Friday, 12 June 2015

Blu-ray Review: The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Miss Osbourne (Arrow Academy)

Arrow Academy's "Camera Obscura: The Wlaerian Borowczyk Collection" boxset came out in 2014 amidst multi-disc collections celebrating the work of great directors such as Werner Herzog and Alain Robbe-Grillet. For many people, Arrow's 'Boro' collection turned out to be the year's finest release; no mean feat, given the alternative riches that graced the UK market. Now, Arrow has released Borowczyk's "The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Miss Osbourne" and I'm pleased to report the top spot in Home Video releases once again beckons.

Released in 1981, Borowczyk's astonishing take on Robert Louis Stevenson's literary creation unfolds almost exclusively amongst a maze of the rooms and corridors of a house that will soon turn into a morgue. The engagement of Dr. Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier) and Miss Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro) has drawn a select group of people to celebrate the impending union, including Patrick Magee's General who turns up in full regalia, bearing arrows with poisoned tips as a rather macabre wedding gift. A most brutal murder sends shockwaves through the household, leading to a long night of terror for the inhabitants of this house of death. With Magee in suitably demented form, and Howard Vernon delivering an assured turn as Jekyll's medical adversary Dr. Lanyon, there are some fine performances to savour, not least from the two leads.
Kier is splendid as the Doctor whose experiments with Transcendental Medicine conjures up the nightmare inducing Mr. Hyde (Gerard Zalcberg), while Pierro, breathtakingly beautiful, really enters into her 'tale of two women' role with a fierce passion.

The subject of Transcendental Medicine was probably unknown to most of us. An article in The Economist reveals some scientists believe it to be the source of out of the body experiences. By stimulating the right angular gyrus( a point about an inch above and slightly behind the right ear), a sensation of travelling outside the body can be experienced. Here, a vial of Solicor and a bathtub enable Jekyll to realise a second bestial self, and gives rise to transformation scenes which culminate in a real show-stopper at the end: "Fill me with hatred".
With the women in the house comatose through morphine-induced slumber, Lanyon encounters the evil Hyde who stands to inherit all that Jekyll possesses, and discovers method and madness that will turn his own beliefs to dust.
Set to a mesmerising score from Bernard Parmegiani, "The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Miss Osbourne" will greatly repay multiple viewings. The lighting, framing and set design are beautiful, with DOP Noel Very capturing art, objects and the very souls of Jekyll and his intended to painterly effect. Johannes Vermeer's 'Woman In Blue Reading A Letter' is a key work of art here, but freeze frame practically any moment in this film and it's like gazing at a painting.
The beauty of Fanny Osbourne; the malice in the face of Hyde; the absolute carnage of the finale.... they all make for arresting images in a film that's rich in detail and containing not a little blood. Borowczyk's film has been passed uncut by the BBFC (after being referred for "senior review"). It's very strong stuff in places,uncompromising and subversive, but its artistic merits and directorial finesse ensured the board reached the correct decision.

This film has been restored in 2K for Arrow Academy's Blu-ray, with the colour grading overseen by Noel Very.
Image quality is sumptuous, with the costumes, set designs and diffusion as close as humanly possible to the very first screening. Another triumph for Arrow's James White and encoder David Mackenzie.
The sound has also undergone rigorous attention being crisp and clear, and offers the option of listening in either French or English language. As usual on Arrow product, there are subtitles for the hard of hearing.
The supplementary material begins with a commentary track in the form of interviews. First up is Noel Very, who explains how the original DOP Martin Bell was ousted and recalls Borowczyk was an impatient director in certain areas.
Later on in this track, Very has some very interesting things to say about diffusion, lighting and framing shots.
Walerian Borowczyk talks about his two leads, remarking Pierro was "a classical beauty"; discusses set design; the transformation scenes and Ridley Scott's "Alien".
Assistant Michael Levy has a lot to say, explaining Borowczyk wanted to understand film at every level and that he was always ahead of the time. Michael explains his own introduction to Borowczyk's work and holds forth with his own opinions on a wealth of subjects.
Khadica Bariha (editor) talks about different stages of editing; working with Chris Marker and her working relationship with Borowczyk.
Noel Simsolo (filmmaker) chats about Jekyll and is own take on Borowczyk's cinema.
The track is moderated by Daniel Bird who has many astute observations to make, mentioning and highlighting the director's interest in objects; how Borowczyk viewed art as a seperate entity and that the film adaptation of "Sir Henry At Rawlinson End" was an influence for this film.

