his ship, preserving oxygen being it seems no issue.

After a nap he finds himself somehow in an altered object. His pet owl exclaims something about Einstein, & the ship visits a giant red drunken alcoholic who is his own planet.

He becomes involved in a war in space, & saved a tiny red rocket named Spa from attack by a larger missile.

This turns out not to have been such a hot idea, as Spa then destroys the inventor's space ship, & he falls through space with only an umbrella to keep him from landing too hard on the roof of his apartment house. In the end, he discovers discovers he can fly without need of any inventions at all.

Une Collect Particuliere Une Collection Particuliere (A Particular Collection, 1973) is a documentary showing poet Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues' collection of vintage & antique erotica. This amounts to placing vintage prints, photographs, documents, objects, & illustrations in front of the camera one by one.

The first object is an "animated" shadow-projecting device that shows whimsically rapid coitus. There's also a coin bank device that offers a minimalist oral act for every coin dropped in the box. An innocent looking doll is actually a masturbating doll. A wooden toy consists of a donkey & a man with his pants down that do it. And a series of erotic silhouettes can be projected with a magic lantern.

Mandiargues handles & shows with extreme brevity favorite photos & objects, but never speaks of his collection, & the narrator has little to say of them as well.

This has no relationship to Walerian Borowczyk's animated films, as it really is just a photographic record of the collection, with narration in French. There's nothing well done or refined about the camera work, & the musical selection is loud & annoying.

It's not nearly as interesting as it might've been if it had been better done. It barely comes off as more than the sort of film one might make in a hurry to record a collection for insurance purposes. It comes off as a dull film, though a better planned documentary, or coffee table book of the same collection, could be pretty cool.

This short documentary represents a turning point in Borowczyk's life as a filmmaker. He would hereinafter be regarded as a pornographer or sexploitation filmmaker.

This is in small part an injustice. For in addition to kitschy arthouse feature porn such as Behind the Convent Door (Interno di un convento, 1978), The Beast (Le Bete, 1975), & Immoral Tales (Contes immoraux, 1974), he would also make films about artists whose artworks were adult in content, but to regard any of it as pornographic reveals the lurid mind of the viewer, not the artists or their arts or Borowczyk's camera's eye.

The real fault of his transition was from fascinating works of animation to trivial documentaries is that he filmed the latter with annoying soundscapes & bewildering superficiality.

Escargot de Venus Another minimalist documentary from Borowczyk was Escargot de Venus (Venus on the Half-Shell, 1975). It shows the erotic artworks of Bona Tibertelli de Pisis, the wife of author & poet Peyre de Mandiargues whose collection of erotica Borowczyk also documented.

The music selection is not as bad this time around, beginning with flute that sounds rather aboriginal.

The artwork is interesting, nudes in fantasy arrangements sometimes in coitus comingled with snails or weird men & women with snail-like ram horns or horns or phallic heads or bodies, drawn with pastel pencils. Some of the works are inspired by the the writings Remy de Gourmont.

There's minimal commentary by the artist, in French. She has a serious demeanor & the beauty of an aged movie star, but I've no idea what she's saying. For conclusion we get to see her feed her pet African chameleon. The film is trivial though the subject had merit.

L'Amour monstre... L'Amour monstre d tous les temps (The Greatest Love of All Times, 1978) continues Borowczyk's flirtations with minimalist documentary focusing on erotica.

These films come off more like preliminary visual notes for future films of greater significance, not as complete documentaries or short subjects.

This one's a portrait of Serbia's erotic surrealist painter Popovic Ljuba, with Richard Wagner's Tannhauser on the sound track. Coming to it with an interest in independent cinema per se, it is not much of a film, but as an introduction to an artist I previously knew nothing about, it did awaken curiosity.

And I came originally to Borowczyk with an interest in his animation, & was kind of disappointed to discover that his later films are poor documentaries.

L'Amour monstre...His trivial glances at sundry subjects under the general heading of sex seem unfortunate in that they supplanted his former interest in creating avant garde art of his own.

But to assess L'amour monstre on its own visual terms, it shows the artist at work amidst the raucous sounds of a city. The dramatic audioscape of Wagner creates a sense of urgency or climactic achievement not matched by close-ups of gobs of paint & paintbrushes, so that Borowczyk's seems amateurish.

It has to be enough just to see the artist in his environment because little else is provideed. The painter's artworks are macabre, sensual, & excellent & he's clearly deserving of the documentary treatment, but this is much too slight. Even at its short length, it gets padding, with generic city photography as the artist walks about Paris.

The longest portrait is just of the painter's paintbrush & hands appllying paint to canvas. There is no narrator nor even much of a visual narration. It concludes with a view of the work in progress at last finished, & it's a gorgeous symbolist work. An at least it is easy to tell the subject is not as trivial as the film.

Scherzo infernal With Scherzo infernal (Infernal Symphony, 1984), Borowczyk for the first & last time comingles his interest in erotica as conveyed in his documentary films, with his skill as an animator, in order to depict a harshly sensual world in the fiery inferno of Hell.

Big-breasted tailed demoness & demons whose tails are phalluses strut, rut, reproduce, nurse, & generally show off amindst the flames. An angelic prostitute confronts God. All voices, male or female, are done by Yves Robert in his own voice, which has a disturbing effect all its own.

Several comical events & conversations between French-speaking demons are presented, & we even get to see a demon taking a poop on hell's toilet, as if the animator is confessing adult content is not necessarily mature content, but closer to an extended fart joke.

It's very silly & grotesque & will certainly offend many, but it's undeniably a work of art, however perverse a work it may be. It was, alas, the only animated film of his later period, hinting that he might still have something in him worth doing though he so rarely got round to doing it.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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