A short films section follows, with "Happy Toy" (2m 17s) which was made in 1979 and rediscovered in 2014. This one harks back to the early days of cinema, based on Charles-Emile Reynaud's praxinoscope, and is a nice take on how things were.
"Himorogi" (2012) runs for 16m 58s and is an absorbing tribute to Borowczyk by Marina & Alessio Pierro. It was inspired by the way Borowczyk projected photographs and drawings onto a transparent screen, with some of the images and objects taken from the director's work, including the veil from "Love Rites" and the necklace from "Dr. Jekyll". This is a dark delight, using stop-motion and set to another edgy score from Parmegiani.

Udo Kier (11m 19s) recalls his work in "Lulu"; talks about the transformation scene and of how he was actually going to play the role of Hyde as well.
Marina Pierro (20m 17s) gives an off-camera interview, recalling a screening of "The Beast" made a strong impression on her, and goes on to talk about Kier, how she wanted to ask Magee about working with Kubrick and Losey and the genesis of "Himorogi" and its mood and motivation. It's clear she has a tremendous affection for Borowczyk - with whom she shares a love of art - and remarks that working on his set was like learning at a film school.
Alessio Pierro on Himorogi (10m 36s). Alessio discusses how he learned so much from Borowczyk, and explains about the tchniques used for this short film.
Sarah Mallinson On Walerian Borowczyk And Peter Foldes (10m 1 s). Sarah recalls meeting Borowczyk when he was presenting "Angel's Games" and talks about her late husband Peter who embraced the possibilities of computer animation. Clips from "Metedata" and "Hunger are shown, amongst others.

Documentaries And Essays
An Appreciation By Michael Brooke (32m52s)
Michael has been a fan of Borowczyk for over 30 years, and delivers a wonderful appreciation of his work. Michael recalls seeing "The Blood Of Dr. Jekyll" at London's Classic cinema; a screenign that compelled him to seek out for features from the director. He gives us the lowdown on Borowczyk's background as an artist; his amateur filmmaking; the period when Boro began to lose support and why the BFI got cold feet over a project. It's a most rewarding half hour and a prefect introduction for those who missed out on the boxset (and who we direct to the individual releases which are available now).

Phantasmagoria Of The Interior (14m 39s)
A video essay by Adrian Martin and Cristina Alvarez Lopez. This superb essay looks at the world of objects and interior spaces in the film and how they relate to the repressed world of women. Vermeer's 'Woman In Blue Reading A Letter' is described as being unique in Vermeer's work and its influence is explored together with the framing which, is pointed, out often has no corners, floors or ceilings in shot. The entrapment of women is covered along with the fact that women are usually victims or liberators in Borowczyk's work.

Eyes That Listen (10m 2s)
Daniel Bird takes a look at Bernard Parmegiani's score and interviews Andrzej Markowski and Wlodimierz Kotonski. Bernard's sound library is mentioned, and how he would watch a film before composing and immerse himself in it. Sarah Mallinson appears again, and the overall theme of images made complete with music is explored. Fascinating listening.

Return To Melies: Borowczyk And Early Cinema (6m 50s)
Towards the end of 'Jekyll', four still photographs suggest the streets of London as seen froma carriage. This harks back to Borowczyk's filmmaking experiments in Poland during the late 1950s. Clips from "Dom", "Diptych" and "Rosalie" illustrate this featurette.
The disc ends with a 1m 14s trailer. The original French soundtrack had been lost, so Parmegiani's score is used and the viewer can also opt to select an English voice-over or commentary from editor Khadica Bariha.
Arrow also includes a booklet as an integral part of the extras, with writing by Daniel Bird, Andrey Pieyre de Mandiargues and an introduction and script extract from the director along with contemporary reviews.
Daniel's 'A Bath Full Of Solicor' examines the parallels between Bunuel's "The Exterminating Angel"; talks about Stevenson's novel and the 'Bath Trick'.
Daniel also penned essays on "Happy Toys" and "Himorogi", describing the latter as "a sensual response" to Borowczyk's work. Excellent writing which will increase understanding and appreciation of Boro's work.

Arrow Academy's Blu-ray is regions ABC, and it's available to buy now. For the film, the quality of the restoration and the bountiful and rewarding extras, this release carries a high recommendation. A labour of love and it shows.

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